Good Tuesday morning.
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we talk to Five for Fighting’s John Ondrasik about his new song about Oct. 7, “OK,” and interview the Polish-British PR specialist behind the Visegrad24 X account. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Calvin Trillin, Tamara Cofman Wittes and Elon Musk.
Nikki Haley wrapped up her New Hampshire campaign Monday in a packed hotel ballroom on the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border — in Salem, the hometown of Haley-boosting Gov. Chris Sununu, but lately a stronghold of former President Donald Trump’s since his political rise in 2016, Jewish Insider Editor-in-Chief Josh Kraushaar writes from New Hampshire.
Haley’s rousing campaign finale ahead of today’s primary wasbriefly interrupted by a heckler who expressed his love for the former South Carolina governor, only to declare he’s voting for Trump. The episode was reflective of the long odds Haley faces in defeating Trump — in a state that will end up being a make-or-break contest for her underdog candidacy.
New Hampshire is as hospitable a primary for the Trump-skeptical forces: It’s an open primary allowing independents to participate. The New England state’s GOP electorate is a notch more moderate than its early state counterparts. And without a competitive Democratic primary taking place, there will be a smattering of anti-Trump Democratic voters looking to make a statement against the former president in the GOP race.
But in a one-on-one contest pitting Trump against voters looking for a change, polls show Trump with a substantial advantage. A new CNN/University of New Hampshire survey found Trump widening his lead over Haley to 11 points (50-39%), while a pre-election Washington Post/Monmouth University poll found Trump with a significant 18-point edge (52-34%). And the final Boston Globe/Suffolk University tracking poll shows Trump opening up a whopping 22-point lead (60-38%).
Any benefit Haley received from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dropping out of the race was overcome by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy’s withdrawals and endorsements of Trump. Her third-place showing in Iowa failed to give her the necessary momentum in the Granite State.
With expectations downgraded, perhaps a close second-place finish could give Haley a chance to be the comeback candidate — and move on to South Carolina. But a double-digit defeat would signal we’re close to the end of the GOP primary campaign — and at the beginning of the Trump nomination coronation.
Donors are alreadycoming to grips with the likelihood of Trump’s nomination, while once-resistant lawmakers are rallying to endorse him.
It’s possible the more intriguing contest will be on the Democratic side, which is holding an unsanctioned primary without President Joe Biden on the ballot — but one where his allies are encouraging backers to write his name in. If the Biden write-in effort fails to secure a healthy majority of the vote (against Rep. Dean Phillips and author Marianne Williamson), it would be an embarrassing showing for the sitting president.
One dynamic to watch: Anti-Israel activists are encouraging voters to write in “cease fire” on their ballots as part of a protest against Biden’s support for the Jewish state. The New Hampshire secretary of state’s office originally indicated it wouldn’t separate those write-in votes from other random write-ins, but later said it would count the cease-fire votes separately.
Democratic Majority For Israel, the pro-Israel Democratic group, called on New Hampshire’s secretary of state not to separately tally votes for “cease fire,” arguing state law doesn’t allow for the tallying of non-persons in the count.
The man behind one of the most popular pro-Israel social media feeds
Users of X (formerly Twitter) who follow news from Israel may have noticed an account called Visegrad24 frequently popping up on their feeds in recent months with headlines and videos about the war between the Jewish state and Hamas. Tweeting a dozen or more times per day, Visegrad24 can go from posting videos of the IDF dropping leaflets over Gaza, to marking the death of “one of the bloodiest mass-murderers in history…dictator and…psychopath” Vladimir Lenin, to noting that Miss America 2024 is an active-duty U.S. Air Force servicemember. One of the men behind Visegrad24, Stefan Tompson, 30, stepped out from the shadows and gave Jewish Insider’s Lahav Harkov a rare interview this month in which he pushed back against the accusations. Tompson discussed the mission of his social media operation, his support for Israel and how it fits with his Polish patriotism, and his view of the West as a civilization under threat.
Presenting Israel: Tompson spoke during a visit to Tel Aviv this month to create content in support of Israel, his second-ever visit to the Jewish state after a prior Catholic pilgrimage. In addition to visiting sites of the Oct. 7 massacre and Hostages Square, Tompson and his team set up a studio in his hotel on the shore of the Mediterranean to interview survivors of the Nova Party massacre, Holocaust survivors, politicians, activists, singer Matisyahu and more. His team has also traveled to Ramallah and Jerusalem to film content and conduct interviews. “I’m not as interested in the war as I am in showing what this country is,” Tompson said. “I don’t think the war is this country…Israel presents itself through the wrong lens. It has to present itself as strong because it’s surrounded by states that don’t wish it well – but Europe, the U.S., especially the left, look at the world through a different lens and judge the world by their own metrics.”
Polish perspective: Tompson’s lens is that of a conservative and self-described “Polish patriot.” He grew up in London and Paris in a Polish emigre family – his great-grandfather left in 1933 – and made “my own version of aliyah,” he said, returning to his family’s country of origin as an adult. He’s very bullish on the country, one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, due to a “great energy” he says Poland and Israel share, “a sense that millennials and Gen Z will do better than their parents and grandparents. That’s not the same as the West.”
‘It’s a moral issue,’ Five for Fighting’s John Ondrasik says of new pro-Israel anthem
John Ondrasik’s music career took off more than two decades ago when his song “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” became the unofficial anthem of 9/11 first responders. Under his stage name Five for Fighting, Ondrasik has since been nominated for a Grammy and saw his single “100 Years” go platinum. He’s also made a habit of creating politically conscious music focused on global events. With his most recent single “OK,” released on Friday, the Los Angeles-based songwriter turned his falsetto to the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks and their aftermath on the world stage. Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch talked to Ondrasik about the song, the first time a mainstream American artist has addressed the attack in Israel.
Moral music: “The fact that nobody was saying anything — nobody in the arts, in Hollywood, were saying anything — just kind of stunned me and made me angry,” Ondrasik said on Monday. His recent political songs (though he prefers the term “moral” to “political”) include a 2021 song focused on the consequences of the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan, and a 2022 song about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. (For that one, he recorded a music video with the Ukrainian Orchestra at a bombed-out airport outside Kyiv.)
Time for choosing: A corresponding music video offers a powerful illustration of the somber message described in his song: “This is a time for choosing / this is a time to mourn / the moral man is losing.” The video cycles between clips of the massacre (it begins with a word of caution, warning of “disturbing” images), video of protests in the West cheering the Hamas attack and news headlines documenting the rise of global antisemitism since October.
Stand up: Ondrasik is not Jewish, nor has he traveled to Israel. (A planned trip in 2020 was canceled because of the pandemic.) But he argued that that shouldn’t be a prerequisite for speaking out on this issue. “I don’t think one has to be Jewish to stand for Israel and fight against the evilness of Hamas,” he said. “It’s also very disconcerting to see so many Jewish people not speaking up, especially in the arts. But yeah, where are the non-Jews? I just think it’s a moral issue.”
Bowman denies being aware of Finkelstein’s ‘reprehensible’ views in apology, even as author expressed them during panel
Facing backlash from Jewish leaders, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) apologized on Saturday for praising a controversial anti-Israel scholar who has celebrated Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks, saying he “had seen a few interviews but was unaware of Norman Finkelstein’s completely reprehensible comments before” they appeared together at a recent panel discussion on the Israel-Hamas war. “And when he made comments on Oct. 7th at this event, I strongly condemned his language and will always continue to do so,” Bowman wrote on X, formerly Twitter, over the weekend. “I apologize deeply to any of my friends and neighbors hurt by my comments and will continue to fight the scourge of antisemitism in our country and across the world.” But a full recording of the event, reviewed by Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel on Monday, indicates that Bowman made no effort to explicitly condemn Finkelstein’s remarks during the panel discussion, held at the Andalusia Islamic Center in Yonkers earlier this month.
Finkelstein’s fiction: In his own comments at the event, Finkelstein, a political scientist whose writings have long drawn allegations of promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories about the Holocaust, called Gaza a “concentration camp,” said he did “not believe” mounting evidence that Hamas used widespread sexual violence against women and refused to condemn the Oct. 7 attacks, which he described as “the culmination of the martyrdom of the people of Gaza,” according to a publicly available video of the discussion.
Bowman’s remarks: For his part, Bowman, who is facing a formidable primary challenger backed by AIPAC, reiterated that he had condemned Hamas’ attacks while speaking at the event, even as he noted there was “disagreement,” without directly citing Finkelstein. “But you can’t condemn Oct. 7 and then condone what’s happening in Gaza right now,” he argued. “You can’t do one and not do the other.”
Inside the army unit that handles the humanitarian needs of Gaza civilians
Inside a handful of makeshift trailers, in the heart of an expansive and bustling army base near Beersheva, a small group of standing and reserve soldiers sits in several rooms monitoring TV screens, computers and telephones trying to keep a watchful eye on the living situation for the 2 million Palestinian civilians inside the war-ravaged Gaza Strip. Despite claims by international organizations and countries, including the U.S., that Israel is not doing enough to prevent a catastrophic humanitarian crisis within the Palestinian enclave, the soldiers at Sde Teiman are working around the clock to ensure that hundreds of trucks filled with aid cross into the Strip, that drinking water from Israel keeps flowing to the southern part of the territory, that fuel for desalination plants, hospitals and bakeries makes it inside safely, and that aid workers carrying out essential duties remain protected under international law, Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
Lifeline: The unit, officially titled the Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) for Gaza, is a division of COGAT (the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories), the military body that in times of peace works with international groups and the Palestinian Authority to facilitate entry for Palestinian civilians into Israel and helps keep the tiny Palestinian economy, including in Gaza, afloat. Now, after more than three months of war, the soldiers that make up the CLA for Gaza have become a lifeline between civilians stuck precariously in a war zone and a military that is battling an unyielding, brutal terrorist organization.
Challenging task: “We are carrying out our government’s policies towards the civilian population in Gaza,” Col. Moshe Tetro, who heads the CLA for Gaza, told JI during a tour of the unit’s busy headquarters. “Sadly, war is a very, very ugly thing and it is even worse when civilians are stuck in the middle of it,” he continued, adding that the task is heightened because the operation is taking place in a small, densely packed territory and because Hamas’ military strategy is to fight from within heavily populated areas, as well as facilities that are meant to be beyond the reach of war, such as schools and hospitals.
Controversial pro-Palestinian group resumes anti-Israel protests after campus suspensions
Heading back to school after winter break, Rutgers University students discovered that the campus’ chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine was reinstated from its suspension and allowed to continue its on-campus protests, though the group remains on probation until December. Across the Hudson River, at Columbia University, students were also welcomed back with chants of “Long live the Intifada” around campus from SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace — although in Columbia’s case both pro-Palestinian groups remain suspended. At The George Washington University, the third school to issue a temporary suspension of SJP following the organization’s activities after Oct. 7, a new semester means a new phase of restrictions for the controversial group, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen reports for Jewish Insider.
Different reactions: As the Israel-Hamas war roiled college campuses and brought attention to groups such as SJP and JVP, whose protests have included anti-Israel and antisemitic slogans and even praise for Hamas, the three universities that temporarily banned their campus chapters have taken drastically different approaches to handling the disciplinary action. On Jan. 17, Rutgers lifted the suspension of SJP’s chapter on its flagship New Brunswick, N.J., campus and imposed a one-year probation period following an investigation into alleged disruptive behavior.
Put on probation: “Rutgers typically issues an interim suspension of organizational activity when a student organization is facing multiple conduct complaints,” Megan Schumann, a spokesperson for the school, told JI. “The conduct case involving the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at Rutgers-New Brunswick has been resolved and the interim suspension of organizational activity is over. The organization has been put on probation for a year, with educational sanctions.”
Suspended until spring: Columbia University, meanwhile, suspended its chapters of SJP and JVP on Nov. 10 after the groups held an unauthorized event that “included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.” The administration said both groups could be reinstated in the spring semester if they show “a commitment to compliance with University policies.” When the new semester started a week ago, both groups remained suspended.
Inside Israel: Bloomberg’s Ethan Bronner examines the Israeli psyche and approach to the Israel-Hamas war. “Given the country’s military power and the extent of the death and destruction in Gaza, the feeling of victimhood within Israel can be incomprehensible to outsiders. Yet the massacre and ongoing hostage situation fill airwaves and newspapers and dominate dinner conversations. There is a funereal air to life since the attack, a deep sense of vulnerability, and a fear that other anti-Israeli militias in Lebanon and the West Bank are likely to pour into the country at any moment and carry out another set of atrocities. This, in tandem with what many Israelis see as an international failure to condemn Hamas, is prompting the country to rethink its relationship to the outside world. The perception that American universities and global media outlets are Hamas apologists willing to promote anti-Semitism is now so widespread that it has become a recurring punchline on the popular satirical show ‘Eretz Nehederet,’ Israel’s version of ‘Saturday Night Live.’ South Africa’s accusation of genocide against Israel in the International Court of Justice has further underscored the country’s feeling of isolation.” [Bloomberg]
The Other ‘War’: The Wall Street Journal’s Marcus Walker and Carrie Keller-Lynn report from the Israel-Lebanon border, amid growing concerns of a broader military confrontation with Hezbollah. “An undeclared war is festering all along the hill country that separates Israel and Lebanon. It involves nearly as many troops as the war in the Gaza Strip. So far it’s a largely static battle of missiles, artillery, bombing raids and stealthy infiltration. Hezbollah hasn’t unleashed its long-range firepower. Israel hasn’t ordered forward its tanks. But the fighting has intensified this month. Nobody knows how long the border battle can continue before the gloves come off. ‘We don’t yet have a name for it,’ [Lt. Col. Dotan] Razili said of the cross-border conflict — but across northern Israel and in southern Lebanon, people are starting to call it a war. U.S. diplomats are trying, fruitlessly so far, to broker a cease-fire based on Hezbollah pulling back its fighters from Israel’s doorstep. The militant Shia movement has vowed to carry on firing missiles at Israel for as long as Israeli forces are fighting in the Gaza Strip against Hamas, an ally of Hezbollah and its backer Iran.” [WSJ]
Reporting While in Iran: In New Lines Magazine, Kourosh Ziabari spotlights the state of journalism in the Islamic republic. “In Iran, the space for independent journalism has become so constrained that reporters are no longer dealing with the question of how to report on issues of national security significance. The debate is also no longer about threading the needle on covering state red lines, including what honorifics to use to identify the supreme leader (previously, editorial meetings were haunted by a vexatious back-and-forth on how the leader should be named). A happy medium had to be found so that neither the middle-class reader feels offended by running into an obsequious description nor does the publication risk being closed for using inadequate bombast to adulate the country’s most powerful figure. That sticking point is now a relic of the past. On Raisi’s watch, the bar for tolerance has been lowered so much that there’s now an aura of sanctity shielding everyone associated with the power circles. From a small northern town’s senior cleric to the flak for the capital’s city council, no government apparatchik is supposed to be accountable for anything, and challenging authority is synonymous with inexcusable profanity.” [NewLines]
Substack Strife: The Washington Post’s Megan McArdle contemplates the moral quandaries experienced by bloggers who use the platform Substack, which has come under fire for its hosting of Nazi-related content. “To the people who demanded Substack shut down offensive accounts, this sort of question seems ridiculous: We are dealing with actual white supremacists who are using a newsletter platform to spread the most toxic, disgusting forms of hate. Let’s focus on getting rid of the Nazis, and worry about these hazy theoreticals later, okay? I have some sympathy for this argument. Though I’m pretty much a free-speech absolutist, I find myself tempted to carve out a special, one-time exception for Nazis, especially because we’re talking about rules set by private companies, not the government. But I’m unwilling to go down this road without a clear sense of where, exactly, all this will stop. Swastikas, obviously, but what about white supremacists who don’t identify as Nazis? What about people who don’t identify as white supremacists but just seem really racist?” [WashPost]
Around the Web
Gaza Update: The Israel Defense Forces announced that 21 troops were killed on Monday in an operation in central Gaza, the deadliest incident for Israeli soldiers since the war began.
Survey Says: A new Harvard CAPS-Harris poll released Monday found that 80% of respondents support Israel over Hamas, in line with polling since Oct. 7 that has reached similar findings.
Death Toll: The State Department said that 23 Americans, most of whom were IDF soldiers, have been killed in the Israel-Hamas war; the number does not include the 32 confirmed killed on Oct. 7, or those who are believed to be hostages in Gaza.
Let’s Make a Deal: Israel offered a plan to Hamas that would see a pause in fighting of up to two months in exchange for the return of all remaining hostages.
Houthi Hit: The United States and Britain carried out military strikes in Yemen, attacking eight Houthi targets including an underground weapons storage facility and rocket launchers. The New York Times reported that the strikes “signaled that the Biden administration intends to wage a sustained and, at least for now, open-ended campaign against the Iran-backed group.”
Debate Recap: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) pledged support for Israel in the first California Senate debate, while Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) reiterated her backing of a cease-fire. “I don’t know how you can ask any nation to cease fire when their people are being held by a terrorist organization,” Schiff said at the debate.
Fetterman Fans: Politicoreports on the shift in GOP opinions of Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), following his outspoken support for Israel since Oct. 7.
One to Watch: “Nazi Town, USA,” a new PBS documentary airing today, looks at the rise of the German American Bund during the 1930s.
Bookshelf:The New York Timesreviews journalist Calvin Trillin’s new book, The Lede: Dispatches From a Life in the Press.
Hotels for Millennials: Sam Nazarian is partnering with Wyndham for his reentry into the hotel scene, and plans to open 50 new hotels targeting millennials and Gen Z-ers by 2030.
Self-Inflicted Wound: A British doctor who heads the U.K. branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir was suspended by the country’s National Health Service after the group was banned for its support of terrorism.
Across the Pond: The U.K.’s Charity Commission is investigating incidents in which Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members gave in-person and livestreamed speeches to British students.
A Father’s Plea: In USA Today, Ruby Chen pens an op-ed about his son Itay, who has been held hostage in Gaza since Oct. 7.
Accorded to Oslo: The Israeli cabinet signed off on a plan to transfer Palestinian Authority funds designated for Gaza to Norway, with the money being held by Oslo until Hamas is no longer in power.
Katz’s Plan: Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz met with EU officials in Brussels, where he pitched a plan for the creation of a port off the coast of Gaza to check incoming shipments; EU chief Josep Borrell called Katz’s presentation “very interesting” but off-topic.
Transition: Tamara Cofman Wittes was announced as the new president of the National Democratic Institute.
Remembering: Filmmaker Norman Jewison, who was behind such films as “In the Heat of the Night,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Moonstruck,” died at 97. Shangri-Las’ lead singer Mary Weiss, known for the popular “Leader of the Pack,” died at 75. Nobel-winning physicist Dr. Arno Penzias, whose work confirmed the Big Bang theory, died at 90.
Pic of the Day
X owner Elon Musk (center) during a private visit on Monday to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland. To his right is conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who later joined Musk at a conference hosted by the European Jewish Association.
Manhasset, N.Y., native who competed for Israel in figure skating, she was the 2014 Israeli national champion, Danielle Montalbano turns 35…
Real estate developer and former minority owner of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center, Bruce Ratner turns 79… Professor of biological chemistry at Weizmann Institute of Science, David Wallach turns 78… Educational consultant, trade association and non-profit executive, Peter D. Rosenstein turns 77… Manager of Innovative Strategies LLLP, he is a board member of the Baltimore-based Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund, Howard K. Cohen… U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) turns 77… Israeli archaeologist and professor at the University of Haifa, Estee Dvorjetski turns 73… Former mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa turns 71… Former vice chairman at Citigroup, he was a 2021 candidate for mayor of NYC, Raymond J. McGuire turns 67… Political consultant and media advisor for the Democratic Party, Madeleine “Mandy” Grunwald turns 67… Broadway theater owner, operator, producer and presenter and president of the Nederlander Organization, he is a 13-time Tony Award winner, James L. Nederlander turns 64… Former president and CEO of Staples Inc., she serves on the boards of CBRE and CarMax, Shira Goodman turns 63… CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, Jeremy J. Fingerman… Executive editor of The Recount, co-author of Game Change and Double Down: Game Change 2012, John Heilemann turns 58… Palm Beach, Fla., resident, formerly of Greenwich, Conn., Hilary Bangash Cohen… Journalist, screenwriter and film producer, in 2009 he wrote and produced “The Hurt Locker” for which he won two Academy Awards including for Best Picture, Mark Boal turns 51… Film director, comic book artist and musician, S. Craig Zahler turns 51… Israeli set and production designer, Arad Sawat turns 49… Fourth rebbe of the Pittsburgh hasidic dynasty, Rabbi Meshulam Eliezer Leifer turns 45… Founder and executive director of Jew in the City, Allison F. Josephs… Strategic communications consultant, Arielle Poleg… Head of Meta’s Instagram, Adam Mosseri turns 41… Professional soccer player who plays as a defender for DC United, Steven Mitchell Birnbaum turns 33… NYC native who competed for Israel in pairs figure skating, Hayley Anne Sacks turns 33…