Good Wednesday morning.
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we report on last night’s Senate vote on Israel, and have the scoop on a new complaint filed against American University over its handling of antisemitism on campus. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Jake Sullivan, Rep. Danny Davis and Bari Weiss.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken, speaking earlier today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said that threats from malign actors in the Middle East “will be minimized, if not totally eliminated” by efforts to pursue regional integration.
Blinken’s comments come amid reports that the Biden administration is expected to designate the Houthis as specially designated global terrorists. The move comes nearly three years after the Biden administration revoked the group’s designations as both a foreign terror organization and specially designated global terrorists. Read more on Blinken’s remarks in Davos below.
The move will help block Houthis’ access to the international financial system, but falls short of taking more stringent measures adopted by the Trump administration.
Gabriel Noronha, who served as a State Department advisor on Iran during the Trump administration, noted that the designation — which stopped short of again calling the group a foreign terror organization — meant that the Iran-backed militants “can still get US visas,” that it is “[n]ot a criminal penalty to support them” and that American banks are unable “to seize their funds.”
Former President Donald Trump imposed the more severe “foreign terrorist organization” designation on the Houthis during the end of his administration, but President Joe Biden’s State Department removed both terror designations shortly after taking office in 2021.
Before the recent wave of Houthi attacks, Blinken had been one of the administration’s top advocates for removing them from the terror lists. In February 2021, he criticized the designations for worsening Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, and said the reversals were “intended to ensure that relevant U.S. policies do not impede assistance to those already suffering what has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
Biden’s more aggressive posture comes as the Iran-backed group continues to disrupt shipping in the Red Sea despite American-led efforts to deter them. The U.S. led a third round of strikes against Houthi ballistic missiles in Yemen on Tuesday, but it hasn’t stopped the Houthis from firing at ships. The Houthis damaged an American-owned commercial ship with a ballistic missile on Monday, marking the first time they’ve hit an American target.
“We’re not looking for a war. We’re not looking to expand this,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday. “We will continue to defend against them and counter them as appropriate.”
After Houthi designation, Blinken warns of ‘super-empowered groups’ that ‘can make an extraordinary amount of trouble’
Secretary of State Tony Blinken warned on Wednesday of “super-empowered groups, super-empowered entities,” which, he said, “can make an extraordinary amount of trouble for nation-states and others.” Blinken made the comments during an interview with The New York Times’ Tom Friedman at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, less than a day after reports that the Biden administration is expected to designate the Iran-backed Houthis as specially designated global terrorists, Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss reports.
Going deeper: Alongside the challenges posed by militia and terror groups in the Middle East, Blinken said, is a “different equation that answers the profound needs of virtually everyone in the region, starting with Israel, and starting with its age-old quest for genuine security.” A broader effort to “change the larger direction of a region like the Middle East,” Blinken said, will resolve the challenges posed by malign actors. “A lot of these other problems will be minimized if not totally eliminated,” he explained. “The excuses, the rationales that various trouble-makers have for making trouble, they go away.”
Focus on Israel: A day earlier, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, also speaking in Davos, outlined the Biden administration’s long-term vision for the Middle East, which included further normalization efforts between Israel and Arab nations, as well as the creation of an independent Palestinian state. A top consideration, Blinken said on Wednesday, is Israel’s security needs. Under any circumstances, Blinken told Friedman, Israel “can’t have a repeat” of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks. The secretary of state made his fourth trip to the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war last week, meeting in Tel Aviv with families of hostages still being held in Gaza. “It’s hard to overstate the psychological impact on the country as a whole of what happened on that day,” he added.
PA posture: Blinken called for a “stronger, reformed Palestinian Authority that can more effectively deliver for its own people,” but stopped short of saying what that looks like in practice. “I think it’s also clear from conversations that are going on now that the Palestinians are looking very hard at how they can come up with a more effective governance that can actually deliver what people want. Some of what needs to be delivered is the basic function of government: services, no corruption, transparency in the way government is pursued.” A partnership with Israel, Blinken added, “has to be part of the equation as well.”
At Davos, Sullivan pushes Israel-Arab normalization alongside two-state solution
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Tuesday outlined Washington’s long-term vision for the Middle East in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, calling for renewed efforts to bridge ties between Israel and Arab nations alongside a push for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
New connections: Prior to the Oct. 7 attacks and the resulting Israel-Hamas war, the Biden administration had been working toward a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. At the time, the Palestinian issue was viewed as connected but not a central component of such a deal. Washington now insists the two must be linked.
Future planning: “As we respond to this crisis, we’re actively pursuing a pathway to normalization and integration with our regional partners,” Sullivan said. He described a four-point vision for “what the future can and should look like after the conflict: A future where Gaza is never again used as a platform for terror. A future where Israelis and Arabs can live in peace, Palestinians have a state of their own and Israel’s security is assured.”
Averting progress: At Davos, Sullivan alleged that Hamas’ coordinated attacks, in which more than 1,200 people were killed, were motivated by opposition to the U.S. push toward greater regional integration. “It was our progress toward that goal that Hamas sought to destroy on October 7,” he said.
on the hill
Senate rejects Sanders resolution that could have threatened Israel aid
The Senate soundly rejected a resolution led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that would have mandated the State Department investigate Israel for potential war crimes, and could have led to a cutoff of U.S. aid to Israel, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
The votes: Just 11 senators — Sanders and Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Rand Paul (R-KY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Laphonza Butler (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Peter Welch (D-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — voted against a procedural motion to kill Sanders’ resolution.
Go deeper: The resolution would have invoked a provision of U.S. foreign aid law that allows a chamber of Congress to demand the State Department provide, within 30 days, a report on a U.S. aid recipient country’s compliance with human rights law. Under that law, U.S. aid to Israel would have been automatically cut off if the State Department failed to deliver a report to Congress within 30 days. Once a report was provided, any senator could have forced a vote on cutting off aid to Israel. Sanders has sought in recent weeks to prevent additional U.S. aid to Israel amid the current war.
The opposition: Highlighting the resolution’s sweeping and highly specific demands for information, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) suggested it would be impractical to complete in the 30-day window. “Every one of us are concerned about what we see in regards to the crisis in Gaza. What we see in regards to the need for humanitarian assistance for innocent civilians being caught in this battle. But the resolution that’s being presented here today is the wrong vehicle to deal with this issue,” Cardin said. This reporting provision “was never intended to be used against an ally during a war.”
Houthi designation: Reports that the administration plans to redesignate the Houthis as a terrorist organization were largely met with praise from both sides of the aisle, particularly from some Democratsfacing competitive election races.
Jewish students file complaint against American University over handling of campus antisemitism
One Jewish student at American University was screamed at in class by a fellow student, “You are responsible for genocide.” Another was hauled in to the administration and is being investigated for filming students ripping down posters of Israelis held hostage by Hamas in Gaza. And in one AU class, a professor allegedly drove a Jewish student to leave in tears with her emotional praise of pro-Palestinian protests, turning a hard stare toward her that other students parroted. In response to these and other other incidents targeting Jewish students at AU, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and Jewish on Campus on Wednesday filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against the university, alleging violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen reports for Jewish Insider.
What it says: The 26-page complaint, which was shared exclusively with JI, details how since Oct. 7, pro-Palestinian protestors have blocked Jewish students’ access to dining halls and classrooms, dormitory doors and posters have been vandalized with swastikas and posters of Israeli hostages have been repeatedly torn down. It claims that the university “chose to further harass and discriminate against several Jewish students by subjecting them to a baseless disciplinary hearing for using their phones to record individuals tearing down posters of Israeli hostages.”
‘Very upsetting’: Lauren Cayle, a junior who is majoring in sociology and minoring in Jewish studies, is one of the students under investigation by the university for recording individuals tearing down hostage posters. “We were being followed and harassed by people ripping down the posters as we went,” she recalled. “It was very upsetting. Now we’re being investigated for standing up for ourselves. We’re potentially facing disciplinary action.”
Rep. Danny Davis faces fractured primary field
Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), the longtime Chicago congressman who has had a rocky relationship with the Chicago Jewish community over his stances on Israel, faces a new wrinkle in his bid for reelection — a broader field of challengers that could upend the dynamics of the March 19 Democratic primary, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
State of the race: Progressive Kina Collins, who has accused Israel of genocide, is making another bid to unseat the longtime congressman, after falling six percentage points short of Davis in the 2022 primary. But the vote is likely to be further divided this cycle, with Chicago Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, and former political staffer and nonprofit leader Kouri Marshall challenging Davis from the more moderate wing of the party. Educator Nikhil Bhatia is also running for the 7th Congressional District seat, which Davis has held since 1997.
Favorite: Frank Calabrese, a political consultant who lives in the district, told Jewish Insider he believes Davis is still favored to win the race, and described it as primarily a three-way competition among Davis, Collins and Conyears-Ervin. “I think he’s going to be there as long as he wants to be there,” Calabrese said. “That name is just so strong in the city of Chicago. It’s universally known. And he’s universally liked by the Black community… even in non-Black precincts, like where I live downtown, he does very well just because of his name ID.”
Building support: “The Israel-U.S. relationship is extremely important, and it’s important to all of us,” Conyears-Ervin told JI. “One thing that I think I can really bring to this district, as the congressperson, is that voice to really speak to all constituents and all communities to help us to understand that this relationship… affects all of us… I would like to make certain that Israel has the resources it needs.”
Pushing back: Marshall pushed back strongly against calls for a cease-fire, explaining, “if someone kidnapped your wife and kids, and you didn’t have them back just yet, would you be calling for a cease-fire or would you be engaging in the kinds of activities that could help you recover your loved ones?” He added, “I don’t understand why we have so many members of Congress who don’t understand why it is important for us to support Israel, or even candidates in my race [who] may hold those same notions.”
Meet the college president unafraid of speaking out against terrorism
While much of the attention around campus antisemitism has focused on elite private universities — and has centered on administrations’ inability to defend Jewish students — not all colleges have faced the same challenges. The president of a small, lesser-known public university in Rochester, Mich., was among the first to strongly condemn Hamas’ Oct. 7 atrocities, releasing a statement just hours after the attack and differentiating herself from counterparts who waffled over a response, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen reports for Jewish Insider.
‘Shocked and horrified’: “We are shocked and horrified by the unprovoked acts of brutality by Hamas terrorists in Israel,” Dr. Ora Hirsch Pescovitz wrote on Oct. 7 to Oakland University, a school with a diverse student body where Arab-Americans make up a significant share of attendees. “Whole families, including grandparents and infants, have been massacred or kidnapped from their homes. Our hearts go out to all the civilians who are victims of this senseless violence. The victims and their families are in our thoughts as we hope for a rapid and peaceful resolution of this crisis,” the statement continued.
Admin viewpoint: “I think there are a number of reasons why presidents have not spoken out, and I think they themselves are less clear on what the right thing to do is,” Pescovitz told JI. “They may have been conflicted in terms of what their actual beliefs were. I myself was not conflicted. Other presidents believe that Hamas was right and don’t want to speak against those students who believe that. …Many university presidents, as a result of the Israel-Hamas conflict, have decided they should no longer weigh in because this was such a complex area and they see it as two-sidesism. This is hypocrisy because they weighed in on George Floyd, the Supreme Court decision on abortion, the decision on affirmative action, the war in Ukraine. All of a sudden to not weigh in on antisemitism on their own campuses is cowardice. It really is an abdication of the responsibility of a university president to lead.”
Elsewhere in Michigan: The Ann Arbor school board is set to vote today on a resolution calling for a cease-fire.
One Calm Campus: In Tablet magazine, University of Pittsburgh professors, Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili and Abdesalam Soudi, who began a dialogue series on their campus in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks, explain how the conversations have impacted their community. “Many people have asked us why our university did not disintegrate into chaos — like so many others — after Oct. 7. The students, faculty, and staff at the University of Pittsburgh are tied closely to the community. So many of us were touched by what happened at Tree of Life. The shadow of this tragedy — of this hatred — looms large. We suspect passions are tempered because people know just how high the stakes are here in Pittsburgh. We experienced the painful, ugly reality of dehumanization just footsteps from our campus. Universities are wracked with debates over the role of freedom of expression. But what is missing from these conversations is any discussion about civil discourse. Universities will never be able to solve the world’s problems unless we see those with divergent perspectives as human first and worthy of respect and care. Scientific advancement is not possible if we all see the world the same way. Participants walk away from our events with a reminder that the diversity of viewpoints that we hold is not only critical, but vital for our universities to thrive.” [Tablet]
The ‘G’ Word: The New York Times’ Bret Stephens contests accusations of genocide faced by Israel at the International Court of Justice. “It’s obscene because it politicizes our understanding of genocide, fatally eroding the moral power of the term. The war between Israel and Hamas is terrible — as is every war. But if this is genocide, what word do we have for the killing fields in Cambodia, Stalin’s Holodomor in Ukraine, the Holocaust itself? Words that come to mean much more than originally intended eventually come to mean almost nothing at all — a victory for future génocidaires who’d like the world to think there’s no moral or legal difference between one kind of killing and another. … If Israel were trying to commit genocide, it wouldn’t be putting its soldiers at risk or allowing humanitarian relief to arrive from Egypt or withdrawing many of its forces from Gaza. It would simply be killing Palestinians everywhere, in vastly greater numbers, as Germans killed Jews or Hutus killed Tutsis.” [NYTimes]
Tunnel Vision: In The Free Press, Agam Goldstein-Almog, who was held hostage by Hamas for more than 50 days, recounts her experience in Gaza and her interactions with other hostages. “It was in the tunnels that I met other young women. Most of them were just a year or so older than my 17 years. Some still had bloody gunshot wounds that had been left untreated in makeshift bandages. One had a dismembered limb. I heard from them accounts of terrifying and grotesque sexual abuse, often at gunpoint. They told me that when they were sad and cried, their captors took advantage of their helplessness even more, stroking and caressing them, and then shoving and grabbing intimate parts of their bodies. … These young women were scared and feared for their lives. They begged us to meet with their families if we were released. Tell them you saw us, they said, but don’t tell them everything. Save their souls from the ghastly details, they said, some of them close to their breaking point. They pleaded with us to continue to fight for them. To make sure they come home. Don’t let the world forget us, they whispered.” [FreePress]
Around the Web
About-face on DEI: Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), who is launching a primary challenge to President Joe Biden, removed a reference on his campaign website to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, changing the language to “Equity & Restorative Justice” following public comments from Bill Ackman, who recently donated $1 million to a super PAC backing Phillips, saying that the Minnesota legislator “didn’t understand DEI until recently.”
Long Way to Summer: Facing a contested Democratic primary, left-wing Rep. Summer Lee (D-PA) won endorsements from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and the rest of the House Democratic leadership team.
Long Island Sound: The Republican Jewish Coalition announced a “significant independent expenditure” in New York’s 3rd Congressional District in support of GOP candidate Mazi Pilip as the DCCC launched an ad campaign painting Pilip as “part of the extreme wing of the Republican Party.”
Media Money: Bari Weiss’ The Free Pressis in talks with investors to raise capital in 2024, shortly after the hiring of Axel Springer’s Lars Kahl as COO.
Profit Motive: Goldman Sachs saw its first increase in earnings in two years, ending the fourth quarter of 2023 with a 51% surge in profit.
Cease-fire Call: The board of Ben & Jerry’s called for a permanent cease-fire to end the Israel-Hamas war.
School Daze: A New Jersey school superintendent apologized for disseminating “biased and antisemitic” learning materials to teachers planning lessons for Muslim Heritage Month.
Manhattan March: Anti-Israel protestors demonstrated outside Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, later targeting a nearby Starbucks and McDonald’s that they accused of making “meals for genocide.”
Across the Pond: U.K. Labour party leader Keir Starmer reversed a Jeremy Corbyn-era policy that would have recognized a Palestinian state on “day one” of a Labour administration, saying that “recognition has to be part of a process, and an appropriate part of the process.”
Tamimi Talk: The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations sent a letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken calling for the extradition from Jordan of convicted terrorist Ahlam Tamimi, who was a key figure in the 2001 Sbarro terror attack in Jerusalem.
Tunnel Talk: The New York Times reports on the extensive tunnel network discovered underneath Gaza.
Southern Sojourn: Time magazine’s John Spencer reflects on his visit to Kibbutz Kfar Aza in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 terror attacks.
Hostage Deaths: Kibbutz Be’eri confirmed the deaths of two of its residents who appeared in a Hamas propaganda video released this week and are believed to have been killed while in captivity.
Split Decision: The Wall Street Journalreports on divisions among members of Israel’s war cabinet over its strategy for the next phases of the war and the day-after scenario in Gaza.
Doha’s Deal: Qatar announced an agreement it brokered between Israel and Hamas to deliver medicine to the remaining hostages in Gaza.
Pic of the Day
Birthday decorations and a cake at the Kibbutz Nir Oz nursery with a picture of Kfir Bibas, a kibbutz resident who is being held hostage in Gaza after he was kidnapped with his father, mother and brother during the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks. Kfir will turn 1 year old on Thursday.
Host of television’s tabloid talk show “Maury,” originally known as the “Maury Povich Show,” Maury Povich turns 85…
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