Good Thursday morning.
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we cover the pushback on Capitol Hill to the International Court of Justice’s hearing on Israel happening today, and report on confirmation from the Biden administration over the status of the Golan Heights. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff, Sharon Nazarian, Irwin Cotler and Yoav Gallant.
From Jerusalem to Washington to Pretoria, all eyes are on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague today, which is hearing a complaint by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide and making an appeal for an injunction to stop the war in Gaza, Jewish Insider senior political correspondent Lahav Harkov writes.
With the case based in part on bellicose statements by Israeli politicians, including cabinet ministers, and pop singers, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who was also cited by South Africa’s representative at the court this morning — clarified Israel’s position in a video released Wednesday evening.
“Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population,” he said. “Israel is fighting Hamas terrorists, not the Palestinian population, and we are doing so in full compliance with international law.”
Netanyahu noted the IDF’s efforts to “minimize civilian casualties,” such as dropping leaflets, calling Gazans and opening corridors out of combat zones, while Hamas is “doing its utmost to maximize” harm to civilians by using them as human shields.
“Our goal is to rid Gaza of Hamas terrorists and free our hostages. Once this is achieved Gaza can be demilitarized and deradicalized, thereby creating a possibility for a better future for Israel and Palestinians alike,” he said.
The ICJ is unlikely to order Israel to end the fighting in Gaza, but could issue other injunctions, which would not be binding but could still impact the continuation of the war, a Justice Ministry source told JI. As a terrorist organization, Hamas is bound neither by the laws of war nor ICJ rulings.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken called the genocide accusation “meritless” in a press conference in Tel Aviv earlier this week, noting that it is “particularly galling, given that those who are attacking Israel – Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, as well as their supporter, Iran – continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews.”
But as Blinken praised the United Nations and called for Israel to put its trust in the international organization’s workers, the watchdog NGO UN Watch published further evidence of ties between Hamas and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which aids Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
UN Watch uncovered a Telegram group of 3,000 UNRWA teachers in Gaza, many of whom celebrated the Oct. 7 massacre as it was happening. The group, UN Watch showed, regularly sends messages inciting and praising terrorism.
UNRWA teacher Waseem Ula posted a photo of an explosive vest with the message, “Wait, sons of Judaism,” and wrote of a terrorist who took part in the Oct. 7 attack that God should “admit him to paradise without judgment.” Another teacher, Abdallah Mehjez, who formerly worked for the BBC, said that Gazan civilians should ignore Israel’s warnings to move away from areas that the IDF plans to attack -— in other words, to serve as human shields for Hamas.
“This is the motherlode of UNRWA teachers’ incitement to jihadi terrorism,” UN Watch’s executive director, Hillel Neuer, said, noting that the behavior is also in violation of the U.N. Code of Conduct.
Blinken emphasized that Israel had no choice but to work with the U.N. only hours before the trove of messages was published. He called the U.N. “indispensable,” saying that there is “simply no alternative.” He paid tribute to the “extraordinary courage” of U.N. personnel and aid workers. More below.
The secretary of state also praised Sigrid Kaag, the newly appointed leader of the U.N.’s Gaza reconstruction effort. Kaag, the wife of a former Palestinian Authority deputy prime minister under Yasser Arafat, is a former Dutch politician who vocally opposed the prime minister’s support for Israel. She is one of many U.N. appointees tasked to deal with the Israel-Palestinian conflict whose biases against the Jewish state were apparent before their first day on the job.
Beyond the U.N.’s personnel choices, the IDF has repeatedly found that the international organization’s facilities and equipment were used to aid Hamas terrorism, including weapons belonging to Hamas’ elite Nukhba force inside UNRWA bags and UNRWA schools being used to shield terrorist activity. Hamas shot rockets and mortars at Israel from UNRWA schools on many occasions.
Some notable polling: A significant share of American Jews feel less safe today than they did before Oct. 7, recent polling commissioned by the American Jewish Committee, shared exclusively with JI, found.
The survey, conducted by the pollster SSRS between Oct. 5- Nov. 21, found that more than 4 in 10 (43%) American Jews said the Oct. 7 terror attacks in Israel made them feel either a “great deal” or a “fair amount” less safe in the United States. An additional 34% said the Hamas massacre made them feel “a little” less safe.
The polling is from the AJC’s State of Antisemitism in America 2023 Report, a survey of American Jews and a comparison study of U.S. adults. The full poll will be coming out next month.
UCLA professor’s ‘wake-up call’ to anti-Israel hostility on campus
When Sharon Nazarian started teaching a new class on Oct. 4 at the University of California Los Angeles, designed to look at antisemitism from a global lens, she couldn’t have known just how timely the topic was about to become. Three days after the class began, Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel and launched a massive terror attack that killed more than 1,200 Israelis. In the wake of the war that followed, rates of antisemitism skyrocketed on college campuses around the U.S. “I have to admit that when I designed the class, ‘The Globalization of Antisemitism: A Survey of Transnational Trends,’ largely based on my Anti-Defamation League experience, I had no idea what Oct. 7 would bring,” Nazarian, the former senior vice president of international affairs and current board member of the ADL, told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen for Jewish Insider.
Mirror image: “Everything that you have read about in terms of the challenges on U.S. campuses showed up directly in my class and with my students,” she said, calling the class, made up of 25 students from diverse backgrounds (an estimated 30% of whom are Jewish), a “wake-up call” about today’s students. The class ran in the global studies department – which Nazarian, a former adjunct professor at UCLA from 2005-2017, said provided a more diverse group of students than doing so through the Jewish or Israel studies departments would have.
Echo chambers: “Students are unwilling to hear theses that challenge their own worldview. Students today have far less knowledge of history and analytical thinking skills than previous generations, and this becomes a huge challenge when teaching critical issues such as antisemitism,” Nazarian said, noting that social media — TikTok in particular — has contributed to “the relativism trap.”
on the hill
Senators reject genocide accusations against Israel ahead of ICJ hearing
Senators rejected accusations that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza, ahead of a hearing at the International Court of Justice about genocide allegations leveled by South Africa against Israel, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Sit this one out: “Maybe South Africa ought to sit this one out,” Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) said at a luncheon on Capitol Hill hosted by the Orthodox Union yesterday, adding that it’s “appalling” to accuse Israel of genocide “given the history there.” Israel has the “ability to actually do that, if they wanted to, but they’re there to eliminate Hamas,” Fetterman continued. “Hamas hides behind civilians… If Hamas decided to stand up on a real battlefield, they’d be incinerated in 15 minutes.”
Procedures: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) likewise condemned South Africa’s genocide accusations. “To say this is a genocide is absurd. It’s not what genocide means,” she said. “And it’s an outrageous thing [to be] attributed to the Israeli people.” Gillibrand said that, on recent visits to Israel, she’s heard from Israeli officials about their careful procedures for limiting civilian deaths in their strikes.
Arab world: Gillibrand, who recently visited Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan with other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she believes that “Arab states are ready to rebuild the Palestinian state free of Hamas, to actually be the ones to invest in rebuilding, to have a long-term peace agreement with Israel, to provide regional security, to have a defense agreement between Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the Abraham Accords, countries along with Jordan and Egypt.”
Exclusive: Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) is urging the FBI to investigate a data breach at the genetic testing service 23andMe targeting the information of Ashkenazi Jews, and determine if the data exposed could “be exploited to target the Jewish community.” The hack exposed the locations, photos and family lineage of 6.9 million people. “I am concerned that the leaked data could empower Hamas, their supporters, and various international extremist groups to target the American Jewish population and their families,” Gottheimer wrote in a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray on Thursday.
Israelis push back against Blinken’s pressure on humanitarian aid
Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s visit to Israel came with a heightened focus on the ability to get humanitarian aid “more effectively” to Palestinian civilians in Gaza. His remarks — that Israel “needs to do everything it can to remove any obstacles, from crossings to other parts of Gaza, improving deconfliction procedures to ensure the aid can move safely and securely” — sparked an unusually sharp response from the IDF spokesman, and came as hostages’ families attempted to block aid trucks entering Gaza. At a press conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night, Blinken pushed the humanitarian message, highlighting a U.N. claim that 90% of Gaza’s population faces acute food insecurity, noting that the situation is “excruciating,” and “for children…can have lifelong consequences,” Jewish Insider’s Lahav Harkov reports.
More of everything: “More food, more water, more medicine, other essential goods need to get into Gaza. And then once they’re in Gaza, they need to get more effectively to the people who need them,” Blinken said, adding: “And Israel needs to do everything it can to remove any obstacles from crossings to other parts of Gaza…to ensure that the aid can move safely and securely.”
Army response: IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari posted a video to X (formerly Twitter) shortly after Blinken’s remarks, pushing back against the allegations in English and more vehemently than his usual dispassionate tone. “We will not lose sight – not for a second – of our humanity as we pursue our mission to free our hostages from Hamas and free Gaza from Hamas,” Hagari emphasized. “We are making vast efforts to minimize harm to the civilians that Hamas has forced into the role of human shields,” Hagari said. “Our war is against Hamas, not against the people of Gaza; we’re going to live next to them. This might not fit the narrative told on TV or TikTok, but our actions are proof that we care more about the people of Gaza than Hamas, who seeks the suffering of their own people as a strategy.”
Israeli preparedness: Hagari said that Israel is “ready and willing to facilitate as much humanitarian aid as the world will give.” While the IDF checks trucks to ensure weapons do not enter Gaza, Hagari said, “we have been screening aid trucks faster than aid organizations are able to get them into Gaza. “Unfortunately, for weeks there have been long lines of humanitarian aid [trucks] sitting, waiting to get to the people of Gaza who truly need this critical aid,” he pointed out. In addition, there have been rampant cases of looting of aid trucks and Hamas terrorists stealing and stockpiling goods.
U.S. ambassador to Lebanon acknowledged Israeli sovereignty over Golan
U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Lisa Johnson affirmed during her confirmation proceedings last month that the Biden administration recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and its importance for Israeli security, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Previous answers: The administration has been reluctant to publicly and firmly state that it stands behind the Trump administration’s decision in 2019 to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, stating when questioned publicly that there had been no change in U.S. policy, without clearly specifying what that policy entails.
The policy: “The Trump administration recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in a March 25, 2019 Proclamation,” Johnson said in written responses to questions submitted by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) prior to her confirmation. “The Biden Administration has not changed that policy.”
Security matter: “Israel must protect itself from Hizballah and other terrorist and regional threats,” Johnson continued. “In this regard, the Golan Heights, including Shebaa Farms, remains critically important to Israel’s security.”
Elsewhere in Washington: Rep. Virgina Foxx (R-NC), on behalf of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, requested that Harvard’s leadership produce more than 20 tranches of documents related to antisemitic incidents on campus and the school’s response to them by Jan. 23, as part of the committee’s investigation on campus antisemitism.
Chris Christie steps out of presidential race
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dropped out of the presidential race on Wednesday night, Jewish Insider Editor-in-Chief Josh Kraushaar reports. “My goal has never been to be just a voice against the hate and the division and the selfishness of what our party has become under Donald Trump. It’s also been to win the nomination and defeat Joe Biden, and restore our party and our country to a new place of hope and optimism,” Christie said at a town hall in New Hampshire.
Backing no one: Christie did not endorse a challenger, and even criticized Republicans who fail to attack former President Donald Trump as unfit for the presidency. But his withdrawal is encouraging news for Nikki Haley, who is also competing for more-moderate GOP primary voters looking to move past Trump.
Survey says: A CNN poll of New Hampshire Republican primary voters released this week showed Trump’s vote share (at 39%) lagged behind Haley and Christie’s combined support. Christie’s withdrawal will help centrist primary voters consolidate behind Haley. It will make the New Hampshire primary a likely barn burner, and give anti-Trump forces a chance to build momentum that’s been lacking throughout the campaign.
Who is Yoav Gallant?: Tablet magazine’s Armin Rosen profiles Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. “He is said to be a voracious student of history, with an interest in the Middle East, World War II, Islam, Jewish history, and Zionist history. As with the sometimes-mercurial Ariel Sharon, who pulled off one of Israel’s most fateful reversals at a time when Gallant served as his military secretary, there is a significant side of Gallant’s personality that he shields from his battlefield enemies, his political opponents, and — crucially — members of the press. He gave no real on-record interviews during the first three months of the war, and did not talk to me. He seems to believe that amid a multifront conflict and simmering domestic political chaos, excessive outside mediation of his decisions is unnecessary, maybe even counterproductive. ‘Don’t be confused,’ Yom-Tov Samia, a retired general who oversaw the IDF’s southern command between 2001 and 2003 and served with Gallant during three operations against Hamas in Gaza, told me. ‘The only ones who control what’s happening now are Gallant and the army headquarters.’” [Tablet]
Hawkish on Iran: In Politico, retired Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a former assistant secretary of state in the Bush 43 administration, suggests that the Biden administration take a more aggressive position in its approach to Iran. “Still, no such decision should be taken lightly, reactively or arbitrarily. U.S. President Joe Biden shouldn’t rush into an announcement hastily. Rather, his administration must persuade Congress and convince the American people of its purpose, cost and potential consequences. It must be made clear that raising the stakes against Iran isn’t provocative — it is fixing crucial boundaries — and failing to do so will cost American lives. Our allies will also need to be convinced of the merits of this new policy and brought along as partners and beneficiaries. Moreover, the U.S. will have to explain this shift to the United Nations, which has so far done little to try and restrain Iran and its proxies. Doing nothing or simply relying on the current policy is no longer an option. A tougher approach is the responsible way to respond.” [Politico]
War Wind-down: The Washington Post’s David Ignatius considers the role the U.S. could play in encouraging Israel to wind down its war with Hamas. “As the Biden administration struggles to contain the fallout of the Gaza war, it is encountering the same paradox that has haunted Middle East policy for a half-century: The United States is the only outside power strong enough to shape the region militarily and politically. But it can’t impose solutions, especially on a close ally like Israel. The United States is still, despite all its setbacks, the ‘indispensable nation’ in the Middle East. Yet it’s also a prisoner of events it can’t control — above all the abiding mistrust and violence between Israelis and Palestinians.” [WashPost]
Wrong on Genocide: In the National Post, former Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Irwin Cotler accuses South Africa of “inverting reality” with its accusation of genocide against Israel. “This is not to suggest, or to have it inferred, that what is happening in Gaza is not a human and humanitarian tragedy. Innocent Gazans have been killed, displaced and deprived, and have experienced terrible suffering. At the same time, Israel’s actions in Gaza are impossible to reconcile with the intention to commit genocide — a necessary element of the crime. Israel consistently seeks to minimize harm to civilians using measures including leaflets, messages and phone calls to urge civilians to evacuate targeted areas, creating humanitarian zones and corridors, and facilitating humanitarian aid. On the other hand, Hamas embeds itself within civilian structures, places its headquarters beneath hospitals, fires rockets from within schools and mosques and adjacent to UN sites, and builds the entrances to massive terror tunnels under children’s beds. Not only are there over 130 innocent Israelis still being held hostage in Gaza, but over two million Gazans are also being held hostage, as Hamas uses its own people as human shields. Indeed, Hamas has repeatedly murdered Gazan civilians who have sought to flee combat zones. While Israel seeks to minimize civilian casualties, Hamas seeks to maximize them.” [NationalPost]
Around the Web
Ship Saga: A group of armed and “unauthorized” individuals wearing military uniforms boarded the St. Nikolas, a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker now in the Gulf of Oman that last year was at the core of a dispute between Iran and the U.S.
Veepstakes: In a town hall hosted by Fox News Channel in Iowa, former President Donald Trump suggested he had already decided who would be his running mate in a general election, and intimated that he agreed with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s comments that former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is going to “get smoked” in the primary.
Backing McCormick: Keystone Renewal, a super PAC backing GOP Pennsylvania Senate candidate David McCormick, has raised $18 million to support his bid, with some of the total coming from Citadel’s Ken Griffin, Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman and Elliott Management’s Paul Singer.
The Center Holds: Sen. John Fetterman’s (D-PA) job approval rating spiked after his outspoken defense of Israel since the Oct. 7 attacks, according to a new Quinnipiac poll. Roughly one-quarter of voters (26%) say they think more favorably of Fetterman for expressing strong support for Israel, while just 14% say this makes them think less favorably of him.
Soft on Houthis: Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned the efficacy of the Red Sea maritime task force in the wake of additional Houthi attacks. He warned that the continuing threat “could soon lead to a catastrophe unless the Biden administration acts with the resolve that it has so far sorely lacked.”
Campus to Congress: Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and James Lankford (R-OK) urged Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who leads the Senate’s education committee, to hold a hearing on campus antisemitism. In November, Sanders had allegedly declined a request by committee Republicans to do so.
Call to Resign: Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-PA) called for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to resign amid the controversy over Austin’s recent hospitalization, the first House Democrat to make such a call.
Off[ice] Hours: In The Wall Street Journal, former White House aide Tevi Troy considers how past presidential administrations have responded to the idea of “personal time,” in the wake of Austin’s hospitalization, which the White House was not kept apprised of.
Bid for Cash: News startup The Messengeris seeking an infusion of $20 million to keep its struggling operation — which closed out 2023 with a net loss of $43 million — afloat.
Push for Paramount: Skydance Media’s David Ellison is in talks to move forward with an all-cash bid for Paramount Global’s parent company, National Amusements; such a deal would effectively end Shari Redstone’s control of her family’s media empire.
Fade to Black: Brothers Benny and Josh Safdie are ending their filmmaking partnership on “amicable” terms, with a film intended to be a follow-up to their 2019 “Uncut Gems” put on indefinite pause.
Art Ruling: A federal appellate court ruled in favor of a Madrid art museum housing a Camille Pissarro painting that had been looted by the Nazis; prior to WWII, the work had been owned by a Jewish woman and sold under duress in exchange for exit visas for her family.
Passport Protection: Germany and Hungary are granting citizenship to some of the Israeli hostages who have family from those countries, in an effort to provide an extra layer of protection to those in captivity.
Border Call: Relatives of hostages held in Gaza gathered at the Israel-Gaza border this morning and addressed their loved ones via loudspeakers.
Taking on Terror: Washington and its allies are contemplating how to address growing Houthi threats in the Red Sea, following the U.N. Security Council’s passage of a resolution calling for an immediate end to the Iran-backed terror group’s attacks.
On the Calendar: The U.N.’s special representive on sexual violence is expected to visit Israel in the coming weeks at the invitation of the Israeli government to investigate sex crimes committed by Hamas on Oct. 7.
Remembering: David Pollock, the Bernstein Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy since 2007, died at 73. Screenwriter Norma Barzman, who along with her husband was blacklisted in Hollywood during the Red Scare, died at 103.
Pic of the Day
Some 50,000 people participated in a mass prayer rally at the Western Wall on Wednesday calling for the return of the hostages held in Gaza. Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi David Lau, Western Wall Rabbi Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch and additional leading rabbis from the Haredi and Religious Zionist sectors participated in the event alongside families of the hostages.
Retired judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago, author of 40 books on jurisprudence and economics, Richard Posner turns 85…
Psychologist and the author of 26 books, he lectures at NYU, Michael Eigen turns 88… Violinist and music teacher, Shmuel Ashkenasi turns 83… Film, television and theater director, Joel Zwick turns 82… Las Vegas resident, Stephen Norman Needleman… Economist and professor of banking at Columbia University, Frederic Stanley “Rick” Mishkin turns 73… Noted gardener and florist, Lynn Blitzer… Professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of experimental medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dr. Jerome E. Groopman turns 72… Former member of the Canadian House of Commons, Susan Kadis turns 71… Former director general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Avi Gil turns 69… CEO of Sense Education, Seth Haberman turns 64… Attorney, author, speaker and activist, Brian Cuban turns 63… VP at Republic National Distributing Company and a former president of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, Alan Franco… Rabbi at Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto (BAYT), Rabbi Daniel Korobkin turns 60… Former National Hockey League player for 12 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks, Ronald “Ronnie” Stern turns 57… Actress, socialite and reality television personality, Kyle Richards Umansky turns 55… Defensive tackle in the Canadian Football League for twelve seasons, he is a co-owner at Vera’s Burger Shack based in Vancouver, B.C., Noah Cantor turns 53… Film, stage and television actress, Amanda Peet turns 52… Hockey coach, he is a former goaltender with the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, Josh Tordjman turns 39… Member of the Knesset for the Labor Party, Naama Lazimi turns 38… Executive chef and restaurateur, Yehuda Sichel… VP and head of strategic partnerships at Penzer Family Office, Michal (Mickey) Penzer… French-American actress, Flora Cross turns 31… Founder of Nannies by Noa, now a content strategist at EyeControl, Noa Mintz turns 23…