Good Wednesday morning.
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we look at how Harvard is addressing concerns from Jewish students and alumni amid questions over its newly created antisemitism task force, and talk to Senate Democrats who oppose efforts to condition aid to Israel. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Matti Friedman, Arielle Charnas and Benny Gantz.
Israel entered a fresh round of mourning on Tuesday, as the details emerged about the deadliest incident since the start of the Gaza war and the 21 soldiers killed. IDF soldiers were preparing to demolish a building on Monday night to create a buffer zone in central Gaza, allowing Israeli residents of the town Kissufim, some 600 meters away, to return home, IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said.
A Palestinian terrorist cell shot a rocket-propelled grenade at a tank guarding the troops, causing two structures to collapse while soldiers were inside. Hagari said the buildings were likely rigged with mines. The IDF plans to investigate the incident, Jewish Insider senior political correspondent Lahav Harkov reports.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz overcame their political tensions to release a joint statement to express their sorrow at the deaths of the soldiers, as well as their determination to continue the war “in the spirit of the fallen, to complete their mission,” as Gallant said.
The 21 soldiers killed were all reservists, ranging in age from 22 to 40, many of whom were husbands and fathers. Many Israeli commenters noted the diverse nature of the towns in Israel from which they came, from Tel Aviv and its surrounding cities, to West Bank settlements such as Karnei Shomron and Kiryat Arba, to the Bedouin city of Rahat.
“We are destined to live here together,” Yaya Fink, a prominent left-wing and Orthodox activist posted along with the names of the towns. “This is not a nation that is divided and divisive,” right-wing opinion columnist Ofir Dayan wrote after a similar list of the towns.
Master Sgt. (res.) Rabbi Elkana Vizel, 35, a father of four, came from Bnei Dekalim, a town in the Negev established by Israelis evacuated from their homes when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. He was wounded in action in Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
He wrote a letter to his family this time in case he was killed or missing in action: “If I was kidnapped, I demand that no deal be made for the release of any terrorist to release me. Our overwhelming victory is more important than anything… Maybe I fell in battle. When a soldier falls in battle, it is sad, but I ask you to be happy… We are writing the most significant moments in the history of our nation… So please, be happy, be optimistic, keep choosing life all the time.”
One of the soldiers, Sgt. First Class (res.) Cydrick Garin, 23, was the son of a Filipino migrant worker who grew up in Israel and was a high school dropout with a criminal record. He straightened out his life after police officers knocked on the door to his family’s home and he saw his mother Imelda’s distress. He enlisted in the IDF, earning a certificate of excellence when he finished his service. Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that he knew Garin as one of his bodyguards, calling him “a hero of Israel with a great soul.”
Another soldier, Sgt. First Class (res.) Yuval Lopez, 27, was from a community of Incas indigenous to Peru who converted to Judaism as a community and moved to Israel between 1990 and 2006. Lopez grew up in the Spanish-speaking community in Alon Shvut, a settlement near Jerusalem, and lived in Tapuach, a West Bank settlement, in recent years with his wife, Sigalit, and three daughters ranging in age from 7 months to 3. His wife’s cousin called him “an exemplary father” who “loved the army [and] loved his country,” adding that “anything I could say about him would be too little.”
And Sgt. Maj. (res.) Adam Bismut, 35, from Karnei Shomron, was the founder and CEO of the SightBit startup that developed a system to help prevent people from drowning. “The eternal child of the Ginot Shomron neighborhood, his kindness illuminated his surroundings, loved and loved who fought for the defense of the Land of Israel,” the mayor of Karnei Shomron said in a tribute to Bismut.
Meanwhile, stateside, the Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Relations Council is leading an event outside the Qatari Embassy in Washington today, urging the Qatari government to exert more pressure on Hamas to release its hostages. Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Glenn Ivey (D-MD), as well as Alan Gross, who was imprisoned for five years in Cuba, are set to speak.
The event isamong the first major public efforts by a U.S. Jewish group to pressure the Qatari government, although organizers have been careful not to characterize it as a protest, describing it in a recent promotional email as a “peaceful gathering.”
Uncertainty surrounds Harvard’s efforts to tackle antisemitism
Anyone trying to follow Harvard’s efforts to address rising antisemitism on campus has had to decipher a labyrinthine turn of events that have left even those close to the university questioning what, exactly, the strategy is, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Unforced errors: The critical response to a co-chair of the university’s new antisemitism task force, announced last week, is just the latest unforced error for Harvard, which since the Oct. 7 terror attacks in Israel has been mired in a series of PR missteps amid widespread public scrutiny of its actions. In a Monday statement to JI, Harvard stood by its choice of Derek Penslar, a historian and director of Harvard’s Center for Jewish Studies, and Harvard Business School professor Raffaella Sadun as co-chairs. But what remains most unclear is what action the task force, with a broad mandate to research and address antisemitism, will take.
Secret advising: The body comes on the heels of an antisemitism advisory group that former Harvard President Claudine Gay created in November. But none of that group’s activities have been made public by the university. The group, which disbanded at the end of last year, authored a detailed report that contained specific recommendations Harvard could take to counter antisemitism on campus, two sources with knowledge of the group’s work told JI on Tuesday. The report was shared with university administrators but otherwise is confidential and not meant to be shared with the public, one of the sources close to the advisory group said.
On the defensive: None of the members of the initial group have yet been named to the new task force, raising concerns about follow-through; Penslar and Sadun were not part of the original group. With the controversy over Penslar’s appointment, Harvard is beginning a crucial task already on the defensive.
Bonus: House Education and Workforce Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) called the documents Harvard University provided for the committee’s antisemitism investigation “woefully inadequate” and “unacceptable,” Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. She said the school had failed to respond in a “substantive manner” instead turning over largely public materials including letters from nonprofits and student handbooks. “Harvard must produce the remaining documents in a timely manner, or risk compulsory measures,” Foxx said.
Pro-Israel Senate Dems say Netanyahu’s two-state solution comments don’t impact conditions debate
Democratic pro-Israel stalwarts in the Senate are pushing back on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau’s comments rejecting a two-state solution, even as they dismiss arguments from some colleagues that Netanyahu’s remarks are proof of the need for conditioning U.S. aid to Israel, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Pushback: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told JI on Tuesday that he disagreed with Netanyahu’s comments, explaining that “a two-state solution is the best and most viable path to peace and stability in the region.”
No linkage: But he dismissed remarks from some fellow Democrats suggesting that Netanyahu’s rejection of a two-state solution, and other comments from Israeli leaders hostile to U.S. policy, show that the U.S. needs to condition or restrict its aid to the Jewish state. Five additional senators signed onto an amendment conditioning aid the day after Netanyahu’s comments. “I don’t think those two are necessarily linked,” Blumenthal said, adding that he’s “hopeful that [Netanyahu] will restate his views in a way that’s more encouraging to all of us who want to help.”
Supplemental concerns: Another possible hiccup for the supplemental bill came into view on Tuesday, as McConnell expressed skepticism about providing aid to the Palestinians, elevating Republican concerns about that portion of the emergency funding package. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in remarks on the Senate floor that he “cannot understand why some of my Democratic colleagues, including the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee who pushed so hard to pass legislation combating global corruption, now want to shovel billions of taxpayer dollars to one of the most corrupt entities on the planet,” referring to the Palestinian Authority.
Elsewhere on the Hill: Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Todd Young (R-IN), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) wrote to the administration raising questions about the U.S.’ strategy in its continued campaign of air strikes against the Houthis, as well as the constitutional authorities underpinning those strikes. They said the U.S. may be “in the midst of an ongoing regional conflict that carries the risk of escalation” and that “Congress must carefully deliberate before authorizing offensive military action.”
on the hill
More than 200 lawmakers condemn South Africa’s genocide case against Israel
A bipartisan group of 210 House lawmakers sent a letter on Tuesday condemning South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice as “grossly unfounded and defamatory,” Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Pushback: The letter, led by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Kathy Manning (D-NC), addressed to Secretary of State Tony Blinken, expresses the lawmakers’ “disgust at this filing, which perpetrates false and dangerous allegations against the Jewish state.”
Support: The lawmakers accused South Africa of attempting to “demonize” and “delegitimize” Israel, and called on the State Department to continue to push back against the case, “offer Israel all appropriate support” and urge U.S. allies to join such efforts. The signatories also called it “particularly cynical” to accuse Israel of genocide “for defending itself against Hamas terror… given that the term ‘genocide’ was coined following the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust.”
Cornell professor cancels class in solidarity with anti-Israel activists
As students at Cornell University returned to campus on Monday after the winter recess, some freshmen in a writing seminar learned their professor canceled class for the day “in solidarity with collective calls for a Global Strike for Palestine,” eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen reports for Jewish Insider. Alyiah Gonzales, a professor in Cornell’s College of Arts and Science, canceled the first day of “ENGL 1160: FWS Intersections: Race, Writing, and Power.”
In solidarity with Gaza students: In an email to students, obtained by JI, Gonzales wrote, “Today, I am canceling class in solidarity with collective calls for a Global Strike for Palestine. As I write to you, a short drive away from the university we all attend and that I have the privilege of teaching you in, I mourn the fact that all universities in Gaza have been destroyed or demolished by Israeli military forces and operations. In Gaza, students like us, who hold a passion for learning and engaging in community knowledge production, have had their institutional resources ripped away from them one bomb at a time.”
First assignment: Gonzales added that while class may be canceled, “this is not a free hour to sit passively.” Instead, she wrote, “As your first writing assignment of the semester, I’d like you to write a 2-3 page letter/essay in which you share why you chose to enroll in Race, Writing, and Power as your FWS course… Please reflect on your intentions coming into the course, what knowledge you hope to deepen and share with myself and your peers, and how you presently understand the relationship between writing, power, and systems of oppression (including, but not limited to, race, gender, class, dis/ability, etc).”
Meta Oversight Board rules against Holocaust denial content
Citing a case made by a prominent Jewish group, the Meta Oversight Board overturned the social media giant’s decision to leave up an Instagram post that spread garbled information about the Holocaust, according to an announcement made on Tuesday, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen reports for Jewish Insider.
Urging action: The Oversight Board, an independent entity created by Meta to review its actions removing or hiding certain content, urged the company, which runs Facebook and Instagram, to impose updated measures in how it tracks Holocaust denial, pointing to a submission by the American Jewish Committee and its Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI) in the decision. JBI’s comment on the case claimed that Meta’s prohibition of Holocaust denial is “fully consistent with international human rights standards.”
Content in question: The content at the center of the case, originally posted on Instagram in September 2020, featured a meme of the “SpongeBob SquarePants” character Squidward. It questioned the number of victims of the Holocaust and existence of crematoria at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, under a speech bubble titled “Fun Facts About The Holocaust,” according to the board. Meta removed the post in August after the board announced it selected the case to review. When the board took up the case for review, Instagram had allowed the post to remain on the platform.
Gantz’s Ascent: In The New York Times, Anshel Pfeffer spotlights former Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the war cabinet member who has seen his popularity rise since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war. “Mr. Gantz, 64, is in a unique and contradictory position. He is now, essentially, the grown-up in the room of the Israeli government. Many if not most Israelis, as well as Israel’s allies, look to him to prevent the radical moves being urged by the government’s far-right members. At the same time, according to polls, he is also the man most likely to replace Mr. Netanyahu and his disastrous government. To manage that transition and set the stage for a potential successful premiership will require political deftness, ruthlessness and, above all, an acute sense of timing. … Mr. Gantz has refused to give interviews since Oct. 7, eschewing even off-record briefings. But his very presence in the innermost decision-making forum has reassured Israelis. Mr. Gantz is said to have stood against the urgings of the generals, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, to launch a pre-emptive strike on Hezbollah in Lebanon. He advocated the hostage release agreement with Hamas, which generals initially rejected because it included a temporary truce during which Hamas could relieve its exhausted fighters.” [NYTimes]
Jersey Boy: The Washington Post’s Jesús Rodríguez does a deep dive into Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) rise to power, as the senior senator from New Jersey mounts a reelection bid amid federal corruption and bribery charges. “He rose in New Jersey politics as part of an anti-corruption alliance that ousted a Union City boss who had been convicted in a racketeering case in which a 28-year-old Menendez gave testimony. Now, Menendez’s American success story is at risk of becoming a cautionary tale of corruption, decadence and hubris. ‘Embedded in that story are definitely all the elements of a Greek tragedy: the same purpose for which the character and the Greek tragedy started is what ultimately undermines the character,’ says Frank Argote-Freyre, a former Menendez staffer. ‘Rather than reforming the system, the system seems to have changed him, based on these allegations.’” [WashPost]
In Plain Sight: In the Jewish Review of Books, Matti Friedman looks at how the themes of Haim Sabato’s 1999 book Adjusting Sights, about the Yom Kippur War, resonate 50 years later. “It’s a strange fact that a bookish country defined by wars has produced reams of analysis, military history, and recollections by generals — but almost no war memoirs of literary value. I’m not sure why. When Adjusting Sights came out in 1999, going on to win Israel’s highest literary prize and to earn a place in the Hebrew canon, it was unique for the way it presented the war through the eyes of a tank gunner who spoke from the army’s lowest ranks, from the immigrant neighborhood in Jerusalem where he lived, and from the study hall of the yeshiva. The author wasn’t a creature of the literary scene or the world of secular culture in Tel Aviv, but a rabbi, a stranger among the people who produce most of Israel’s writing. And yet Sabato’s voice was Israeli and couldn’t be from anywhere else: in Adjusting Sights it’s easy to see the presence of ancient Jewish texts and of the Hebrew literary giant S.Y. Agnon, but international influences are all but impossible to detect. It’s not quite right to say that the book mixes the sacred and the profane. Sabato doesn’t seem to think any of what he describes is profane. ‘So highly strung were our souls in those days,’ he writes of the war, ‘that whatever touched them made them tremble.’” [JewishReviewofBooks]
Middle Men: In the Liberal Patriot, Brian Katulis suggests that American legislators mount a bipartisan front to address Iranian aggression. “One of the biggest challenges that the United States faces in crafting a strategic approach to a complicated challenge like Iran comes from within—the sharp divisions inside the United States about what could and should be done about Iran. These divisions weren’t always as acute as they are today, and recent events are the product of the lack of serious reflection and meaningful debate about what should be done about the current situation in the Middle East and the role that the Iranian regime has played in creating it. … Right now, U.S. policy on Iran is missing one main needed element: a bipartisan coalition to devise a new, comprehensive U.S. policy on Iran that addresses the full range of challenges, threats, and opportunities posed by Iran to U.S. national security interests and values.” [LiberalPatriot]
Around the Web
Primary Colors: Former President Donald Trump won the New Hampshire GOP primary, with 55% of the vote compared to former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s 43%. President Joe Biden won the Democratic primary through a write-in campaign.
Hostage Negotiations: The Wall Street Journal reports that Hamas officials said they are open to releasing a number of the hostages still in Gaza during a prolonged pause in fighting; a Reuters report indicates that negotiators are discussing a monthlong pause that would see the exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners.
Overnight Strikes: The U.S. struck Iran-linked targets in Iran and Iraq that American officials said threatened U.S. forces and commercial and military vessels.
Digging into Doha: Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland calling on his office to investigate reports that Qatar spied on and attempted to discredit U.S. lawmakers.
Lesson Plan: New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks launched a new initiative to address antisemitism and Islamophobia in the city’s public schools.
Problematic Posts: A Washington, D.C., councilmember who had previously come under fire for antisemitic comments and for donating to Louis Farrakhan is again in the headlines for controversial social media posts, including a veiled antisemitic reference to Jews.
Ballot Block: The Burlington, Vt., City Council voted against allowing a ballot measure that called for an end to “Israel’s apartheid regime, settler colonialism, and military occupation.”
News Cuts: The Los Angeles Times is laying off more than 20% of its newsroom, days after two of the paper’s managing editors, Shani Hilton and Sara Yasin, departed the publication; Executive Editor Kevin Merida left earlier this month, amid reports that he and the Times’ owners disagreed over editorial stances.
Wardrobe Malfunction: The Wall Street Journal charts the rise and fall of Arielle Charnas’ Something Navy brand.
Ackman’s Aquisition: Pershing Square’s Bill Ackman and his wife, Neri Oxman, purchased 4.9% of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange for roughly $17 million, their first investment in Israel since the outbreak of the war.
Delayed Arrival: Bloomberg looks at how the Israel-Hamas war has derailed efforts to build the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, a network of rail links across the Middle East.
No-Go Zone: Israeli officials are mulling the creation of a two-mile demilitarized buffer zone on the Gazan side of the Israel-Gaza border.
Talking Tunnels:The New York Times’ Bret Stephens dives into new revelations about Hamas’ vast tunnel system in Gaza and the light it sheds on the terror group’s MO.
Shell Search:The Wall Street Journal spotlights the 155mm artillery shells, which are in high demand in both Israel and Ukraine for their respective wars.
Eye on India: Israeli officials are hoping to increase the number of Indian migrant workers in the coming months, amid the departure of thousands of foreign workers and the absence of Palestinian workers since the start of the war.
Families’ Fight: The Washington Post looks at scaled-up efforts by the families of hostages still in Gaza to draw awareness to their loved ones’ plights.
Death Penalty: A 23-year-old Iranian man was executed in Tehran for what authorities allege was his role in anti-regime protests.
Pic of the Day
Family and friends of Sgt. Maj. (res.) Matan Lazar mourn as they walk behind Lazar’s coffin on Tuesday. Lazar was one of the 21 Israeli soldiers killed on Monday evening in Gaza.
Sporting director for Hapoel Jerusalem of the Israeli Premier League and the FIBA Champions League, Yotam Halperin turns 40…
Canadian architect and urban renewal advocate, Phyllis Barbara Bronfman Lambert turns 97… Singer-songwriter and one of the world’s best-selling recording artists of all time, Neil Diamond turns 83… 2011 Nobel Prize laureate in Chemistry, Professor at Technion and Iowa State University, Dan Shechtman turns 83… Chairman of the Sazerac Company and of Crescent Crown Distributing, two of the largest domestic distillers and distributors of spirits and beer in the US, William Goldring turns 81… Professor of modern Jewish history at New York University, Marion Kaplan turns 78… Senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Elliott Abrams turns 76… Professor of alternative dispute resolution and mediation at Hofstra School of Law, Robert Alan Baruch Bush turns 76… Ukrainian-born comedian, actor and writer, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1977 and is noted for the catchphrase “What a country,” Yakov Smirnoff turns 73… Conductor, violinist and violist, Yuri Bashmet turns 71… VP of strategy at LiveWorld, Daniel Flamberg… Founder of an online software training website which was acquired by LinkedIn in April 2015 for $1.5 billion, Lynda Susan Weinman turns 69… Burlingame, Calif.-based surgeon at Peninsula Plastic Surgery, Lorne K. Rosenfield M.D.… Beryl Eckstein… Former senior correspondent for Fox News, Rick Leventhal… Former CEO of Ford Motor Company, and now a board member of Hertz, Mark Fields turns 63… B’nei mitzvah coordinator at Temple Beth Am of Los Angeles, Judith Alban… Former HUD secretary and OMB director, now the president and CEO of Enterprise Community Partners, Shaun Donovan turns 58… Co-founder and executive director of Protect Democracy, Ian Bassin turns 48… Journalist and then a tax attorney, Joshua Runyan… Founder and CEO at TACKMA, Jeffrey Schottenstein… Regional director of synagogue initiative at AIPAC, Miryam Knafo Schapira… J.D. candidate at Brooklyn Law School, Michael Krasna… Musician and former child actor, Jonah Bobo turns 27…