Good Monday morning.
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we preview the special election to replace ousted Rep. George Santos in New York’s Third Congressional District, and report on the support for Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks espoused by Democratic Muslim officials leading efforts to protest President Joe Biden over his support for Israel. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Sheryl Sandberg, Eric Schmidt and Gov. Josh Shapiro.
A phrase that five years ago was a rallying cry for American progressives around the Senate confirmation of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has turned into a desperate plea for the world to acknowledge the rampant sexual violence that took place during Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks, Jewish Insider Executive Editor Melissa Weiss reports.
The call has hit a fever pitch amid a campaign by the United Nations’ Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, generally known as UN Women, titled “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.” UN Women — and the United Nations more generally — has faced blowback for what has been criticized as a slow response to Hamas’ acts of sexual violence. Last week, the U.N. posted — and then deleted — a tweet condemning the attacks. An official from UN Women, speaking to CNN’s Bianna Golodryga last week, avoided any condemnation of Hamas. UN Women’s lackluster response drew a bipartisan call from nearly 90 House lawmakers urging the body to take a stronger stance against Hamas’ sexual violence.
On Saturday, UN Womenissued its first statement directly addressing sexual violence on Oct. 7, “unequivocally” condemning “the brutal attacks by Hamas on Israel” and saying the organization was “alarmed by the numerous accounts of gender-based atrocities and sexual violence during those attacks.”
In recent weeks, detailed reports of widespread rape and violence against women on Oct. 7 have begun to emerge. A report published in the U.K.’s Sunday Times relayed one man’s firsthand account of witnessing gang rape at the Nova music festival. An Israeli woman who was being raped by 8-10 men, the witness said, “was screaming, ‘Stop it already! I’m going to die anyway from what you are doing, just kill me!’” When the terrorists had finished raping her, the witness said, “they were laughing, and the last one shot her in the head.”
In a particularly tense conversation aired on Sunday, CNN’s Dana Bash pressed Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, on the legislator’s lack of condemnation of the sexual crimes that took place on Oct. 7. When pressed about Hamas’ sexual crimes, Jayapal spoke instead about Israel’s responsibility to adhere to international humanitarian law.
Bash called out Jayapal on the pivot, saying she “was just asking about the women, and you turned it back to Israel. I’m asking you about Hamas.” Jayapal insisted she’d answered the question before rattling off statistics about casualties in Gaza, adding that “we have to be balanced about bringing in the outrages against Palestinians.”
“And it’s horrible,” Bash acknowledged. “But you don’t see Israeli soldiers raping Palestinian women.”
“I don’t want this to be the hierarchies of oppressions,” Jayapal responded.
In the hours after the CNN segment aired, Democratic members of Congress took to social media to weigh in on the controversy. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) reposted a clip of Jayapal’s CNN interview, calling it “outrageous” for “anyone to ‘both sides’” sexual violence. “Hamas terrorists raped Israeli women and girls,” Wasserman Schultz wrote. “The only ‘balanced’ approach is to condemn sexual violence loudly, forcefully and without exceptions.”
“Rape and sexual violence against Israeli women calls for nothing less than unequivocal condemnation,” Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) posted on X, without naming Jayapal directly. “Israel did not invade Palestinian homes and rape and sexually violate Palestinian women. Hamas did invade Israeli homes and did rape and sexually violate Israeli women. There is no ‘balance’ or ‘both sides’ or ‘moral equivalence’ here. Period.”
Tensions will come to a head today at Turtle Bay in New York at a special session being convened by the Israeli Mission to the U.N. and a collective of Jewish groups including National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah and the World Zionist Organization. Israel’s envoy to the U.N., Ambassador Gilad Erdan, is slated to give opening remarks before a keynote delivery by former Meta executive Sheryl Sandberg. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will address attendees via video.
Several Muslim leaders protesting Biden at Michigan conference defended Oct. 7 Hamas massacre
A group of Islamic leaders who gathered on Saturday in Michigan to urge Muslim Americans to vote against President Joe Biden in 2024 because of his handling of the Israel-Hamas war included a coterie of controversial figures, including several who praised the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack in Israel, one of whom was ousted from the leadership of a nonprofit due to accusations of harassment and abuse and one who has been sanctioned by Israel for supporting terrorism, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Checkered pasts: The small group of activists, who met at a conference titled “Abandon Biden,” introduced themselves as leaders of Muslim communities in swing states including Florida, Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia. They professed that their greatest aim in 2024 will be to convince Muslims Americans to vote against Biden, arguing that his “complicity” in “genocide” in Gaza will stain his legacy. (Biden has supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, while cautioning it to try and limit civilian deaths.) But many of the anti-Biden speakers have their own checkered pasts.
Speaker’s scandal: “We are ready to mobilize the entire Florida Muslim community to abandon Joe,” said Hassan Shibly, who for a decade led the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations until he was forced to step down in 2021, after his estranged wife accused him of domestic abuse. After he offered his resignation, several former employees of his accused him of bullying and sexual misconduct.
Under sanction: Khalid Turaani, an activist from Michigan, was sanctioned by Israel in 2020 for sitting on the board of IPALESTINE, a British organization that is affiliated with Hamas and is designated as a terror organization in Israel.
Justifying terrorism: Several at the conference also offered justifications for the Oct. 7 attacks. Tom Facchine, an imam from upstate New York, said in a video posted on the TikTok channel of Utica Masjid, a mosque in Utica, N.Y., where he is the resident scholar, that he would offer “no equivocations, no apologies, no condemnations.”
And in Pennsylvania: Hundreds of anti-Israel protesters demonstrated outside Goldie, a kosher Philadelphia restaurant co-owned by Mike Solomonov; Gov. Josh Shapiro denounced the protests as a “blatant act of antisemitism.”
Long Island special election could feature two candidates with deep Jewish community ties
The expulsion of now-former Rep. George Santos (R-NY) is setting up the likelihood of a highly competitive special election in a battleground New York district. The Long Island and Queens district previously represented by the accused fraudster has a significant Jewish population, and both of the emerging candidates are strongly positioned to make a play for those votes, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Suozzi’s comeback: Democrats are expected to pick former Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY), the ex-congressman who gave up the seat to run for governor against Kathy Hochul. Suozzi was outspoken, in his time in office, about calling out colleagues over anti-Israel comments — at times he was the most outspoken non-Jewish member on the issue. And he otherwise bucked his party when he believed it wasn’t sufficiently pro-Israel. He was also a leader on pushing the administration to take a harderline onIran, Hamas and Hezbollah.
Republican recruit: On the Republican side, several Republicans have declared primary challenges to Santos, but buzz has centered around Nassau County legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip, an Ethiopian Jewish refugee who served as an Israeli Defense Forces paratrooper with strong ties in the local Persian and Orthodox Jewish communities. She’s been seen as a top GOP pick for the seat since the earliest days of the Santos scandal.
Santos baggage: One of the biggest factors in the special election, expected to be held in February 2024: Will the embarrassing Santos scandal hurt the GOP’s chances in a district where the party has been making inroads? “George Santos is not going to be the anchor around anyone’s neck,” Long Island Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) told reporters on Friday. “Voters are smart, and they are going to see that we’re going to find a great candidate.” He predicted that many Republican House members from across the country would be visiting the district to campaign on behalf of the GOP’s nominee in the coming months.
AUMF Update: Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY), the ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, told JI on Friday that negotiations over the efforts to repeal and replace the congressional authorizations for use of military force for the war on terror and the Iraq war are delayed. Initially, negotiators from both parties had hoped to have a finalized bill ready to release this month, but Meeks now says, “I don’t see how we could” finish before Christmas. Talks are ongoing, he said, to seek a bipartisan agreement. While Meeks didn’t specify what the sticking points are, public hearings have shown there’s a divide between Republicans and Democrats over whether to preemptively authorize military force against Iranian proxy groups.
gaza war: day 59
As Israel resumes military operation in Gaza, families of hostages ramp up pressure for their release
For the first time since their release from Gaza, Israeli hostages publicly shared their horrifying experiences in captivity, speaking at a mass rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, during which they urged the government not to abandon those still being held by Palestinian terror groups, even as the Israeli military said over the weekend that it was gearing up for the next stage of its war in southern Gaza. Speaking before tens of thousands of people at the site now known as “Hostages Plaza,” more than half a dozen of the former captives emphasized the message that “time is running out,” to save some 137 people, including 20 women and two children, Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
Tanking talks: In a concurrent press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed home those who were freed, recalling each person by name, and said the successful return of some 110 people, including 86 Israelis, was mainly due to Israel’s military pressure on Hamas. “We conducted tough negotiations under fire,” said Netanyahu, who on Saturday instructed the Israeli negotiating team led by Mossad Director David Barnea to return from Doha, Qatar, after mediated talks with Hamas representatives reached an impasse.
Blinken in the region: Wrapping up his third trip to the Middle East since Oct. 7, Secretary of State Tony Blinken blamed Hamas for the breakdown of negotiations and for violating the pause. “It came to an end because of Hamas,” Blinken told reporters in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, the Associated Press reported. “Hamas reneged on commitments it made. In fact, even before the pause came to an end, it committed an atrocious terrorist attack in Jerusalem, killing three people, wounding others, including Americans.”
Travel warning: With Hanukkah and the weeklong school break that goes with it fast approaching, Israeli parents who wanted to give their kids a feeling of normalcy during wartime by taking them on a trip abroad may have to reconsider, after Israel’s National Security Council warned on Monday that they could be a target for terrorists in scores of countries, Jewish Insider’s Lahav Harkov reports.
Hostages young and old endured physical and psychological torture
With more than 100 hostages now free from Hamas captivity, testimony of the relatives and Israeli doctors who are caring for the women and children released from Gaza paint a vivid picture of the inhumane conditions in which they were held. Doctors who treated hostages reported loss of 8-15 kg (15-33 pounds) by the elderly hostages, accounting for 10-20% of their body weight, and relatives of children who returned from captivity said they lost significant amounts of weight as well, Jewish Insider’s Lahav Harkov reports.
Free to speak: “We were brutally kidnapped from our house,” said Danielle Aloni, who was taken hostage by Hamas with her daughter Emilia, 6. “Our girls saw things that kids that age, or any age, should not see.” Hamas-affiliated social media channels sent out a letter purportedly from Aloni in which she said she and her daughter were treated like “queens,” yet, once safe at home in Israel, Aloni described her experience as “a horror movie.” “You feel like you want to pinch yourself and wake up from this movie,” Aloni said in a video produced by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. “I’m speaking now and I’m shaking — I’m sorry. It was terrifying…We just slept, cried. Every day that passed was an endless eternity.”
Malnutrition: Ditza Heiman, 84, who was in Hamas captivity for over 50 days, said in another video from the forum that “there was little food…and as time went on, the food kept decreasing. As time went by, the damage [from malnutrition] increased, and the body’s ability to survive decreased. It is life-threatening and mentally threatening,” she said. Some spoke of eating one piece of bread, or less, each day, and occasionally having additional food such as olive oil, beans, tuna or cheese. A Filipino caregiver taken hostage reported being so hungry that he ate toilet paper. He and others said they were given unclean water to drink.
on the hill
House to vote on antisemitism resolution declaring anti-Zionism is antisemitic
The House will vote this week on a resolution by Jewish Republican Reps. David Kustoff (R-TN) and Max Miller (R-OH) condemning the “drastic rise of antisemitism” in the U.S. and globally, the language of which could split progressive Democrats. The resolution clearly and firmly states that “anti-Zionism is antisemitic” — an argument that some on the left have maintained seeks to restrict anti-Israel rhetoric, including those organized by anti-Zionist Jewish groups, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
IHRA aspect: The legislation also states that “the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism is widely accepted and serves as a critical tool to help individuals comprehend and identify the various manifestations of antisemitism.” While the resolution is nonbinding — it would not codify the IHRA definition or give it any legal force — some on the left may object to its privileging of the IHRA definition. A group of progressive House members, led by two Jewish representatives and the chair of the progressive caucus, urged the administration in 2021 to consider alternative definitions of antisemitism endorsed by the left, in addition to IHRA.
Slogan censure: The resolution also characterizes the slogan “from the River to the Sea” as a “rallying cry for the eradication of the state of Israel and the Jewish people.” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) was censured last month in part for her use of this phrase; 22 House Democrats voted for the censure.
Jewish lawmakers divided over Jewish caucus push
Jewish House members are moving for the first time toward establishing an official caucus, holding an initial organizational meeting on Friday, but the process is plagued with obstacles. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who filed for and received official administrative recognition for the group last month, hosted the meeting. “We had a very well-attended, constructive meeting focused on how we can work together and develop our broader mission,” she said in a statement to Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod. “We did a lot of listening and considering one another’s opinions and thoughts. We left looking forward to continuing to engage in these discussions with our colleagues so that we can come together in consensus on how a secular Jewish Caucus can be most effective.”
Consensus challenges: Wasserman Schultz’s statement alludes to the significant hurdles that have dogged the process. Jewish lawmakers disagree on a range of issues, including over Israel policy. Jewish Democrats include some of the most staunchly and vocally pro-Israel members in the House and a handful of the progressive Democrats calling for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, making consensus on key issues a difficult prospect for the prospective caucus.
Opposition: Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the longest-serving Jewish member in Congress, has convened Jewish Democrats in an informal caucus for years, and has sought to bring the group — or as many members of it as possible — together on statements on issues on which they do agree. He has said he opposes forming a caucus, calling the effort unnecessary and rushed and lamenting that he and other Jewish members weren’t included in initial discussions. Nadler did not respond to a request for comment after Friday’s meeting.
Vision: The caucus is expected to have bipartisan membership: Rep. Max Miller (R-OH) said he wasn’t consulted before the caucus was formed, but plans to join. Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN) has said he won’t be joining, though, due to a general policy against joining caucuses. Wasserman Schultz has said her goal in seeking to form the group is to create a more formal voice and platform for Jewish lawmakers to advocate for the Jewish community.
Hamas and the Holocaust:The New York Times’ Ross Douthat weighs in on comparisons between the Holocaust and Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks. “With Hamas’s attacks, the story seemed like it might be simpler: Here were atrocities against Jews carried out with seemingly genocidal zeal; here was a case where [writer and cleric Richard John] Neuhaus’s formulation seemed immediately relevant; here was an opportunity to emphasize the necessity of historical remembrance. But along with that immediate reaction there was a different one, an indifferent or even hostile response to any invocation of memory on Israel’s behalf, and with it a revelation for many liberal Jews about how much the left has changed since the 1990s. The issue isn’t just those far-left activists who seemed to sympathize outright with Hamas. It’s a broader progressive disinclination to assign antisemitism a particularly important place among the evils of the world — at least not relative to ‘settler colonialism’ and other constructs that would place Israel rather than Hamas in the dock.” [NYTimes]
Kissinger the Idealist: In The Wall Street Journal, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt reflects on his friendship with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who died last week at 100. “If realism is a doctrine of taking the world as it is, Henry was ultimately an idealist. He used realism, informed by deep research, to understand what people and leaders wanted. He always started by asking the other side to explain its goals. He sized up the world frankly, which often led observers to mistake him for a pessimist. But he thought that confronting the truth is the only way to solve problems. He usually told the other side exactly what he wanted and worked hard to make his objective inevitable. He was slow and methodical, considering every step over and over. But when a breakthrough occurred, he moved quickly to seize the moment. Diplomacy is an art of patience and speed, listening and telling, and he was the master.” [WSJ]
Hostages’ Fate: In the Liberal Patriot, Daniel Silverberg suggests how the Biden administration and Congress can best operate to achieve the release of the remaining hostages being held in Gaza. “While the complexities of hostage recovery are sadly familiar — agonizing uncertainty, endless search for pressure points on the hostage takers, painful coordination among parties with conflicting agendas — what’s different in this case is fear that the Gaza hostages’ fate will be subsumed in the broader Israeli-Palestine debate. These families are not only fighting a well-worn battle to keep attention on their loved ones — something with which the families of U.S. hostages in Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Russia are all too familiar — they must also wage an unparalleled campaign to ensure policymakers prioritize U.S. hostage recovery amidst conflicting perspectives on what’s happening on the ground in Gaza.” [LiberalPatriot]
What’s Next: In Foreign Affairs, Lina Khatib considers what interests are at play for Arab nations in a post-Hamas Gaza. “[The Israel-Hamas war] is driving Arab states toward a more unified public position on the Israel-Palestine conflict. By the time Israel struck the Jabalya refugee camp at the end of October, the response from Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE had become almost uniform, with all strongly condemning the attack and calling for a cease-fire. This seeming unity, however, hides the fact that each Arab country’s approach to the Hamas-Israel war is primarily driven by concerns over its own particular priorities. This is especially the case for the ‘Big Five’ Arab powers: Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. As the war in Gaza continues, these countries are using their own diplomatic pressure points to shape the conflict to their advantage and to achieve individual priorities. If they could coordinate their approaches, however, they would have a better chance of obtaining an outcome to the conflict that would benefit them all: an Israeli-Palestinian peace process that they could help broker and a better strategy to counter Iran.” [ForeignAffairs]
Communal Chasm: In The Forward, the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Yehuda Kurtzer opines on the effects of the Israel-Hamas war on the organized American Jewish community. “I see two clear political realignments that are operating in tandem. The first is that the messy mainstream of American Jews is energized anew toward identification with Israel and the Jewish people, expressing that identification with levels of belonging that represent a reversal of decades of assimilation and decline, and coalescing back into a big tent. The second is a real rupture between the Jewish left and the rest of the Jewish community to which it was once attached, and its coalescence into a separate tent of its own. When I talk about the messy mainstream, what I mean is the politically and religiously liberal majority of American Jews, who have a wide variety of observance and affiliation rates. It is messy because this group exhibits deep disagreements about the value and meaning of boundaries between Jews and non-Jews, and tends to behave and practice Judaism in ways that challenge the very existence of such boundaries.” [Forward]
Around the Web
U.S. Position: The National Security Council’s John Kirby said the U.S. believes Israel is “making an effort” to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza.
Third-Party Approach: Semaforlooks at the fringe third-party alternatives whose positions on the Israel-Hamas war are more in line with voters angry over the Biden administration’s approach to the war.
Failing Grade: Thirty-two Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), wrote to the Department of Education raising concerns that it is failing to adequately protect Jewish students in K-12 schools.
Knesset Invite: House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) said at the Zionist Organization of America gala on Sunday night that his Israeli counterpart, Amir Ohana, had invited him to address the Knesset.
Succeeding Spanberger: Virginia state Del. Elizabeth Guzman launched her bid for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA).
Business Breakup:The Wall Street Journal looks at the split between David Solomon’s Goldman Sachs and Apple that included infighting between partners Marc Nachmann and Stephanie Cohen.
Turkish Turndown: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doubled down on his refusal to designate Hamas as a terrorist organization following remarks by U.S. Treasury Under-Secretary Brian Nelson, who was in Ankara last week.
Double Standard: Al Jazeeraran an op-ed by former Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt calling out the double standard on reactions to the Israel-Hamas war and other Middle East conflicts, including Syria and Yemen, that have not received the same outpouring of condemnation.
Hamas Probe: The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor said a probe into potential Hamas and Israeli crimes tied to the war was a “priority” for his office following a visit to Israel and the West Bank.
Tunnel Vision: The Financial Timesreports on Israel’s efforts to destroy Hamas’ vast underground tunnel system.
Deep Dive: The Council for a Secure America released an 80-page assessment of the conditions that led to the Oct. 7 terror attacks and a phase-by-phase analysis of Israel’s response.
Boys’ Club: Airmailconsiders the role that misogyny played in the Israeli security establishment’s failure to prevent the Oct. 7 terror attacks.
Houthi Warning: The U.S. warned the Houthis after ballistic missiles fired by the Iran-backed group in Yemen struck three cargo vessels in the Red Sea and a U.S. military ship shot down three drones in self-defense.
Problematic Post: Argentinian President-elect Javier Milei appointed as the next head of the State’s Attorney’s office a former justice minister who resigned his position in 1996 due to his affiliation with a neo-Nazi group.
Copenhagen Caution: Denmark is deploying military units to provide extra security at Jewish and Israeli institutions in the country amid a rise in antisemitism.
TikTok Talk: The New York Times reports on TikTok CEO’s efforts to meet virtually and in-person with Jewish groups to discuss efforts to address antisemitism on the social media platform.
Syria Strikes: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said two of its officials were killed in Syria, as Damascus blamed Israel for a series of airstrikes near the capital.
Shin Bet Warning: Israel’s public broadcaster aired a recording of Shin Bet head Ronen Bar vowing to take out top Hamas leaders around the world; Bar said that “this is our Munich,” in reference to efforts to assassinate terror masterminds following the 1972 Olympic massacre.
Pic of the Day
More than 250 people attended the Jewish Food Society’s Potluck Shabbat Brunch in Manhattan on Saturday.
“Many of us feel sad and lonely these days. We feel it in the streets, we feel it in our personal and professional lives, and we feel it most on social media, where emotions are high,” Naama Shefi, founder and executive director of Jewish Food Society told Jewish Insider’s Tori Bergel. “We really wanted to gather our incredible community — to remind us that we are not alone. And that the food community of this city is supporting us with the best way they know — showing up with a dish.” Read more here.
Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, author of six books and winner of the 1980 National Book Award, A. Scott Berg turns 74…
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