Good Wednesday morning.
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we look at how the Biden administration’s Israel policy is boosting support in Pennsylvania, and talk to Noa Tishby and Emmanuel Acho about a new book they will publish in April about antisemitism. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Miguel Cardona and Abe Foxman.
Israeli Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana was on the Hill yesterday at the height of the drama around aid to Israel, Jewish Insider’s senior political correspondent Lahav Harkov reports.
Ohana, who is leading a Knesset delegation to Washington, was accompanied to a meeting with House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) by hostages’ relatives: Eitan Gonen, father of Romi, Zvika and Efrat Mor; the parents of Eitan and founders of “Tikva Forum,” a hawkish hostages’ families group; Ali Alziadne, whose brother Youssef and nephew Hamza are still held hostage by Hamas in Gaza; and Thomas Hand, whose 9-year-old daughter Emily was released from captivity.
Gonen said that he “vowed that I will go anywhere and shout from every platform to bring about the release of my daughter Romi together with all the hostages. These meetings on Capitol Hill are important to keep the issue on the international agenda… [The hostages] are out of time. Their medical and mental situation is unbearable.”
Johnson accepted an invitation from Ohana to visit the Knesset. The House speaker said that Hamas’ attack “was an attack on our shared values,” and that “the U.S. and Israel are in a civilizational war against enemies of freedom itself… When Israel is threatened, freedom itself is threatened.”
“The Jewish people deserve to live in safety and freedom in their ancient homeland. We are proud to stand with you,” Johnson added, according to a readout from the Knesset.
Ohana said that the Knesset delegation, which included Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Yuli Edelstein, as well as opposition lawmakers Idan Roll (Yesh Atid) and Efrat Rayten (Labor), was “united and committed to bringing back all the hostages.”
“Our countries share the same threats by dark forces in the world — the Ayatollah regime,” Ohana said. “Iran cannot leave this war the same as it entered it.”
The delegation also met with the Biden administration’s envoy for hostage negotiations, Roger Carstens, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) plan to host the delegation in a special event today calling for the release of the hostages.
Ohana’s meetings on the Hill came hours after an assessment from the IDF that one-fifth of the hostages — some 32 individuals — were determined to have died in Hamas captivity, or to have been killed and their bodies being brought to Gaza. The IDF confirmed their deaths and said that families have been notified.
The number is the most concrete assessment of the hostage crisis to date, and comes amid a swell of support in Israel for the government to prioritize the hostages’ releases.
Reuters reports that Hamas released its own proposal for a phased hostage release, following negotiations over the last several weeks that have not borne fruit. According to the terms proposed by the terror group, some 1,500 Palestinian prisoners would be released — one-third of whom are serving life sentences.
An IDI poll released this week found that a slim majority of Israelis — 51% — believe the government’s first priority should be to secure the hostages’ freedom. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed said that destroying Hamas — the stated top goal of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — should be the main objective.
But whether Israel will have military support from the U.S. to accomplish its goal remains an open question after the House failed on Tuesday evening to pass a stand-alone Israel aid bill amid opposition from many Democrats and a handful of Republicans. Meanwhile, senators declared their bipartisan compromise legislation on the border — which Republicans had said was necessary to advance foreign aid — to be dead, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
The demise of both the House and the Senate’s bills will force Congress back to the drawing board to piece together a new plan to advance aid to Israel, potentially seeking to advance a smaller package including funding for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan.
Johnson said on Tuesday afternoon that he planned to move the Israel funding bill through the House Rules Committee next week if it failed, to allow for a second House vote requiring only a simple majority for passage. But that plan doesn’t appear to be viable, given that the three right-wing Republicans on the committee — Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Chip Roy (R-TX) and Ralph Norman (R-SC) — all voted against the Israel-only bill. Assuming no lawmakers on the committee flip their votes, the bill would not have the votes to pass the Rules Committee.
Why Biden’s pro-Israel support has bolstered his standing in must-win Pennsylvania
Shortly after hundreds of Hamas terrorists launched the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, President Joe Biden delivered an emotional address pledging to stand by Israel in responding to the massacre. The months since have brought devastating fallout, both in the Middle East and here in the U.S., where antisemitism has exploded and civil unrest has erupted over the war. Some Muslim Americans and young left-wing activists are threatening to sit out the 2024 presidential election or vote for third-party candidates over their opposition to Biden’s support for Israel. While that scenario has sparked serious concern among Democrats in Michigan, which has the nation’s largest proportion of Arab-American residents, Democrats in Pennsylvania — the biggest battleground state and a must-win for Biden in November — view the political ramifications of the Israel-Hamas war differently, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
State leaders: Pennsylvania’s Democratic leaders, from Gov. Josh Shapiro to Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey, have emerged as strong supporters of Israel and close allies of the state’s Jewish community since Oct. 7. (In another sign of Pennsylvania voters’ support for Israel, Republican Dave McCormick is running against Casey by arguing he has a stronger pro-Israel record — and making a recent visit to the Jewish state.)
Jewish voters matter: With the fourth-largest Jewish population in the country, Pennsylvania is one of just a handful of states where Jewish voters can have a decisive impact on election results. A 2021 study found that the state has 299,000 Jewish adults, about 3% of Pennsylvania’s voting population. In 2020, Biden beat Donald Trump in the state by roughly 1.2%, or 81,000 votes.
Political repercussions: If Biden had changed his strategy and ceded to the demands of anti-Israel voices on the party’s left, some Pennsylvania Democrats argue he likely would still have faced political consequences — just from a different direction. “If you go down that alternate route, and say, ‘Biden would have reacted the way some on the left want him to react,’ there’s no question that he would have paid a political price for that as well. It just would have been with, say, Jewish moderates in places like suburban Philadelphia or Long Island,” said one top Pennsylvania Democratic elected official.
Read the full story here.
on the hill
House Foreign Affairs Committee votes to cut off U.S. aid to UNRWA
The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 30-19 on Tuesday to advance a bill immediately and permanently cutting off all U.S. aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in response to allegations that its employees were involved in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, in addition to long-running issues that have plagued the Palestinian aid agency, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
In support: Democratic Reps. Kathy Manning (D-NC), Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) and Brad Schneider (D-IL) ultimately voted in favor of the bill, although Manning and Schneider had expressed concerns about the legislation. Other Democrats made the case that UNRWA cannot be immediately phased out without triggering a mass humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Redesignated: The committee also approved a bill that would redesignate the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, a label the Biden administration has resisted applying, even amid the Iran-backed militia group’s attacks on global shipping in the Red Sea. That bill passed by a 34-13 vote, with Democratic Reps. Sherman, Manning, Moskowitz and Schneider, Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Bill Keating (D-MA), Colin Allred (D-TX) and Greg Stanton (D-AZ) voting in favor.
Locked in: The committee voted on a near-unanimous basis in favor of a bill to permanently codify stringent export controls the administration has imposed targeting Iran. The move comes primarily in response to findings that Iran’s drones and missiles contain a significant quantity of U.S.-produced parts and technology. Only Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Sara Jacobs (D-CA) voted against the bill, which passed 44-2.
Education Secretary Cardona declines to say if ‘from river to sea’ chant is antisemitic
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said on Tuesday that calls for genocide are “not tolerable” but stopped short of saying whether the phrase “from the river, to the sea, Palestine will be free” should be considered antisemitic by university administrators, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Set clear lines: “If there are students who are feeling that statements by students are being referred to genocide, or they’re feeling unsafe on campus, it is a responsibility of a university leader to get involved,” Cardona told reporters from Jewish media outlets at a Tuesday briefing. “This is an opportunity for leadership to bring people together to talk about it and to set clear lines on how you communicate while not making students feel threatened or unsafe on campus.”
Case by case: When pressed to say whether the “from the river, to the sea” phrase can be construed as an antisemitic call for genocide, Cardona declined to weigh in. “That’s why I say we investigate each case, and it’s difficult for me to make a statement here about that. If students are feeling unsafe with that, it’s the responsibility of leadership to act,” said Cardona. “I believe antisemitism can include anti-Zionist statements,” he said, and “we take that into account when looking at cases.”
Ahead of Mayorkas impeachment vote, Biden spokesman accuses key Republican of antisemitism
Ahead of a failed House vote on Tuesday on impeaching Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, a key House Republican faced accusations that he invoked antisemitic tropes targeting the Jewish Cabinet secretary, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
What he said: Politico reported that House Homeland Security Committee Chair Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) — whose committee led the impeachment effort — said during a Republican Conference meeting on Monday that, “This reptile [Mayorkas] has no balls to resign,” citing two lawmakers who heard the comments.
White House response: Ian Sams, a White House spokesperson, suggested the comments could be antisemitic in a social media post. “Now, the GOP Chairman leading [the impeachment] makes another vile comment, calling Mayorkas — who is Jewish — a ‘reptile,’” Sams said in response to Green’s alleged comments. Sams attached a screenshot of the American Jewish Committee’s “Glossary of Antisemitic Terms” stating that comparing Jews to creatures can be “a common form of coded antisemitism,” including depictions of Jews as “reptilian men.”
From the House: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) described Green’s alleged comment as perpetuating a “repulsive canard that Jews are subhuman” which is “unacceptable anywhere, especially in Congress.” She added, “If the [House Republicans] won’t fund nonprofit security or Holocaust education, at least refrain from spewing antisemitic venom to justify a sham impeachment.”
In response: A Homeland Security Committee spokesperson pushed back. “Anyone who has watched the secretary testify before any committee knows he is skilled at evading questions and accountability,” the spokesperson told JI. “Chairman Green made these comments in a comparison with President Nixon — referring to their sly abilities to evade accountability and the truth. Insinuations that these comments mean anything more are just desperate attempts to distract from the secretary’s impeachable offenses.”
orange county campaign
AIPAC-affiliated attack ads raise questions over Israel policy in California House race
Marking its first independent expenditure of the 2024 election cycle, the super PAC affiliated with AIPAC is targeting a California state senator, Dave Min, who is one the top Democratic candidates in an increasingly nasty House race for an open swing seat in Orange County. On Tuesday, United Democracy Project, a leading pro-Israel super PAC, kicked off a $600,000 TV ad buy hitting Min for a DUI arrest last May, Patrick Dorton, a spokesperson for the group, confirmed to Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel.
Driving it home: “Dave Min wants your trust, but Min was arrested for drunk driving, putting us all at risk,” the ad’s narrator intones over body cam footage of the police stop, before claiming that “Min asked the officers to hide the truth. Trust Dave Min? Not on your life.” UDP is additionally dropping nearly $50,000 on mailers highlighting the drunk driving arrest, for which Min has expressed regret. The incident has also featured prominently in attacks from Min’s chief primary opponent, Joanna Weiss, an attorney and Democratic activist recently backed by a separate pro-Israel group.
Mideast matters: Even as the attack ads are not focused on Middle East policy, the new campaign from UDP has raised questions over Min’s approach to Israel, which has not been a public source of contention in the race to succeed Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), who is now running for the Senate. Dorton declined to comment on the motivations behind the ad buy.
Min’s response: But Min’s campaign manager, Dan Driscoll, attributed UDP’s salvo to tensions between Min and AIPAC donors over the candidate’s opposition to West Bank settlement expansion as well as his criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Despite State Sen. Min’s support of Israel, and a broad coalition of endorsements from the Jewish community, a number of Republican donors at AIPAC are upset that he has called for Bibi Netanyahu to be held accountable for the security failures on Oct. 7 and Netanyahu’s failure of leadership during this crisis,” Driscoll said in a statement shared with JI on Tuesday. “Sen. Min does not believe in the annexation of West Bank settlements, he had hoped that a constructive dialogue could be had. It appears they disagreed.”
Read the full story here.
Noa Tishby, Emmanuel Acho to publish ‘Uncomfortable Conversations with a Jew’ in April
Noa Tishby, Israel’s former special envoy for combating antisemitism and the author of a popular explainer on Israel, is releasing a new book in April, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Jew, co-written with Emmanuel Acho, a Fox Sports analyst and former NFL linebacker, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
Frank discussions: Featuring a series of frank discussions on Jewish stereotypes, the nature of Judaism and the overlap between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, the book seeks to demystify and to create a space for such conversations as antisemitic incidents have risen across the U.S.
‘Really uncomfortable’: Tishby said that Acho approached her with the idea for the book over a year ago. “Even before Oct. 7, he was sensing that there’s an unnatural rise in Jew hatred and attacks and antisemitism,” she told JI. “We started working together and sitting through these conversations,” which were “really uncomfortable at times.”
Global Order: In the Liberal Patriot, Brian Katulis and Steven Cook argue that Washington has diminished its ability to influence the outcomes of conflicts around the world. “If American policymakers buy into core neo-isolationist assumptions that Washington is the problem or that there are few, if any, American interests — let alone ideals — worth defending, they should be aware of the likely result: global disorder up to and possibly including the sort of worldwide conflagration that erupted not just once but twice a century ago. The long peace of the second half of the twentieth century was in no small part a function of American primacy. Even if during that period American policymakers made grievous mistakes that cost lives and wasted resources, it was also an era of unprecedented global prosperity and general peace. The post-World War II era may have been unique and singular, but American should not apologize for either its power or the willingness to use it judiciously to ensure global order.” [LiberalPatriot]
Hostage Strategy: In The Wall Street Journal, Michael Segal considers how Israeli attitudes toward securing the release of the hostages in Gaza have been informed and affected by how it has handled previous instances of hostage-taking. “For Israel to negotiate with military action as a credible option, it needs to overcome not only its own cultural attitudes about hostage negotiations, but also an American mindset that seems to have forgotten the importance of winning a war. The U.S. is attacking the rebel Houthis in Yemen but limiting the attacks so as not to topple the Houthis or even endanger their cease-fire with the official government of Yemen. It is a different attitude from that of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, whose Proclamation No. 1 on entering Germany declared a goal of total victory. Both Israel and the U.S. need to return to the simple principle that decisive victory is the best way to restore peace.” [WSJ]
Hostility on the Quad: In Tablet, Len Saxe shares the findings of a series of surveys on antisemitism among young Americans, for which more than 2,000 Jewish college students were polled after the Oct. 7 terror attacks. “Antisemitic hostility is not concentrated at any one type of school. Schools with the highest levels of antisemitic hostility include elite private universities in the Northeast, as well as large public universities in California and the Midwest. Both private and public universities, including some highly selective, appear in the list of schools with the lowest levels of antisemitic hostility. That hostility varies across campuses suggests that we can identify predictors of anti-Jewish hatred and use that knowledge as the basis for addressing it more effectively. Across schools, one-third of the Jewish students we surveyed reported personal experiences of insult or harassment. Many reported being insulted or harassed on social media, but at the most hostile campuses, nearly one-quarter reported personal experiences of harassment. The vast majority also reported seeing antisemitic images on campus, and many said that they were blamed for Israel’s actions because they were Jews. Students at the most hostile schools were also much more likely to have these personal experiences than students at the least hostile schools.” [Tablet]
Foxman’s Fear: In Time, former Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman writes about the antisemitic conspiracy theories espoused by some of the legislators looking to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “At heart, I’ve lived as an optimist with faith in the resilience of democracy and in the conscience of good people. But today, I am worried. When an antisemitic, anti-immigrant conspiracy is evoked to take down a Jewish public servant, who served on the board of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the same organization that helped bring my own family to the U.S. after the Holocaust, the same organization evoked by the perpetrator of the largest antisemitic attack in U.S. history, my antennae go up. I know that, for many, the drive to impeach Mayorkas is about politics. Restoring order to our borders is an issue worthy of robust debate and we expect politicians to disagree. But when those politics traffic in conspiracies, like ‘the great replacement,’ which drives real world violence against Jews and other groups, history calls on us to take notice, to speak up and to vigorously defend Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas and our democracy. It’s time to stop this dangerous charade.” [Time]
Paying a Price: In Unherd, David Samuels considers how U.S. foreign policy has “kneecapped” Jerusalem and Kiev in their respective wars. “Yet the way that America demanded that each war be fought — expensively, predictably, with a focus on minimising the loss of civilian lives on the side of the aggressors — has been a recipe for its allies to lose. In exchange for accepting U.S. aid, both Ukraine and Israel have found themselves trapped in the distinctly American paradigm of managed conflict, in which the idea of actually winning wars by inflicting maximum pain and destruction on one’s enemy is seen as a relic of barbarism. As a result, the US has somehow managed to give Ukraine the incredible sum of $150 billion in military aid over the past two years, while denying it the real-world weapons systems that it would need to achieve any semblance of battlefield parity with Russia. It is frankly impossible to see how Ukraine is supposed to win the war it continues to fight, which raises the question of why the US is encouraging the Ukrainians to fight on.” [Unherd]
Around the Web
Deescalation Drive: The U.S. and a group of European allies are hoping to roll out a plan to diffuse tensions between Israel and Hezbollah and stem a potential widening of the Israel-Hamas war, following weeks of negotiations involving international interlocutors, including senior White House official Amos Hochstein.
Riyadh’s Road Map: The Saudi Foreign Ministry issued a statement — reposted by Riyadh’s envoy to Washington — predicating normalization with Israel on recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and “that the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip stops and all Israeli occupation forces withdraw” from the enclave.
Silver Place in the Silver State: Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley came in second place in the Nevada GOP primary, following “None of these candidates,” which received the highest number of votes; former President Donald Trump did not appear on the ballot in the state.
PAC Push: Unite the Country, a super PAC backing President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign, intends to spend up to $40 million targeting Trump’s legal issues.
Defending Hate: Cornel West, the prominent left-wing academic now running for president as an independent, is vocally defending an art director for his campaign whose political cartoons promoted antisemitic tropes in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
No Entry: The White House announced a new policy that would apply visa restrictions to foreigners who misuse commercial spyware.
Neumann’s Re-own: WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann’s real estate firm Flow Global is looking to purchase the now-bankrupt coworking space provider.
Sandberg’s Next Step: Former Meta executive Sheryl Sandberg is in Israel, where she is making a documentary focused on the sexual violence that occurred during the Oct. 7 terror attacks.
Media Mess: The Hollywood Reporterlooks at the missteps taken by Jimmy Finkelstein and other executives at The Messenger that led to the news startup’s collapse.
Coming Soon: ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery are partnering on a new sports-streaming service expected to launch this fall.
Campus Beat: Columbia University is facing criticism from the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League after a poster depicting Israelis as skunks was found on campus.
Freer’s Flight: The Free Pressinterviews outgoing U.K. MP Mike Freer, who is leaving government following a series of death threats, an arson attack on his office and a near-miss with a terrorist who killed another legislator.
Lost in Translation: Getty Images said that “a translation issue” resulted in incendiary captions on recent photos taken by a photographer for a Turkish news agency that referred to Israeli demonstrators as “fanatic Jewish settlers.”
TikTok Talks: Israeli President Isaac Herzog met in Jerusalem with senior officials from TikTok to discuss the proliferation of antisemitism on the social media platform.
Plot Thwarted: An Iranian couple living in Sweden for more than five years and posing as Afghan asylum-seekers was deported following the uncovering of a plot to kill Jewish leaders in the Scandinavian country.
Welcome to the World: Chabad’s Rabbi Motti Seligson and his wife, Shterni, welcomed a baby boy, whom they named Avraham Abba in honor of his great-grandfather, Rabbi Dr. Avraham Abba Seligson.
Remembering: Judge William Dreier, who served as presiding judge of the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey, died at 86.
Pic of the Day
Argentinian President Javier Milei (right) and Rabbi Shimon Axel Wahnish shed tears during a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Milei announced yesterday that he will move the Argentinian Embassy to Jerusalem.
Author of 24 fiction and nonfiction books, Ben Mezrich turns 55…
Director of training for the Bulfinch Group, Michel R. Scheinmann turns 76… Senior rabbi (now emeritus) of Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto, Baruch Frydman-Kohl turns 73… Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) turns 72… Majority leader of the Illinois House of Representatives, Robyn Gabel turns 71… Senior research scientist at Battelle Memorial Institute, Rick Wice… American businessman and investor arrested in Bolivia in July 2011 and held for 18 months without charges, freed through public outcry and the efforts of Sean Penn, Jacob Ostreicher turns 65… Actor, humorist, comedian and writer known for his “TV Funhouse” cartoon shorts on “Saturday Night Live,” Robert Smigel turns 64… President of The Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC, Dr. David L. Reich turns 64… Baseball columnist for the New York Post and a baseball insider for MLB Network, Jon Heyman turns 63… Former director general of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alon Ushpiz turns 58… Professional hockey player who played in 418 regular and post-season games in the NHL spanning 13 seasons, Mike Hartman turns 57… Rabbi at Beth Chai Congregation in Bethesda, Md., and author of nine Jewish children’s books and teen novels, Deborah Bodin Cohen… VP of communications at SOS International, Jennifer Diamond Haber… Executive director of the UJA and JCRC-NY’s Community Security Initiative, Mitch Silber turns 54… Israeli actor, model and musician, Angel Bonanni turns 52… Executive director of the Aviv Foundation, Adam Simon… VP and general manager at Material+, Jonathan Weiss… Hasidic singer and recording artist, Shloime Daskal turns 45… Former member of the Knesset for the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Mark Ifraimov turns 43… Former MLB pitcher, now an angel investor in the San Francisco area, Scott Feldman turns 41… Professional basketball player in Germany, Italy and Israel, now a VP at Lightspeed Venture Partners, Dan Grunfeld turns 40… NFL player for six seasons until 2015, he is now a coach for USC, Taylor Mays turns 36… Director of advancement field services for Hillel International, Rachael Fenton… David Israel… Michael Harris…