Good Monday morning.
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we look at the state of play on the ground in Gaza, and report on the postponement of J Street’s annual conference. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Sen. Tom Cotton, Doron Katz Asher and Jon Lerner.
In Seattle on Saturday, anti-Israel demonstrators shut down the heavily trafficked Interstate 5 that runs through the city. The shutdown came weeks after San Francisco’s Bay Bridge was shut down for hours by a similar protest — not only bringing traffic to a standstill, but delaying the delivery of organs for transplant.
Down the freeway in Los Angeles, a military cemetery housing the graves of some 85,000 soldiers was desecrated over the weekend with graffiti reading “Free Gaza” and “Intifada” during an anti-Israel protest in West Los Angeles that shut down parts of Wilshire Blvd.
In Kingston, N.Y., on Friday, demonstrators tried to push their way into the district office of Rep. Pat Ryan (D-NY), with some gaining access to the building’s roof. Days earlier, Rep. Mike Lawler’s (R-NY) office in the neighboring district was vandalized with anti-Israel graffiti. Ryan denounced the protesters who pushed into the building and confronted his staff, telling the local Daily Freeman that Friday’s protest was part of a trend in which young people are engaging in political violence.
“When you don’t get the exact outcome you want, it shouldn’t be acceptable to resort to physical force,” Ryan said. More below on the confrontation at Ryan’s district office.
In Las Vegas, anti-Israel protesters on Friday disrupted a speech being given by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV). Rosen was speaking at a local Mexican restaurant at an event hosted by a nonpartisan group called Hispanics in Politics. Fernando Romero, the group’s president, said the protesters scared attendees.
“They antagonized people so much that they frightened people, to the point that they were not hearing what they were protesting about,” Romero told The Nevada Independent. “Maybe next time hold down the tone and maybe people listen.”
The spike in public demonstrations — a week ago, anti-Israel demonstrators attempted to “flood JFK for Gaza,” a callback to the “Al Aqsa Flood,” Hamas’ term for the Oct. 7 terror attacks — is failing to garner additional support for the Palestinian cause. But the protests are becoming a public nuisance, snarling traffic and redirecting city and state resources. And they are not winning over average Americans, who are split on U.S. support for the war.
A new Gallup poll out Friday found that 62% of Americans either believe that the United States is doing “too little” to support Israel (24%) or are satisfied with the current level of support from the Biden administration (38%). Only about one-third of respondents (34%) thought the United States was doing “too much” to support Israel.
And protests against Israel have not dampened support on Capitol Hill for the Jewish state in its war against Hamas. As the congressional recess wound down, a number of top lawmakers traveled to the Middle East last week. A Senate Intelligence Committee trip including Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), John Cornyn (R-TX), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Jon Ossoff (D-GA) stopped in Israel and Saudi Arabia for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) visited Israel and met with MBS separately in AlUla, Saudi Arabia.
Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Ted Budd (R-NC) visited Israel with Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Ann Wagner (R-MO), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Donald Norcross (D-NJ); many of the same lawmakers were in the Middle East on another trip when the Oct. 7 attack occurred. The group also visited Qatar.
Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) were in Jordan and Egypt this weekend, but were unable to visit Israel due to the volume of other trips visiting, Jewish Insider was told. Van Hollen, appearing on “Face the Nation” from Jordan, accused Israel of a “political decision” to slow down aid into Gaza, and said it should face “consequences.”
gaza war: day 94
Wind-down of northern Gaza fighting shows what Israeli victory may mean
Israel’s war aims, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Sunday’s cabinet meeting, are “eliminating Hamas, returning all of our hostages and ensuring that Gaza will never again constitute a threat to Israel.” But the military developments of the past few days have given a better glimpse at what winning the war looks like for Israel than the often-repeated slogans, Jewish Insider’s Lahav Harkov reports.
IDF updates: The IDF announced on Saturday that Israel had successfully dismantled Hamas’ military capabilities in northern Gaza. Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari listed five elements to the dismantling: killing any Hamas commanders, thus limiting the group’s ability to control and command its regiments of terrorists; fighting terrorists in the field; collecting intelligence, such as a newly released photo of Hamas military leader Muhammad Deif that is much more recent than the one previously known to the public; locating and destroying rockets, weapons and the locations in which they’re stored; and destroying Hamas’ underground infrastructure.
Switching gears: The IDF’s wind-down in northern Gaza comes weeks after the U.S. began calling for the war to enter a “less intense” phase. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Thursday that “the war will continue until its goals are reached,” but that in northern Gaza, the fighting is entering a different phase that is focused more on raids, airstrikes and special operations to take out “pockets of resistance” along with destroying tunnels, while in the south, the IDF will concentrate on eliminating Hamas’ leadership and freeing the hostages.
mind the gap
J Street postpones annual conference, leaving vacuum for Israel advocacy groups in 2024
In previous presidential election years, large gatherings focused on Israel were a reliable campaign stop for major candidates. That won’t be the case for Democrats this year. The progressive Israel advocacy organization J Street announced last week that it is postponing its planned April convention to 2025, citing “the state of the ongoing conflict” between Israel and Hamas, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports. The move comes after the American Israel Public Affairs Committee scrapped its annual policy conference in 2021, first citing pandemic risks and then sticking with the move after the group made a major policy shift toward fundraising and away from grassroots advocacy.
Serving a purpose: In the past, these Washington conferences served as a way for political candidates and elected officials to connect with potential voters and donors, and to articulate their positions on key foreign policy issues. They also allowed powerful officials to build bridges and repair ties in moments of conflict — such as in 2015, when National Security Advisor Susan Rice attended the AIPAC gathering just days after sharply criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on the Iran nuclear deal before a joint session Congress, which was hailed by AIPAC.
Stepping in: Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, sees an opportunity for her group, a campaign organization that works to elect Democrats. “Nothing beats the connection you feel when you’re in the same room as other people. That said, you can reach so many more people virtually,” said Soifer. “JDCA will have multiple opportunities this year, both virtual and in person, for Democrats to give remarks and to make their policies clear.”
Still in Washington: Both AIPAC and J Street will instead host leadership gatherings this spring for top donors and activists. Last year, more than 1,000 people attended a leadership meeting hosted by AIPAC in Washington.
New York congressman’s district office besieged by anti-Israel demonstrators
Rep. Pat Ryan’s (D-NY) district office in Kingston, N.Y., was besieged on Friday by a group of anti-Israel activists who attempted to force their way inside past staff members physically blocking the doors and onto the building’s roof, according to Ryan and video of the incident obtained by Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
The incident: Ryan, a staunchly pro-Israel lawmaker who represents a Hudson Valley district with a sizable Jewish population and who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement on Friday that the group had “attempted to forcibly enter” the office and “directly threaten[ed] my staff.”
The video: Responding to Ryan on X, formerly Twitter, some individuals purporting to have been involved in the demonstration denied that anyone attempted to force their way into the office. But in a video shared by a Ryan staffer, staffers for the congressman can be seen using their bodies to hold shut a partially opened door being obstructed by a demonstrator.
Elsewhere on Friday: Ryan is the latest in a growing number of pro-Israel lawmakers who’ve had their district offices vandalized or public appearances interrupted by anti-Israel protesters. But many of the incidents at lawmakers’ offices have taken place after hours and when no staff is present; the altercation at Ryan’s office took place during the day. Also on Friday, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) was escorted out through a back entrance from an event where she was delivering a speech, after the event was interrupted by three anti-Israel protesters. Other individuals protested outside.
Doha Dilemma: The Wall Street Journal’s Aruna Viswanatha and Julie Bykowicz look at the challenges facing Qatar, which has positioned itself as a global mediator, by its lobbying efforts stateside. “The new details have emerged as Qatar has taken on a high-profile role as mediator in some of the world’s most challenging conflicts, including Afghanistan and Gaza. It has helped to negotiate the return of Ukrainian children from Russia and of Americans detained in Venezuela. The emirate has long walked a tightrope between the U.S. and its adversaries. It hosts the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East as well as Hamas’s political leadership and, for years, that of the Taliban. It has purchased billions of dollars in arms from the U.S. and Europe, while also providing hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid for Gaza, in coordination with Israel and the U.S. The Gulf state has acted like many others by pouring money into a range of campaigns in Washington to further its national interests. ‘If they have any issue, it’s that they have a hard time saying no,’ said Jim Moran, a former Democratic representative who has lobbied for Qatar since 2017.” [WSJ]
A Reckoning Awaits: The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg writes about the death knell delivered to the Israeli government’s judicial reform proposals, as some members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government set their sights on the future of Gaza. “The Hamas massacre has unified the country and convinced most of its citizens that their own divisions invited the attack. In this telling, Israelis took a holiday from Jewish history to indulge their internecine feuds, and the enemies of Jewish life capitalized on their distraction. Even some of the more extreme members of Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party have now expressed regret over their past conduct. … But while the reckoning over Israel’s judiciary has been postponed, it has not been resolved. The fundamental tensions that compelled the crisis remain: a country without a constitution; a parliament that can pass quasi-constitutional laws with a bare majority, even without widespread consensus; and a high court that is the only check on the government’s power, but that lacks democratic accountability because its members are appointed by a body composed mostly of lawyers and other judges. When the war is done, Israel will still need to collectively address these outstanding issues.” [TheAtlantic]
Cotton’s Commentary:Commentary magazine published the remarks delivered by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) at the publication’s annual dinner, two months ago, at which he was the honoree. “Israel’s war against Hamas is righteous and just — and it will be won. Israel doesn’t need patronizing lectures about civilian casualties. As far as I’m concerned, Israel can bounce the rubble in Gaza. Israel has no more obligation to provide aid to Gaza than we had to provide aid to Germany and Japan in World War II. Israel’s ultimate enemy here — and ours — is Iran, and neither Israel nor the United States can be completely safe until the ayatollahs are scared straight or killed dead. The children of the stock of Abraham are indeed God’s chosen people, so anti-Semites are at war with the Almighty, not a good place to be. America cannot tolerate these anti-Semites. They should suffer severe legal, social, and political consequences for their hate. There’s a famous line in one of Commentary’s most famous articles, ‘Jewish Faith and the Holocaust,’ by Emil Fackenheim. This line was actually written by Norman [Podhoretz], who edited the article. He wrote of ‘an absolute commandment: Jews are forbidden to grant posthumous victories to Hitler.’ I join Norman and all friends of Commentary in strict observance of this commandment. No victories for Hitler or Hitlerism. No victories for Hamas, or Hezbollah, or Iran. No victories for the jackal bins marching in our streets and on our campuses.” [Commentary]
Taking on Iran: In The Hill, Sander Gerber and former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL), members of the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act’s advisory board, suggest a four-pronged strategy to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “As the Israel-Hamas war enters its fourth month, the more clear it is that the brutality of the Oct. 7 attacks was itself a strategy. Iran trained and funded Hamas with the mission to refocus global attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The barbaric pogrom, which Hamas fighters documented with GoPro cameras, was designed not only to terrorize Israelis, but to trigger a devastating Israeli invasion against Hamas in Gaza, replete with civilian casualties. Then could the images of Palestinian victims rouse the “Arab Street” and estrange rulers of the Sunni states in the Levant and Gulf from the emerging security structure that would be led by the U.S. and include Israel. It’s no coincidence that Iran-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen tried to attack shipping vessels in the Red Sea before the U.S. military put down the assault. It’s time for the world to confront what — and who — is behind this crisis.” [TheHill]
DEI Debate: In The New York Times, John McWhorter pushes back on claims that ousted Harvard President Claudine Gay was pushed out of her role because of racism rather than plagiarism. “To analyze this position as mere racism, though, is hasty. No one is trading in ‘stereotypes’ of Black talent by asking why Gay was elevated to the presidency of Harvard given her relatively modest academic dossier and administrative experience. It was reasonable to wonder whether Gay was appointed more because she is a Black woman than because of what she had accomplished, and whether this approach truly fosters social justice. There was a time when the word for this was tokenism, and there is a risk that it only fuels the stereotypes D.E.I. advocates so revile. To put it succinctly: Opposing D.E.I., in part or in whole, does not make one racist. We can agree that the legacy of racism requires addressing and yet disagree about how best to do it. Of course in the pure sense, to be opposed to ‘diversity,’ opposed to ‘equity’ and opposed to ‘inclusion’ would fairly be called racism. But it is coy to pretend these dictionary meanings are what D.E.I. refers to in modern practice, which is a more specific philosophy.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
Attack Mode: Former President Donald Trump criticized his primary opponent Nikki Haley during campaign speeches in Iowa over the weekend, saying his former U.N. ambassador “doesn’t have what it takes” to be president. His campaign is up with a sizable ad buy in New Hampshire hitting Haley over border security.
Leaning on Lerner:Semaforspotlights Haley aide Jon Lerner, described as “an almost invisibly low-profile political operative whose identity has nearly fused with” Haley since first working with her in 2009.
Keystone Showdown: Republican Dave McCormick raised a healthy $5.4 million in the final three months of 2023 — including $1 million that he personally contributed to the campaign. McCormick is running in a closely watched Senate race against Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA).
Obama’s Counsel: Former President Barack Obama, concerned about President Joe Biden’s political standing, has advised Biden and his top aides to expand the campaign’s inner circle.
Biden + Bibi: Politico looks at how the Biden administration is navigating its relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Asleep at the Wheel: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, still hospitalized, is facing heat for not informing White House colleagues — including the president and his deputy defense secretary — that he was incapacitated for several days last week.
Comms Clash: Axiosreports on tensions between White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and the National Security Council’s John Kirby, who split the task of briefing the press about the Biden administration’s top domestic and foreign policy issues, respectively.
California Coffer: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) announced a whopping fourth-quarter fundraising haul of $6.3 million for his Senate bid.
Dunn’s Decision: Former Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn launched his bid for the House seat being vacated by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD).
Police Blotter: Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) is the subject of a police investigation into an alleged physical altercation Saturday at a restaurant with her ex-husband.
Lamborn’s Exit: Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), one of the lead sponsors of the Taylor Force Act who’s been active on defense policy regarding Israel, announced on Friday that he wouldn’t run for reelection.
Notes from the Field: Following his trip to Israel last week, Pennsylvania Senate candidate David McCormick penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for a “comprehensive strategy to strangle the [Iranian] regime economically, weaken its proxies, and confront at home and abroad an ideology based on hate.”
Campus Probe: House Republicans plan to expand their ongoing investigation into college campuses beyond the initial subject of antisemitism.
Ackman Ally: The Wall Street Journal spotlights Harvard Corporation member Tracy Palandjian, an ally of Bill Ackman, a leading voice calling for the removal of university President Claudine Gay, who tendered her resignation last month.
Conspiracy Theory: The University of California, San Francisco condemned the use of the word “Zionist” in an antisemitic context after an activist’s tweet over “how many American doctors and nurses are Zionists” went viral; UCSF’s statement comes a month after 400 UCSF-affiliated health care workers staged a walkout and accused Israel of “genocide.”
Stepping Down: George Washington University professor Lara Sheehi, who was the subject of a Department of Education complaint alleging she discriminated against Jewish and Israeli students, is leaving the school to join the Qatar-based Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.
Damage Control: At least five of the most prominent colleges and university systems have hired top communications firms to help administrators navigate campus, donor and political issues amid heightened tensions over the Israel-Hamas war.
Bowing Out: MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan is leaving the media company, two months after it was announced that his Sunday show was canceled.
Shifting Tide: The New York Times looks at how labor unions, which have traditionally had a close relationship with Israel, have shifted support as more join calls for a cease-fire.
Hoop Nightmare: A high school girl’s basketball game was canceled midway through after players from Roosevelt High School in Yonkers, N.Y., hurled antisemitic insults at players from the Leffell School, a Jewish day school, and behaved aggressively on the court.
Close to Home: NBC News spotlights an Israeli yeshiva in the Negev where eight out of 300 students have been killed fighting in the Israel-Hamas war.
Freed Hostage Speaks: Freed Israeli hostage Doron Katz Asher detailed the “psychological warfare” she experienced while held in captivity along with her two young daughters.
Relatives in Re’im: Relatives of hostages taken from the Nova music festival in Re’im visited the music festival site and called for their loved ones’ releases.
Rescue Operation: The Washington Post does a deep dive into the successful American-Israeli-Palestinian effort to extract the mother and uncle of an American service member from Gaza.
Assassination Aftermath: Officials in Qatar told the relatives of Americans still being held hostage in Gaza that the killing of Hamas senior official Saleh Al-Arouri had complicated efforts to secure the release of the remaining hostages.
Hezbollah Hit: A senior Hezbollah leader was killed in an alleged Israeli strike in Lebanon, Lebanese sources reported this morning,
Gaza Strike: Two Palestinian journalists working for Al Jazeera were killed in an Israeli strike on a vehicle targeting a terror operative who was operating a drone, the IDF said.
En Route to the Hague: Israel tapped retired Supreme Court President Aharon Barak to sit on the 15-judge panel at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to hear South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide.
UAE Trials: The United Arab Emirates is putting on trial scores of suspected affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned in the Gulf nation since 2014.
Iran Warning: In a conversation on Saturday, France’s foreign minister warned her Iranian counterpart that Tehran should cease its proxies’ destabilizing activities in the Middle East.
Remembering: Former New York Times Executive Editor Joseph Lelyveld died at 86.
Pic of the Day
Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) received the Community Guardian Award at the Jewish Orthodox Women’s Medical Association’s annual dinner last night at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage.
“There are those calling for an immediate unconditional cease-fire that would keep Hamas in power and the hostages in captivity,” Torres said. “There is no greater supporter of an immediate unconditional cease-fire than Hamas itself because a cease-fire would enable Hamas to remain in power, regroup, rearm and launch even deadlier terror attacks than the atrocities of October 7th.”
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