Good Thursday morning.
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we interview Gov. Josh Shapiro about antisemitism in Philadelphia and at the University of Pennsylvania, and talk to Israeli security cabinet member Gideon Sa’ar about the government’s approach to the Israel-Hamas war. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: David McCormick, George Latimer and Dr. Qanta Ahmed.
Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. In the U.S., some celebrations will be more muted than in years prior. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will speak at the National Menorah Lighting in Washington this evening. In Israel, the Israel Defense Forces is distributing some 115,000 Hanukkah menorahs and 531,000 sufganiyot — including jelly-free and gluten-free varieties — to troops.
There’s been outsized coverage on how President Joe Biden needs to worry about the anti-Israel slice of voters in his party — particularly Muslim voters in Michigan — for him to win reelection. There’s not nearly as much attention paid to the broader majority of pro-Israel voters that also will have a say in Democratic politics, Jewish Insider Editor-in-Chief Josh Kraushaar writes.
But thanks to former Rep. George Santos’ expulsion, the next big election to watch will be taking place in a Long Island swing district with a strong pro-Israel constituency. It’s filled with Jewish voters and moderates turned off by the left-wing turn by the Democratic Party’s base on issues like crime, immigration and, now, Israel.
The special election in NY-03 will likely feature two nominees who are stalwart supporters of Israel. The expected Democratic nominee is former Rep. Tom Suozzi, one of the strongest pro-Israel voices during his time in Congress — and such a critic of his party’s progressive wing that he (unsuccessfully) challenged Gov. Kathy Hochul from the center in last year’s gubernatorial primary.
Nassau County Republican chairman Joe Cairo, who will be tapping his party’s nominee, is deciding between two intriguing candidates, according to sources familiar with the selection process.
Nassau County legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip, an Ethiopian Jewish IDF veteran, would be a candidate out of central casting — given the prominence of Israel and antisemitism in the district-wide political conversation. She’d fit the pattern of Republicans finding political success in swing districts by recruiting women, racial minorities and military veterans. She checks all three boxes.
Retired NYPD Det. Mike Sapraicone is a more conventional GOP choice. He’s got a law-and-order background, and has some ability to self-finance a campaign. He already raised over $250,000 in the last quarter in preparation for a campaign.
The likelihood of a competitive special election drawing outsized attention over the next few months, in a swing district where support for Israel is widespread, will only incentivize the Biden administration to maintain its support for Israel’s war against Hamas. If the White House reversed or tempered its support for Israel, they’d be handing the GOP nominee a cudgel to use against Suozzi.
One sign of the strong pro-Israel sentiment in the district: In a poll conducted by Opinion Diagnostics on behalf of another prospective GOP candidate’s campaign, 57% of respondents said they would be more likely “to vote for a candidate who unquestionably supports Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza.” Only 18% said strong support for Israel would make them less likely to support a candidate.
The district is one of the more fascinating battlegrounds in the country: It backed Biden by eight points in 2020, voted for Santos and GOP gubernatorial nominee Lee Zeldin two years later, and is part of a region that has been trending towards the GOP since Biden’s election. Republicans dominatedlocal elections in Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties last year, continuing the local red wave from the 2022 midterm elections.
At the same time, the national embarrassment of having Santos as the GOP’s standard-bearer will temper Republican expectations in this race. Any reminder of Santos’ scandal could serve as a turnout driver for Democrats in an off-year election. The Opinion Dynamics poll found 58% of district voters would be “less likely” to vote for a candidate who previously endorsed Santos.
It also will cost many millions of dollars for both parties to truly compete in the Long Island district, given the exorbitant price of television advertising in the New York City market. That gives the early advantage to Suozzi, a former congressman with a ready-made fundraising base.
This (expected) February 2024 special election, the only congressional special election of consequence so far this cycle, will make it tempting for pundits to extrapolate the results into next November.
But the safer bet is that this election will force both sides to stick closer to the middle in order to win. That means there will be added political pressure on Democrats, from Biden on down, to maintain support for Israel despite all the outside noise.
Calling for moral clarity on antisemitism, Pa. governor slams UPenn’s president
Pita with falafel, fries and hummus: that’s Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro’s standard falafel order, in Israel or in Philadelphia. That’s what he purchased during a Wednesday morning visit to Goldie, a kosher falafel shop that over the weekend was the target of a large group of antisemitic protestors. After his visit to the Rittenhouse Square restaurant, Shapiro, in his most detailed comments yet on the rising antisemitism on college campuses, forcefully called for moral clarity from leaders in their response to antisemitism, in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch in Philadelphia.
Immoral clarity: According to Shapiro, such moral clarity was absent in Tuesday’s Capitol Hill committee hearing when the presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania were asked whether calls for genocide against Jews violated their schools’ codes of conduct. None of them offered a clear answer.
‘Absolutely shameful’: “Leaders have a responsibility to speak and act with moral clarity, and [UPenn President Elizabeth] Magill failed to meet that simple test,” he added. “That was an unacceptable statement from the president of Penn. Frankly, I thought her comments were absolutely shameful. It should not be hard to condemn genocide.” Shapiro called for Penn’s board to “meet soon” to decide whether Magill’s testimony “represents the views and values of the University of Pennsylvania” but said he would wait to see what action they take before taking action himself.
Stand with hostages: Shapiro, whose campaign for governor last year highlighted his Jewish faith, extended his call for moral clarity to the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel. “I’m not sure how we lost our way in this country, where some people are trying to twist themselves up like a pretzel and somehow not condemn Hamas’ actions,” Shapiro told JI in an interview at a Philadelphia café. “Here in this country, we should be on the side of the hostages, not the hostage-takers. I’m not quite sure why that’s hard for some people to grasp.”
race is on
As Latimer challenges Bowman, observers see a ‘battle royale’ over Israel
Westchester County Executive George Latimer formally announced on Wednesday morning that he will mount a primary challenge to Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) in the northern suburbs of New York City, ending months of speculation over his plans for the hotly anticipated congressional race, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
Marquee contest: The June primary is likely to be among the marquee House races of the 2024 election cycle, pitting an outspoken progressive who has served in Congress for nearly three years against a veteran establishment Democrat with long-standing ties to voters in Westchester County, which makes up most of the current district.
Drawing contrasts: In an interview with JI, Latimer, 70, took aim at Bowman’s hostile approach to Israel, likely to be among the most contentious issues in the race. “The bulk of the Jewish community of Westchester County feels that Israel is not a racist state and you should have voted to affirm that,” he said, citing Bowman’s opposition to a House resolution this summer. “I think that the bulk of the Jewish folks in Westchester believes that they have tried to build bridges and that it has not worked — and they feel that there’s an alternative.”
Uniquely vulnerable: Experts believe that Bowman, 47, is uniquely vulnerable as he prepares to go up against Latimer, even if the district could be redrawn before the primary. “As it stands, if the district lines don’t change, this is shaping up to be perhaps the proxy fight of 2024, with progressives behind Bowman and pro-Israel groups behind Latimer,” Dave Wasserman, a House elections forecaster for The Cook Political Report, told JI. “This is a battle royale.”
David McCormick calls for UPenn’s Magill to be fired after congressional testimony
David McCormick, the Republican running for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat in 2024, called for University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill to be fired after her widely condemned testimony to the House on Tuesday, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. Magill ultimately walked back her comments at the end of the day Wednesday.
Quotable: “I today call on Penn’s board of trustees to immediately remove President Magill and replace her with a leader who understands that calling for genocide against Jews is wrong and it must be combatted,” McCormick said in a statement to JI, referring to Magill’s equivocal answer on whether calls for the genocide of Jews would violate Penn’s policies on bullying and harassment. “Based on President Magill’s performance in the Congress yesterday, she lacks the depth, understanding and awareness of how antisemitism is real and how it must be fought,” McCormick continued.
Casey’s comment: Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), who is running for reelection against McCormick in the battleground state, criticized Magill in a statement to JI yesterday but stopped short of calling for her removal. “President Magill’s comments yesterday were offensive, but equally offensive was what she didn’t say,” Casey said. “The right to free speech is fundamental, but calling for the genocide of Jews is antisemitic and harassment, full stop.”
Fetterman weighs in: Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) slammed Magill, as well as Harvard President Claudine Gay, who leads his alma mater and also testified at Tuesday’s hearing. “It’s just appalling. It’s astonishing. Every one of the presidents’ testimony was incredibly, just, subpar,” Fetterman told JI yesterday. “I’m embarrassed by how [antisemitism on these campuses has] been handled.”
Clarification: In a video statement released Wednesday evening, Magill said she was “focused [during the hearing] on our university’s long standing policies, aligned with the U.S. Constitution, which say that speech alone is not punishable. I was not focused on the fact — but I should have been — the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate,” she continued, calling it “evil” and “threatening.” She said that in her view it would constitute harassment and intimidation and that the school’s speech policies need to be “clarified and evaluated.”
Bonus: In a statement posted to Harvard’s X account, President Claudine Gay said that “[c]alls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account.”
Gideon Sa’ar: ‘No practical value’ in push for PA to control Gaza
Just a few months ago, Gideon Sa’ar was a prominent right-wing critic of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset. For years, Sa’ar was considered the front-runner to be Likud’s next leader. Yet, after he ran against Netanyahu in a party primary in 2019 – after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition twice in one year – the rupture between them widened. Sa’ar left with four other Likud lawmakers to form his own party that got into the Knesset in 2021, running a year later as part of Benny Gantz’s National Unity list. But wartime politics make for strange bedfellows, and Sa’ar is in a position that was once familiar to him: a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet. Now, he says that the differences between him and the other members of the coalition are not big enough to overcome the need for national unity, “an important element of our power during this war,” Sa’ar told Jewish Insider’s Lahav Harkov this week.
Conservative stance: A former cabinet member from Likud’s right flank, Sa’ar, who was behind some of the right’s early judicial reform efforts, had years earlier resigned as party whip over the 2005 Gaza disengagement. Now, as part of the emergency government formed after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, Sa’ar has kept up his conservative positions, and repeatedly told JI that Israel needs to see the world as it is, not as it or its allies like the U.S. want it to be. “The most important thing is first of all to understand what stands before us, and not be fooled by delusions. That is the condition for acting in the way we need to act,” Sa’ar said, applying his reasoning to Hamas, Hezbollah, the Palestinian Authority, Iran – and even Russia.
PA position: “As for the day after [the war] in Gaza, beyond the problems of the Palestinian Authority paying terrorists and families of terrorists based on attacks against Israelis, beyond the systemic incitement in its schoolbooks and media, we need to understand that the PA doesn’t have the practical capability to control Gaza on the day after the war,” Sa’ar told JI. “It doesn’t even control the territory that it’s supposed to control, like Jenin and Tulkarem. We saw the execution, which happened in public and lasted a long time. Hamas hanged men on electrical poles because they claimed they collaborated with Israel. It happened completely undisturbed. It’s clear that the PA does not control the territory under their authority. They’re also corrupt and not accepted by the public. I see the whole discussion as theoretical. It has no practical value.”
U.S. should respond to Houthi attacks ‘twice as hard,’ Ricketts says as lawmakers weigh in on potential strike
Senate lawmakers offered a range of views on how the administration should respond to the Houthis’ escalating attacks in the Red Sea, including missile fire and drone attacks on Israel and ships and hijacking commercial vessels, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. The administration has reportedly been reluctant to strike the Yemen-based Iranian proxy group inside Yemen.
More to come: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) suggested that the administration would escalate its response to any future attacks. “I’m satisfied the administration will be doing more if these attacks persist. And that the response will be heightened,” Blumenthal told JI. “Strikes at the [Iranian] proxies [Iranian] forces themselves located in those areas where the attacks are taking place.”
One-for-one: “It should be tit-for-tat,” Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) told JI. “Every time they attack us, we should attack them back only twice as hard. This is what these terrorists understand. That’s the only thing they understand is force.”
Not in favor: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) told JI he’s “generally” opposed to carrying out strikes inside Yemen but would “have to see the reasons why” if the administration deemed such a course of action necessary.
Concerning development: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told JI he didn’t want to comment on specific military strategies but described the Houthis’ growing capabilities as alarming. “They are a group that now has the capability to strike merchant vessels. It’s not clear yet who they were targeting, but it nonetheless posed a threat to our ships. I think [the administration] need[s] to make it abundantly clear to them that if we are directly attacked by them we’re going to respond in kind against their facilities,” he continued. “The fact that a tribal band of fighters have precision-guided munitions provided by Iran tells you why Iran needs to be heavily sanctioned.”
Exclusive: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wrote to Secretary of State Tony Blinken yesterday urging him to seek, in conjunction with the International Red Cross, Qatar and regional counterparts, proof of life of American hostages being held by Hamas as is required by U.S. policy, as well as work to obtain access and medical care for the hostages from the Red Cross.
on the hill
House and Senate release finalized 2024 NDAA compromise bill
House and Senate negotiators released their finalized draft of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act late last night, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. The massive annual bill sets out defense and national security policy across a range of areas, and the 2024 legislation includes provisions for creating an ambassador for the Abraham Accords, a Middle East maritime cooperative initiative and a range of programs aimed at strengthening U.S.-Israel cooperation.
Accords ambassador: The NDAA formally creates a dedicated State Department envoy for the Abraham Accords, Negev Forum and other regional normalization efforts, at the rank of ambassador. Former U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro is currently serving in a similar role, set up unilaterally within the State Department earlier this year, without Senate confirmation.
MARITIME Act: The compromise bill includes language instructing the Pentagon to work to establish an integrated Middle East maritime capability, with U.S. partners in the region, including Israel. The initiative, originally introduced as the MARITIME Act, aims to counter Iranian malign activity at sea.
War efforts: The bill mandates a review of U.S. precision-guided munitions stockpiled in Israel and an assessment of the types of munitions Israel would need to respond to a sustained multifront war, to update and modernize the stockpile. This language was in the works before the Oct. 7 attack and the current war, but has taken on especially high salience since the attack.
Getting prepared: The bill seeks to facilitate training Israeli pilots on new aerial refueling aircraft that Israel has ordered and to expedite the delivery of those tankers. It instructs the Pentagon to conduct a study on preemptively deploying some U.S.-owned aircraft to Israel. It also allows the U.S. to transfer tankers that are otherwise being retired to Israel. These tankers are generally seen as necessary for an Israeli strike on Iran. The bill requires biannual CENTCOM exercises, with invitations for Israeli participation and that of other regional partners, to simulate large-scale and long-range strike missions and U.S. refueling of Israeli aircraft — meant to simulate a U.S.-assisted Israeli attack on Iran.
Turkey Tensions: In Foreign Policy, Sinan Ciddi calls for Turkey’s NATO membership to be reconsidered in light of Ankara’s support for destabilizing forces. “Were Ankara to apply for NATO membership today, it would not be considered, let alone approved. The only reason it is having to be tolerated is due to the fact that there is no mechanism for removing a member once it has joined. One could be forgiven for thinking that this is an obvious design flaw that should not be in place. They would be right, except for the fact that NATO was designed with the intent of thwarting the threat posed by the Soviet Union; the alliance’s architects likely never thought that one day, NATO would have to strategize against a threat posed by one of its own members. Changing membership rules may be tough, but this is an opportune time when such a discussion must begin, given the numerous challenges the Western Hemisphere faces. At the very least, NATO members should remain united and agree not to sell Ankara any defensive capabilities such as fighter jets as long as it maintains Russian capabilities that could degrade collective defense.” [ForeignPolicy]
Call for Justice: In the Washington Post, Dr. Qanta Ahmed calls for retribution against the Hamas terrorists who perpetrated the Oct. 7 attacks. “As a Muslim woman, a physician and a journalist, I have devoted much of my work to battling radical Islam. I have traveled to northwestern Pakistan to meet former Taliban child militants in their years-long deradicalization. I have met with Yazidi and Kurdish survivors of Islamic State terrorism, including girls and women once enslaved by ISIS, and I have spoken with child soldiers forced into the ISIS ranks. Islamism is a monster I know too well. And I know its hatred of Israel, hatred of Jews is especially poisonous. Inside the kibbutz homes, safe rooms had been universally breached. Bedsheets, mattresses, walls and floors were smeared with blood. The bodies had been removed, but the air of violence still lingered.” [WashPost]
Shadows of ‘68: In The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger observes the political parallels between 1968 and today, as Democrats work to address antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment within their ranks. “Today, the Democrats in part are running a stop-the-clock strategy to avoid another 1968. Back then in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, Democratic challenger and war critic Sen. Eugene McCarthy got 42% of the vote. Two weeks later, with younger voters deserting LBJ, the president quit the race. This week, Florida’s Democratic Party effectively canceled its primary, evaporating the challenge from Rep. Dean Phillips or anyone else. The party of course already tried to demote New Hampshire’s lead primary role. Joe Biden can run for president, but he can’t hide from the ghosts of ’68. U.S. Muslim leaders from several swing states — including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nevada — held an ‘Abandon Biden’ rally Saturday. ‘Genocide Joe’ protesters show up at Mr. Biden’s public appearances. Sen. Bernie Sanders, darling of young leftist voters in the 2020 presidential primaries, is the leading anti-Israel voice in the Senate.” [WSJ]
Around the Web
Not-So-Friendly Fire: Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley held her own against sustained criticism from her rivals at the GOP’s presidential primary debate last night. While Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called for the complete defeat of Hamas, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said the U.S. must be “responsible” in handling the conflict, adding he would let Israel deal with Hamas by itself.
Upward Momentum: A new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that President Joe Biden’s approval rating among Democrats over his handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (59%) has rebounded to pre-Oct. 7 levels.
McCarthy Moves On: Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that he will leave Congress at the end of the year, three months after his ouster from the House’s top position.
Letter to the President: Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) wrote to President Joe Biden to raise concerns that U.S.-origin weaponry provided to Israel could be used in violation of international law, and requested a briefing on details of U.S. oversight of Israel’s military operations and planning and the aid the U.S. is providing.
Pressure Points: The U.S. is quietly pushing Israel to open a second border crossing to allow more aid into Gaza.
Bowman’s Bell: The House will vote today on censuring Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) for falsely pulling a fire alarm in a Capitol office building, after a Democratic attempt to kill the measure failed yesterday along party lines.
Massie Meme: House Republicans are dodging questions about an antisemitic social media post from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) suggesting that legislators are more supportive of Zionism than “American patriotism.”
Military Musings: In a Washington Post op-ed, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) affirms his support for Israel’s military operations in Gaza, but says the Biden administration should “require more accountability from the government of Benjamin Netanyahu” before supporting further operations.
Silence Speaks Louder:The New York Times’ Bret Stephens writes about the silence of some politicians and multinational organizations about the widespread sexual violence that occurred on Oct. 7.
Capitol Hill Fallout: The Harvard Crimsonwrites that university President Claudine Gay’s efforts to “quell the backlash” against the school at a Capitol Hill hearing on campus antisemitism “only fanned the flames of controversy.” Barstool Sports’ Dave Portnoy said his company will no longer hire graduates of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania following the testimonies of the presidents of the three universities on Capitol Hill this week.
Reinstated: Weeks after a Muslim activist was temporarily suspended from a Maryland hate crimes task force due to a series of antisemitic social media posts, Maryland’s attorney general reinstated her to the body on Wednesday, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Kraft Cash: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft will match a $100 million donation from the Norman R. Rales and Ruth Rales Foundation to his Foundation to Combat Antisemitism.
Revue Review: The Washington Postreviews “Old Friends,” a Stephen Sondheim revue featuring Lea Salonga, Bernadette Peters and playing in London through early January.
Bowing Out: Israel’s Labor party leader Merav Michaeli announced that she intends to leave politics and that the party will hold a leadership vote in April.
Remembering: Producer Norman Lear, known for “All in the Family,” “Maude” and “The Jeffersons,” died at 101.
Pic of the Day
ERabbi Yehuda Teichtal and Rabbi Shmuel Segal dance after the inauguration of the Hanukkah menorah at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin yesterday.
Chairman of Loews Hotels and co-owner of the NFL’s New York Giants, Jonathan M. Tisch turns 70…
Political activist and professor emeritus at MIT, Noam Chomsky turns 95… Author or editor of 40 books including the New York Times best-selling Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul, Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins turns 86… Actor, director and producer, Larry Hankin turns 86… Hedge fund manager, he is the co-founder of Taglit-Birthright Israel and the founder of Hebrew language charter schools in NYC, Michael Steinhardt turns 83… Professor of mathematics at Princeton University, Nicholas Michael Katz turns 80… Novelist, essayist and screenwriter, Susan Isaacs turns 80… Former Israeli Foreign Ministry legal advisor and then Israeli ambassador to Canada, now at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Ambassador Alan Baker turns 76… Chair emeritus of the Longmeadow, Mass., Democratic Town Committee, Candy Glazer… Director and vice chairman of Simon Property Group, Richard S. Sokolov turns 74… Past board chair and president of AIPAC, Lillian Pinkus… U.S. senator (R-ME), Susan Collins turns 71… Pamela Decker… Haifa-born composer and professor of music at Harvard, Chaya Czernowin turns 66… Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention throughout most of the Obama administration, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden turns 63… Teacher in the Elko County School District in the northeast portion of Nevada and leader of the local Jewish community, Shawn Welton-Lowe… Provost and interim dean of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at The Jewish Theological Seminary, Dr. Jeffrey Kress turns 55… Co-founder of Laurel Strategies, Dafna Tapiero… Director, producer, writer, actor and comedian, Jason Winer turns 51… President of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, Jed Hoyer turns 50… Leading actress in multiple television series including “Roswell” and “Unreal,” Shiri Appleby turns 45… Managing partner of NYC-based Capitol Consulting, Jeffrey Leb… Food critic for The New Yorker, Hannah Goldfield… President at America’s Frontier Fund, Jordan Blashek… Director of recruiting at NYC’s Mission Staffing, Jaime Leiman… Founder and CEO of Go Dash Dot, an activewear accessories brand, Hannah Fastov… Physician practicing in the U.K., Carine Moezinia… Digital marketing manager at Vida Shoes International, Hannah Vilinsky… VP and head of the startup division at the Israel Innovation Authority, Hanan Brand… Jeff Blum… Toby Lerner…