Good Monday morning.
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we spotlight the role that the Jewish community in New York’s 3rd Congressional District could play in next week’s special election between former Rep. Tom Suozzi and Mazi Pilip, and report on Columbia Law School’s rejection of a student group that seeks to combat antisemitism. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Amos Hochstein, Larry David and Lachlan Murdoch.
The House will vote this week on a clean, unconditioned $17.6 billion military aid bill to Israel without any funding offsets, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) said in a letter to colleagues on Saturday. The announcement, which came ahead of the release of the Senate’s combined Israel, Ukraine and border package, seemed intended to undercut the Senate’s effort, which Johnson has long opposed, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
The path forward is unclear: Senate Democrats are pushing ahead with their plan to begin consideration of the combined bill this week, but the House’s alternative bill could prompt Senate Republicans — who had been growing skeptical of the border talks — to oppose it. House Republicans say the Senate bill will not receive a vote in the lower chamber.
The Senate’s new aid bill, released Sunday evening, contains $14.1 billion in assistance to Israel; $2.44 billion to support the U.S.’ Red Sea operations; $10 billion for humanitarian aid to Gaza, the West Bank and Ukraine; and $400 million for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program. Despite growing calls from some Democrats, the legislation does not appear to include any new conditions or restrictions on aid to Israel.
The Senate bill bans funds from both the current package, as well as previously passed legislation, from being provided to the controversy-plagued United Nations Relief and Works Agency — seemingly permanently freezing funding previously earmarked for UNRWA. The NSGP funding allocation is down from the $1 billion included in Senate Democratic leadership’s initial proposal prior to negotiations.
In general, the Senate bill appears to contain few wins for progressive Democrats on Israel policy, other than preserving Palestinian aid in some form; they’re also likely to be dubious of the immigration provisions.
The new House bill includes no aid for Ukraine, the Palestinians or nonprofit security grants, making the prospects for passage of those tranches — particularly Ukraine funding, which is opposed by a growing portion of his caucus — increasingly uncertain.
Despite widespread support for Israel across the House, Johnson’s move is meeting criticism from many corners of Congress, as well as the White House.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, slammed Johnson’s bill as a “ploy” that he said was “not being a serious effort to deal with the national security challenges America faces.”
“From our perspective,” Sullivan added, “the security of Israel should be sacred. It shouldn’t be part of any political game. And therefore, we believe the right thing to do is to pass a comprehensive bill, and that’s exactly what a bipartisan group of senators are working on as we speak.”
Pro-Israel Democrats and moderate Republicans are frustrated by the lack of Ukraine aid. Conservatives, including the House Freedom Caucus, say they oppose the bill because it doesn’t include funding offsets from the United Nations or elsewhere. And progressives, skeptical of Israel’s military campaign and pushing for more Palestinian aid, might also oppose the bill.
Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) described the bill as a “cynical attempt to undermine the Senate’s bipartisan effort,” and said Democrats will continue to evaluate it. A whip notice from Democratic leadership to members noted that the White House and Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) oppose the bill.
But more pro-Israel Democrats are ultimately likely to support this bill than the House’s last Israel aid package, which also cut funding from the Internal Revenue Service. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said on X on Saturday that he’d vote yes on the legislation, adding that the bill “deserves U.S. support as it responds to the mass murders perpetrated by #Hamas.” But he noted that “[t]he bill does not contain provisions I would like to see, including aid for #Ukraine. But I normally vote based on what’s in the bill, rather than what’s not in the bill.”
If both bills pass their chambers, Jewish community leaders — who have largely been agnostic about how Israel aid moves forward — could ultimately face a conundrum on whether to throw their weight behind the Senate package, or support the House bill, without NSGP and Ukraine aid. “The speaker is maneuvering for the negotiation with the Senate. We will see NSGP emergency funds in the Senate supplemental. And we will work to ensure that when a final bill is enacted it delivers needed support for our community’s security,” said Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s executive director for public policy. Read more here.
Johnson’s announcement comes as Secretary of State Tony Blinken begins a five-day trip to the region that will include stops in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank amid negotiations on a hostage release and an extended humanitarian pause to allow aid into Gaza.
Tom Suozzi and Mazi Pilip focus on Jewish outreach as special election nears
With early voting now underway in the special House election to replace former Rep. George Santos (R-NY), the two candidates and their allies are boosting efforts to mobilize Jewish voters who represent a crucial coalition that could help decide the outcome of what is expected to be a close race, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
Pivotal factors: While much of the messaging — and outside spending — has turned on border security and abortion rights in advance of the Feb. 13 election between Mazi Pilip and former Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) in New York’s 3rd Congressional District, the ongoing Israel-Hamas war as well as rising antisemitism have also been pivotal factors in the race for one of the most heavily Jewish districts in the country, covering parts of Nassau County and Queens.
‘Make or break’: In a tight race, the Jewish community, at an estimated 11% of the electorate, could “make or break the election,” said Sam Markstein, the national political director for the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is backing Pilip, a county legislator and Israeli Defense Forces veteran born in Ethiopia. “This group is going to be a decisive bloc and we have been spending weeks reaching out to these voters.”
Bellwether race: The RJC is among several Jewish and pro-Israel groups from both parties now actively engaged in the consequential special election, which will help determine the balance of power in the House. Halie Soifer, the CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, which has invested in print and digital ads to support Suozzi, called the race a “bellwether for November” that she expects will demonstrate “the power of the Jewish vote,” given its “relatively high turnout numbers.”
Columbia Law School rejects student group created to combat antisemitism
The president of a new Columbia Law School group formed to combat rising antisemitism on campus has said that its adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism played a role in the Law School Student Senate’s vote to reject it as a recognized university group, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen reports for Jewish Insider.
Opposition: “A group of students were strongly opposed to our formation from the very beginning,” Marie-Alice Legrand, president of the Law Students Against Antisemitism, told JI, noting that some condemned its use of the State Department-adopted IHRA definition. “They have accused us of using that definition to silence free speech. We have assured them that is not our mission, we want to educate,” she continued.
Rare rejection: Twenty-three of approximately 33 senators voted against the Law Students Against Antisemitism group in an anonymous vote on Jan. 23, the Columbia Spectator reported, noting that nine organizations have requested recognition this year, and Law Students Against Antisemitism is the only group that has not been approved. Before the senate meeting, where LSAA presented, individuals referring to themselves as “Concerned Jewish Students at CLS,” who identify as “Jewish pro-Palestine students,” signed a letter to the senators.
Bipartisan group of House lawmakers presses administration on pro-Palestinian charities in the U.S.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee wrote to the Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service and Federal Bureau of Investigation last week requesting information on alleged links between Hamas and U.S.-based tax-exempt charities that they said may be providing support to the terrorist group, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Staffing questions: Pointing to testimony provided at a hearing the committee held last year, the lawmakers raised concerns that several pro-Palestinian charities may have financial ties to Hamas and other terrorist organizations. Such charities, they noted, employ top officials previously involved in other charities such as the Holy Land Foundation and KindHearts for Charitable Development, which were shuttered by the U.S. government for providing funding to terrorists from American donors.
Quotable: “Today, it appears that members of these now-defunct charities are reorganizing and forming new U.S.-based charities that may be seeking to take advantage of well-intentioned Americans by redirecting their money to support terrorist organizations like Hamas,” the lawmakers’ letter to the Treasury and IRS reads. “We are concerned that there are U.S.-based organizations with ties to Hamas that were able to evade the anti-terrorism efforts of the IRS and gain tax-exempt status.”
25 Senate Democrats push Biden, Israel to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza
Days after the administration paused aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) over allegations that its employees participated in the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, 25 Senate Democrats urged the administration to work with Israel to increase humanitarian aid access to Gaza, as well as restore aid to UNRWA as soon as is appropriate, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
UNRWA: While describing the allegations regarding employees’ involvement in Oct. 7 as “extremely troubling,” the lawmakers called UNRWA “indispensable” and noted that it has more than 13,000 employees. “Moving forward, there must be a swift and thorough investigation to ensure accountability so that the resumption of U.S. assistance through UNRWA, when appropriate, remains possible,” the lawmakers continued.
To-do list: The letter asks the administration to “work with Israeli officials” to reopen a third border crossing into Gaza at Erez; “streamline the convoluted inspections process” for aid moving into Gaza; establish a “clear, enforceable deconfliction process” between Israel and humanitarian aid organizations; increase capacity at the Kerem Shalom crossing; allow commercial goods to move into Gaza; open additional supply routes including through Jordan, the West Bank, Ashdod and the sea; increase U.S. military support of aid efforts; and implement more and longer humanitarian pauses.
Pink slip: Separately, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the vice chairs of the Intelligence and Appropriations committees, called on U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to immediately dismiss UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, accusing him of defending staff involvement in terrorism and criticizing countries that have withdrawn funding.
Coming this week: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will vote on Tuesday on barring further U.S. funding to UNRWA, as well as on fully redesignating the Houthis as a terrorist group and imposing additional export controls targeting Iran. Separately, Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) and 23 Republican colleagues introduced legislation to request a detailed report on past U.S. support to UNRWA and how it has been spent.
keeping up pressure
Trone speaks at Washington JCRC’s second Qatar Embassy event
Rep. David Trone (D-MD) called on Qatar to push harder on Hamas to release the hostages held in Gaza at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington’s rally outside the Qatari Embassy in Washington, D.C., on Friday, the JCRC’s second such event in recent days, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Quotable: “We know the Qatari Embassy can help us here, and we’re here to implore the Qatari Embassy to use their leverage, use the leverage of the [Hamas] political office in Doha, use their leverage to help us bring these hostages home,” Trone, who is mounting a Senate bid, told the gathered crowd of roughly 100. “We’ve got to get these hostages back, and we’ve got to all stand together and implore Qatar to step up, use their political muscle and do the right thing.”
Cease-fire: The Maryland congressman also said, “We call for a cease-fire. We must have a cease-fire. We must have that cease-fire with simultaneous return of our hostages.” He continued, “And after the hostage return, then we can help create a two-state solution and rebuild Gaza. Because a Palestinian life is no different than an Israeli life.”
Elsewhere in Washington: Congressional Republicans largely condemned the administration’s weekend strikes on Iranian proxies as too little and too late. “The administration waited for a week and telegraphed to the world, including to Iran, the nature of our response,” House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) said. “The public handwringing and excessive signaling undercuts our ability to put a decisive end to the barrage of attacks endured over the past few months.” Similarly, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said yesterday, “We need to change our policy, our adversaries aren’t afraid of us. If there are another round of strikes coming, they must send a clear message to not mess with America. If they don’t, nothing changes.”
Two-State Trouble: In Tablet, Elliott Abrams considers the challenges associated with the implementation of a two-state solution. “Creating a Palestinian state will not end the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” because it will not end the Palestinian and now Iranian dream of eliminating the State of Israel. On the contrary, it can be a launching pad for new attacks on Israel and will certainly be viewed that way by the Jewish state’s most dedicated enemies. A peaceful Palestinian state that represents no threat to Israel is a mirage. It is an illusion indulged by people in the West who want to seem progressive and compassionate, and those in the Arab world who fear resisting the powerful anti-Israel currents that circulate there and are now fortified by Iran. The future security of Israel depends in good part on resisting the two-state formula for endless conflict.” [Tablet]
Iran’s Ambition: In The Atlantic, Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American academic who spent more than a year in Iran’s Evin Prison, suggests that attempts to view Iran as a responsible and rational actor are mistaken. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has shouted its hatred for the West from the rooftops for anyone who cared to listen. But few in the bien-pensant society in the West did listen. Or, if they heard, they discounted the seriousness of the regime’s articulated aspirations. The claim was that Iranians didn’t really mean death to Israel and death to America. Those who warned that Iran — much like Hamas and Hezbollah — has no interest in comity with Western powers and their friends and allies were denounced as warmongers and advocates of American empire. … The Islamic Republic of Iran prides itself on being a revolutionary state (or ‘revisionist,’ in the foreign-policy jargon), driven by Islamist ideology to replace what it views as an illegitimate and unjust U.S.-led international system. Iran has little interest in rapprochement, let alone in a constructive relationship with America and its allies, beyond occasional tactical cooperation on peripheral issues. The regime’s goal is to dominate its region as it has dominated its society, an ambition that is clearly at odds with U.S. interests in the Middle East.” [TheAtlantic]
Looking Left: Politico’s Jonathan Martin looks at the challenges facing the Biden administration from the left flank of the Democratic Party ahead of the November presidential election. “Few in the administration sense the danger more than Vice President Kamala Harris. From holiday parties to a dinner at her residence last month for a group of prominent Black men, Harris has been telling sympathetic Democrats outside the White House that she recognizes the political challenge posed by Biden’s unwavering public support for Israel, I’m told by officials familiar with her comments at the events. Harris told people she’s making the case privately for the administration to show more empathy for the plight of innocent Gazans, an internal push that my colleague Eugene Daniels reported in December. … There is a hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner element to Biden’s approach to Israel that some in Gen Z can’t fully grasp. His politics are that of a Cold War Democrat, and a Northeastern one at that. Support for Israel is part of his liberal DNA, no matter the prime minister. Jewish voters, Irish ones, Italian, too — that’s the coalition. It’s a matter of principle, sure, but also domestic politics. But they’ve not heard of the ‘Three Is’ on TikTok.” [Politico]
Elon’s Ties That Bind:The Wall Street Journal’s Kirsten Grind, Emily Glazer, Rebecca Elliott and Coulter Jones spotlight X owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s relationships with the backers of his various companies, including James Murdoch, with whom he’s vacationed in Israel, and Larry Ellison, who has tried to help Musk rein in his drug use. “Multiple other directors of Musk companies have deep personal and financial ties to the billionaire entrepreneur, and have profited enormously from the relationship. The connections are an extreme blurring of friendship and fortune and raise questions among some shareholders about the independence of the board members charged with overseeing the chief executive. Such conflicts could run afoul of the loose rules governing what qualifies as independence at publicly traded companies. … Some board members worry about the negative effects of Musk’s behavior on the six companies he oversees and the roughly $800 billion in assets held by investors, according to people close to Musk. Despite the concerns, the Tesla board hasn’t investigated his drug use or recorded their worries into official board minutes, which could become public. Around the winter of 2022, Musk’s good friend and former Tesla board member, Ellison, urged him to come to his Hawaiian island to relax from work and dry out from the drugs, according to people familiar with the offer.” [WSJ]
Around the Web
Envoy’s Efforts: White House senior advisor Amos Hochstein, who was in Israel for meetings with top officials over the weekend, reportedly indicated progress in talks aimed at pushing Hezbollah away from Israel’s northern border and preventing a wider escalation of the war.
Striking Back: The U.S. struck dozens of sites in Iraq and Syria used by Iran’s Quds Force in response to last weekend’s attack on a base in Jordan that killed three American service members, as the U.S. and U.K. separately conducted attacks against three dozen Houthi targets in Yemen. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned on Sunday of future strikes if American interests continue to come under attack.
Old Hands for Biden: A group of Obama administration alums, including Ben Rhodes and Wendy Sherman, are relaunching National Security Action, an advocacy group boosting President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign with a focus on Biden’s foreign policy.
The Trump Card: A new NBC News national poll shows former President Donald Trump leading President Joe Biden by five points — 47-42%. Trump holds a narrow lead over Biden among Hispanic voters, and is tied among young voters aged 18-34.
Fundraising Event: Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) hosted a joint fundraiser with Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) in California over the weekend, days after the Justice Department announced a criminal investigation into Bush’s spending of personal security funds.
Falling Short: Four candidates for Harvard’s Board of Overseers who were backed by Bill Ackman failed to collect the requisite number of signatures to appear on the April ballot; a fifth candidate supported by Mark Zuckerberg also fell short and will not appear on the final ballot to sit on the board, one of the school’s two governing bodies.
Striking Out: Brown University President Christina Paxson said she will not meet the demands — including that the university move forward with an anti-Israel resolution — of a group of student protesters engaged in a hunger strike.
College Considerations: Bloomberglooks at how campuses’ responses to the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks and subsequent Israel-Hamas war are impacting Jewish high school seniors’ college decisions.
Crimson Controversy: A Palestinian academic who described the Oct. 7 terror attacks as a “normal human struggle for freedom” is slated to speak at an event hosted by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs next month.
Second City Slam: In response to the Chicago City Council passing a resolution calling for a cease-fire, “Saturday Night Live” actor Michael Che quipped during a “Weekend Update” sketch that in response to the council vote, “Gaza called for a cease-fire in Chicago.” Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley also made an appearance during the show’s cold open.
Chabad Women: More than 4,000 women attended the annual International Conference of Chabad Lubavitch Women Emissaries in Edison, N.J., over the weekend.
In the Courts: A Massachusetts man was extradited from Sweden on charges of obstructing an investigation into a series of arsons at Jewish centers in the Boston area.
Heat Over Headline: Dearborn, Mich., is increasing its security presence following the publication in The Wall Street Journal of an op-ed that referred to the city, which has the highest Arab-American population in the country, as “America’s Jihad Capital,” drawing the ire of some Democraticlawmakers in the state.
Bad Tune: An American singer who performed the national anthem at a recent NHL All-Star game in Toronto and has a history of making anti-Israel comments is facing criticism for wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh during her performance.
Pope on Prejudice: Shortly after meeting with Israel’s envoy to the Holy See, Pope Francis issued a letter to Jews in Israel saying he “rejects every form of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, unequivocally condemning manifestations of hatred toward Jews and Judaism as a sin against God.”
Fox Flight: Fox News executives, including Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch, traveled to Israel last week for meetings with top officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
‘Curb’ Kudos: The New York Times’ chief TV critic spotlights Larry David and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as the long-running HBO series begins its final season.
BBC Bias: A BBC staffer departed the media company after coming under fire for antisemitic social media posts that included Holocaust denial.
Sidestepping Sanctions: A sanctioned Iranian petrochemical company used British front companies and U.K. banks Santander and Lloyds as part of a broader sanctions-evading scheme.
Berlin Brawl: A Jewish man in Berlin whose grandfather was killed in the Munich Olympics attack was hospitalized after being attacked by a classmate during a heated conversation about the Israel-Hamas war.
Hitler’s ‘Jewish Soldier’: A new Australian documentary spotlights the curious story of a Belarussian-born man who claimed to have been taken in by Nazi troops after his Jewish family was murdered during the Holocaust.
Morning Jay: Writing in eJewishPhilanthropy, Jay Zeidman, a former White House liaison to the Jewish community and a managing partner at Altitude Ventures, reflected on watching footage from Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack.
Funds Frozen: Israel’s Bank Leumi froze the accounts of one of the four Israeli settlers sanctioned by the White House last week for his participation in attacks on Palestinian communities in the West Bank.
Ben-Gvir’s Bluster:The Wall Street Journal interviews Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, whom the WSJ describes as “a media-savvy lawmaker who has become a lighting rod for Israel’s far right,” in the lawmaker’s first interview with the foreign press since joining the government.
Domino Effect: The New York Times breaks down how allegations tying a dozen UNRWA employees to the Oct. 7 terror attacks led to uncharacteristically swift actions by its leadership and the freezing of funds earmarked for the aid group that operates in Gaza.
Approved Appeal: An Israeli court ruled that gay Palestinians facing persecution for their sexual orientation can request asylum in Israel; Interior Minister Moshe Arbel announced his intention to appeal the ruling.
Tehran Ties:Semaforlooks at how the Iranian regime leveraged its relationship with the International Crisis Group to push Tehran’s strategic goals in Washington.
Drone Deal: Turkey agreed to provide drones to Egypt, ahead of an upcoming visit to Cairo by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Communications Crisis: Sanaa-linked telecommunications firms warned that the Iran-backed Houthis are planning an attack on undersea cables vital to global internet infrastructure.
Alternative Avenues: An Israeli startup is among companies that have started using new land routes through Saudi Arabia and the UAE in order to avoid shipping through the Red Sea.
Remembering: The New York Times published an obituary for longtime dean of students at Lakewood, N.J.’s Beth Medrash Govoha, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, who died at 86 on Jan. 2.
Pic of the Day
Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. paid tribute to the hundreds of concert-goers killed at the Nova music festival on Oct. 7. “That day, and all the tragic days that have followed, have been awful for the world to bear as we mourn the loss of all innocent lives.”
During the show’s “In Memoriam” segment, singer Annie Lennox called for a cease-fire to end the Israel-Hamas war.
Israeli golfer who is an LPGA Tour member, Laetitia Beck turns 32…
Member of the Virginia Senate for 44 years until last month, Richard Lawrence (Dick) Saslaw turns 84… Director, screenwriter and producer, Michael Kenneth Mann turns 81… Israeli engineer, inventor and entrepreneur, he’s the founding partner of Rainbow Medical, Yossi Gross turns 77… Actor, singer, puppeteer and comedian, best known as the voice of Jafar in Disney’s “Aladdin” franchise, Jonathan Freeman turns 74… Professor at Georgetown University Law Center, Randy E. Barnett turns 72… Past chair of the Board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, she was also national campaign chair for JFNA, Linda Adler Hurwitz… Ellen Braun… Actress, writer, producer and director, Jennifer Jason Leigh turns 62… Rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom of Napa Valley, Niles Elliot Goldstein… Member of the New York State Assembly representing the east side of Manhattan, Harvey David Epstein turns 57… Canadian environmental activist, Tzeporah Berman turns 55… Educator, writer, and public speaker, Rabbi Pesach Wolicki… Baltimore-area sommelier, he curates kosher food and wine events and researches synagogue history, Dr. Kenneth S. Friedman turns 51… Former member of the New York City Council, now a White House digital service expert, Benjamin Kallos turns 43… President and COO of American Signature, Jonathan Schottenstein… Israeli swimmer, she competed in the 2000 Olympics, Adi Maia Bichman turns 41… CEO at the American Journalism Project, Sarabeth Berman… Partner for political and strategic communications at Number 10 Strategies, Joshua Hantman… Olympic sprinter, born in Los Angeles and now an Israeli citizen, specializing in the 400-meter dash, Donald Sanford turns 37… Actor and singer, best known for his work in musical theatre, Alex Brightman turns 37… Director of communications and intergovernmental affairs at NYC’s Correctional Health Services, Nicole A. Levy… Team USA ice dancer until 2019, now an assistant clinical research coordinator at Stanford Medicine, Eliana Gropman turns 23…