Good Thursday morning.
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we look at challenges facing Democrats in Michigan amid activist threats to sit out the general election over the Biden administration’s stance on Israel, and report from last night’s Washington Wizards Jewish Heritage Night. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Sen. Ted Budd, Adm. John Kirby and Georgia state Rep. Esther Panitch.
Axios‘ Barak Ravid reported on Wednesday that the Biden administration is considering a range of day-after options for the Middle East following the eventual end of the Israel-Hamas war — among them the potential recognition of a Palestinian state — setting off shockwaves among experts, observers and former government officials.
The report left a lot of unanswered questions, among them: what the borders of a Palestinian state would look like, who would govern a future state of Palestine and how Israel could be guaranteed security under such a scenario.
“Without confirming a specific report, I will say that, yes, we do have ongoing policy planning processes about how best to advance the establishment of an independent Palestinian state,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Wednesday afternoon. Conversations about those policy goals, Miller said, are “part of the normal planning process,” adding that “[t]he vast majority of options never usually get implemented because we put things on the drawing board and figure out what will work, what will be effective, and how best to sequence it.”
“So I won’t get into that underlying policy planning process that we go about,” he continued, “but yes, we are actively pursuing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with real security guarantees for Israel because we do believe that is the best way to bring about lasting peace and security for Israel, for Palestinians, and for the region.”
The Axios report, followed hours later by a New York Times op-ed by Tom Friedman calling for a “Biden doctrine” that includes “an unprecedented U.S. diplomatic initiative to promote a Palestinian state,” came a day before Biden heads to Michigan, a state where he is struggling with Arab-American voters who are frustrated with the administration’s support for Israel. Read more below from Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod on the delicate balance the Biden reelection campaign is seeking to strike in the Wolverine State.
Of course, any proposal at present for the creation of a Palestinian state is dead on arrival in Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid have all ruled out that scenario for the near future as the country continues to cope with the trauma of Oct. 7. Netanyahu and the war cabinet remain focused on the government’s primary objectives: destroying Hamas and bringing home the remaining 136 hostages from Gaza.
The latter issue has been the subject of intensive talks this week, with the National Security Council’s Brett McGurk traveling to the region, and Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer meeting in Washington with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
But as rumors swirl about an impending deal to release the remaining hostages in exchange for Israel conceding its other war aims and releasing several thousand Palestinian prisoners, Netanyahu made clear that he would not agree to those terms, JI’s senior political correspondent Lahav Harkov reports.
In a video message released in Hebrew, Netanyahu listed three red lines: “We will not end the war; we will not take the IDF out of the [Gaza] Strip; and we will not release thousands of terrorists.”
“We are working to reach another outline for releasing our hostages, but I emphasize that I will not do it at all costs,” Netanyahu said. “We are working all the time to free the hostages and to reach the other war aims, to eliminate Hamas and ensure that Gaza will no longer be a threat. We are working on the three of them together and will not give up on any one of them.”
The prime minister’s statement came hours after a meeting with relatives of 18 hostages, after which he released a statement in which he said of the negotiations: “The more discreet [the effort] is, the greater are its chances for success.”
The Hostages’ Families forum said in response to Netanyahu’s red lines that “time is running out to save the lives of the 136 hostages held by Hamas for 118 days. Securing their release is the top priority — all else can wait. These are critical hours to save lives on the brink of death.”
“Destroying Hamas and saving the hostages are Israel’s top goals,” the forum acknowledged, “but destroying Hamas will take a year; the hostages do not have this long. Releasing terrorist prisoners may be painful but abandoning hostages is worse.” The families’ forum called on Netanyahu and his war cabinet to “seize every opportunity to bring the hostages home alive, not in coffins” and “reach a deal immediately.”
connecting the dots
The White House knows Iran is behind the deadly attacks on its troops, but how will it respond?
Addressing the media on Tuesday, President Joe Biden said that the White House believed Iran was, at least in part, behind this week’s deadly drone attack on U.S. troops stationed in Jordan. While the president seemed to stop short of blaming Iran directly, the U.S. administration has made clear that it will respond to the attack in which three service members were killed, although when, where and how is still unclear. What has become clear, however, is that Iran has allowed small sectarian terror groups to become increasingly emboldened through funding, training and arming them. If such deadly attacks continue, the U.S. will face the thorny dilemma of whether to confront Iran directly or step back from the region to protect its troops, Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
Long game: “Iran can no longer hide behind its proxies,” Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told JI. “Everybody knows who is really behind these attacks and, in some ways, Iran is not even working to hide it any longer.” Iran’s overarching goal, said Guzansky, was to “become a hegemonic power in the region.” The regime, he said, which follows the Shia branch of Islam, has proxies in almost every Shia community in the Middle East from Iraq to Bahrain and Yemen to Lebanon and Syria, as well as links to some non-Shia terror groups, such as Hamas, that might not share Iran’s religious beliefs, but do share its fundamentalist ideology.
Long list: A research paper recently published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal found at least 19 separate terror organizations, including Hamas and Kataib Hezbollah, the Iraqi militia said to be behind the attack in Jordan, linked to Iran in some way. Most of the terror groups listed in the report, which was penned by Joe Truzman, a senior research fellow at the D.C.-based think tank, appear to be Palestinian, and many operate somewhere along Israel’s border or inside Gaza and the West Bank territory it controls.
Hesitation: “I believe the White House understands the extent of Iran’s involvement,” Truzman told JI. “Nevertheless, they are hesitant to explicitly accuse Iran as it would then necessitate a potential military response from the U.S. whenever a significant incident occurs, and the White House has consistently conveyed its preference to avoid engaging in a war with Iran.”
In Michigan, Democrats walk fine line on Israel between dueling constituencies
President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Michigan on Thursday — a state that has become an epicenter of his party’s divisions over Israel. His campaign, in recent days, has worked to shore up support within the state’s sizable Arab and Muslim voters, as some organizers in the community rally behind calls to sit out the 2024 election, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. Michigan — which also has a significant Jewish community and an influential moderate suburban voting base — is also likely to be critical to Democrats’ hopes of retaining control of the Senate and retaking the House, with an open Senate seat and several key competitive House seats.
Slotkin’s stance: Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), a pro-Israel Jewish Democrat running for Michigan’s Senate seat, has grown more critical of Israel’s military operation in recent weeks, joining a letter with fellow Democrats with national security backgrounds calling for the administration to pressure Israel to make a “significant” shift to its practices in Gaza. The letter risks costing her support with both core constituencies — Jewish voters who could be frustrated that she’s taking a tougher line against Israel than Biden, and Muslim voters who are unequivocally anti-Israel.
Voting blocs: Adrian Hemond, a Michigan political strategist, told JI that recent polling shows that Slotkin’s support for Israel isn’t dampening her position in the Democratic primary — she’s well ahead of a more progressive primary opponent whose platform includes calls for a cease-fire. Hemond said he’s skeptical that the issue will sap significant support from Slotkin and Democrats statewide. “Arab Americans in Michigan are fairly low propensity voters anyway,” he said. “The more mainstream Democrats are more regular voters,” he continued, noting that key suburban populations that have realigned toward Democrats in recent cycles are “the people who are least sympathetic to the ‘Ceasefire Now’ position.”
on the hill
Bush, Tlaib vote against bill barring Oct. 7 attackers from the U.S.
Reps. Cori Bush (D-MO) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) broke with the rest of the House on Wednesday evening to vote against a bill barring participants in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel from entering the United States. Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-IL) voted present on the bill, while 422 other lawmakers voted in favor, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
The bill: The “No Immigration Benefits for Hamas Terrorists Act” would designate any members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and any other individuals involved in perpetrating, planning, funding or supporting the Oct. 7 attack on Israel as barred from the U.S. and from seeking any immigration relief from the U.S. It would also expand existing immigration restrictions barring some representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organization from the U.S. to include all PLO members.
Leadership’s message: Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA) described the bill as “widely duplicative of current law” in a memo to House Democrats. Hamas and PIJ members are already barred from the U.S., given that both are designated terror organizations, and any individual who provides material support to terrorism is also banned from the country. In a statement, Tlaib said that the bill “is unnecessary because it is redundant with already existing federal law.”
Primary attack: Wesley Bell, Bush’s primary opponent, condemned her vote in a statement to JI. “Rep. Cori Bush’s vote today is shameful and reprehensible. She was one of only two people in the entire Congress to vote in favor of allowing terrorists who participated in the horrific October 7th attack on Israel to enter the United States,” Bell said. “Rep. Bush’s vote is offensive and embarrassing to our community. We will never be a safe haven for terrorists, and we need a Congressperson who knows better.”
Group of House Republicans call on Blinken to pull back U.S. funds already provided to UNRWA
A group of Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Wednesday urging him to rescind U.S. funds already provided to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), following the organization’s admission that at least 12 of its employees participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
More to do: The 18 signatories said that the administration’s decision to pause further funding to UNRWA was “appropriate and necessary” but “did not go far enough.” The U.S. has provided $120 million to UNRWA in the current fiscal year, with just $300,000 currently being held back. “We write with the utmost urgency to demand that the U.S. State Department immediately reclaim the tens of millions of dollars it has obligated or committed to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA),” the lawmakers wrote in a letter obtained by JI.
One and the same: “It is undeniable that funding UNRWA means we are funding Hamas,” the letter reads. “Therefore, it is imperative that the State Department reclaim the United States funding obligated to UNRWA as soon as possible.” They requested the administration provide a “full explanation” by Feb. 14 on how it plans to pull back U.S. funds provided to UNRWA.
On the supplemental package: With some congressional Republicans sounding increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for a border deal that would allow supplemental aid for Israel, Ukraine and other U.S. allies to move forward, a few lawmakers are pushing for Congress to proceed with a stand-alone Israel aid bill, JI’s Marc Rod reports. Those calls could grow in the coming days if House Republicans reject the border deal, which negotiators say is essentially finalized and could be made public as soon as this week.
At Wizards’ Jewish Heritage Night, hostages not center court
The main program at Wednesday night’s Jewish Heritage Night for the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena was noticeably devoid of any mentions of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel and the 136 hostages still being held in Gaza. The D.C. basketball team has organized the Jewish heritage event annually, with Wizards veteran Deni Avdija, who is Israeli, as its star. Wednesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, which ended in a 125-109 Wizards defeat, featured the U.S. national anthem sung by a choir from the Adas Israel synagogue, a halftime performance by an Israeli dance troupe and an Avdija bobblehead giveaway, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
On the sidelines: But the Wizards’ gametime program steered clear of the Oct. 7 attack and the war in Gaza, even as a group of audience members, holding an Israeli flag, chanted “bring them home” at multiple points during the game.
Post-game remarks: Avdija himself addressed the war and the hostage crisis in broad terms in post-game remarks to hundreds of Jewish fans who stuck around the arena after the game, although the session came after the general audience had otherwise emptied out. “There are things that are bigger than basketball. Since Oct. 7 we all saw it, and I’ve been dealing with it — my friends are in the army, friends that got hurt, soldiers that got killed, and I’m trying represent and have an awareness,” Avdija said. “A lot of people got to understand there’s a lot of things going on, especially with my country.” Avdija added at the end of the session, “Stay positive, we’ll have better days, and I hope — I know that — hopefully all the hostages will come back.”
Civilian Concern: In Newsweek, John Spencer, the chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point, looks at the efforts taken by the IDF to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza during its war with Hamas. “The reality is that when it comes to avoiding civilian harm, there is no modern comparison to Israel’s war against Hamas. Israel is not fighting a battle like Fallujah, Mosul, or Raqqa; it is fighting a war involving synchronous major urban battles. No military in modern history has faced over 30,000 urban defenders in more than seven cities using human shields and hiding in hundreds of miles of underground networks purposely built under civilian sites, while holding hundreds of hostages. Despite the unique challenges Israel faces in its war against Hamas, it has implemented more measures to prevent civilian casualties than any other military in history. Some have argued that Israel should have waited longer to start its war, should have used different munitions and tactics, or should not have conducted the war at all. These calls are understandable, but they fail to acknowledge the context of Israel’s war against Hamas, from the hundreds of Israeli hostages to the daily rocket attacks on Israeli civilians from Gaza to the tunnels, and the real existential threat of Hamas poses Israel and its citizens, who live within walking distance of the warzone.” [Newsweek]
A Plan for Iran: In the Washington Examiner, Sen. Ted Budd (R-NC) calls for a shift in policy vis-a-vis Iran. “Biden has vowed to retaliate ‘at a time and place of our choosing’ for the attacks that killed U.S. service members. It was only a few days ago, however, that Biden admitted in an exchange with reporters that the minimal strikes he’s ordered against the Houthis were not working to stop attacks against global shipping in the Red Sea but that he’d continue them anyway. It’s time for a change in policy and to respond to Iran and its proxies with strength. Weakness only invites further aggression from our adversaries. Former President Donald Trump understood this. That’s why he ordered the January 2020 drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force. After an initial response from Iran, attacks against U.S. forces in the region drastically decreased. That’s deterrence.” [WashingtonExaminer]
Quad Concerns: Tablet magazine’s Tony Badran warns of the influx of wealthy foreign students at elite American universities, and how their activity in anti-Israel groups contributes to campus tensions. “Depending on how you look at it, American universities have made either an exceedingly clever or else exceedingly reprehensible bargain: Quota-filling at a profit. While this practice is generally covered with asinine bureaucratic language such as ‘promoting diversity’ and ‘fostering a cosmopolitan culture’ for a ‘global community,’ it is in fact a racket by which universities take slots presumably intended for members of groups that are held to be economically and culturally deprived — and on which the universities would be obligated to take a loss — and instead sell them at a profit to the families of some of the more privileged people on Earth, while also continuing to sell identity-politics platitudes as institutional ideology.” [Tablet]
Starting Over, Looking Back: In the Washington Post, former Tree of Life congregant Allan Ripp reflects on the Pittsburgh synagogue’s razing ahead of the construction of a new synagogue and memorial to the victims of the 2018 attack. “Embedded in our observance is an enduring nostalgia for a physical place, as well as the time spent there. By necessitating the demolition, [shooter Robert] Bowers has forever extinguished the opportunity to return to that space — a harm done to all who attended Tree of Life, no matter how long we had been away. This past summer, on a trip to Pittsburgh, I stopped by the abandoned Tree of Life. Unable to enter the fenced-off building, I took a tour in my mind — the downstairs classrooms, where I watched filmstrip Bible stories in Sunday school; the cozy Rosenbloom chapel, where I sat between my parents on Friday nights, mesmerized by choir voices floating down from a booth above the ark; the cantor’s stuffy, leather-bound study, where I studied Torah music notations for my bar mitzvah. … I’m sure that once the new Tree of Life opens, I’ll want to see the exhibits and test the spiritual vibe. Of course, it will never be the same, but families will begin forming new memories. The Jewish history and tradition of rebuilding after tragedy is unshakable.” [WashPost]
Around the Web
Damascus Departure: Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps pulled its senior members from Syria, following a series of strikes on IRGC targets in the country that Syrian and Iranian officials have blamed on Israel.
Funding Fury: The families of three American survivors and victims of the Oct. 7 terror attacks filed suit in a New York court against the governments of Iran and Syria, as well as the cryptocurrency firm Binance and its former CEO, alleging that they provided financial support to Hamas to carry out the attacks.
Dealing with Doha: Members of Congress, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), are pushing the Biden administration to “leverage” its relationship with Qatar in an effort to free the remaining hostages held in Gaza, as Politicoreports that Jay Footlik, a Washington-based consultant working for Qatar, has been advising hostage families that are meeting with Qatari officials.
Kibitzing with Kirby: White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby spoke on Wednesday morning to a gathering of activists from the Jewish Federations of North America, providing an update on the status of hostage release negotiations, as well as elaborating on his own long-standing ties to the Jewish community.
Case Dismissed: A California judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking to force the Biden administration to pressure Israel to halt its war with Hamas, saying the district court lacked jurisdiction in the case.
Internal Dissent: USAID Administrator Samantha Power is facing criticism from some department staffers over the Biden administration’s position on the Israel-Hamas war.
Tehran Ties: The Justice Department announced charges against four Chinese nationals alleged to have smuggled technology from the U.S. through China and Hong Kong to Iran, for use in Tehran’s drone program.
Strategy Session: For CNN, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Mark Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer suggest the Biden administration take a page out of the Trump administration’s Iran playbook and consider the use of direct force as a deterrent for future Iranian attacks.
Toughen Sanctions: A bipartisan group of 18 senators, five of whom are Democrats, urged President Joe Biden to strengthen oil sanctions on Iran, with a particular eye toward targeting Chinese purchases of Iranian oil, which have been a lifeline for the regime in Tehran.
Abraham Accords Bureau: Reps. Diana Harshbarger (R-TN), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Rick Allen (R-GA), Andy Harris (R-MD), Mike Levin (D-CA), Scott Peters (D-CA) and Randy Weber (R-TX) introduced a bill to establish a Food and Drug Administration bureau for the Abraham Accords and establish offices in Abraham Accords signatory countries.
For Sale: Former Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) Washington, D.C., home was placed on the market for $8.5 million.
Chicago [Cease]-Fire: Mayor Brandon Johnson cast the tie-breaking vote to pass a Chicago City Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in a contentious meeting that was delayed an hour due to disruptions by pro-cease-fire demonstrators.
Veto Power: Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey vetoed a cease-fire resolution passed by the Minneapolis City Council, calling the legislation “one-sided” and said it failed “to recognize the history of Israeli Jews.”
Return to Sender: Jimmy Finkelstein’s The Messenger is shutting down less than a year after the news startup launched with $50 million in funding.
DNA Drama: The Wall Street Journal looks at the challenges facing 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki as she works to keep the company afloat amid a crashing valuation and multiple rounds of layoffs.
Gone Camping: Jackie Tohn, Steve Guttenberg and Sarah Podemski will star in the upcoming Jewish summer camp comedy “Floaters,” which recently wrapped production in New York.
Device Destroyed: Authorities in Stockholm destroyed a “dangerous object” found outside the Israeli Embassy in the Swedish capital.
Across the Pond: U.K. MP Mike Freer, who represents the heavily Jewish London neighborhood of Golders Green, said he won’t run for reelection, citing death threats and an arson attack on his office that have come in response to his support for Israel.
Netanyahu’s No: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party rejected an offer by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party to join forces and move forward with a hostage deal, which would also include the ouster of the far-right elements of Netanyahu’s governing coalition.
West Bank Worries: The New York Times’ Roger Cohen looks at the simmering tensions in the West Bank.
Parental Control: The Washington Post interviews Israeli parents across the country about how they are coping with child-rearing during a war.
Pic of the Day
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law legislation codifying the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism.
Standing to Kemp’s left is state Rep. Esther Panitch, the only Jewish member of the Georgia legislature, who introduced the bill last year before it was held up over disagreements over its wording.
Executive vice chairman emeritus of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm I. Hoenlein turns 80…
Mediator and arbitrator, he is a past president of the Beverly Hills Bar Association, Howard S. Fredman turns 80… Academy Award-winning producer and motion picture executive, Zvi Howard Rosenman turns 79… Midtown Manhattan physician specializing in Nephrology and Internal Medicine, Mark H. Gardenswartz, MD… Laureate conductor of Orchestra 914 and author in 1994 of The Jewish 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Jews of All Time, Michael Jeffrey Shapiro turns 73… Far Rockaway, N.Y., resident, Maurice Lazar… President and part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was previously president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, Stan Kasten turns 72… Publisher of Baltimore Jewish Life, Jeff Cohn… CEO of the Charleston (S.C.) Jewish Federation, Judi Corsaro… Artist, Israel Tsvaygenbaum turns 63… Director for policy and government affairs at AIPAC, David Gillette… 25-year veteran of the Israeli foreign service including a three-year stint as DCOM at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, now a scholar-in-residence at American University in Washington, Dan Arbell… EVP and chief program officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Becky Sobelman-Stern… One of Israel’s top soccer players of all time, Eli Ohana turns 60… Actor, comedian, director, writer and producer, Pauly Shore turns 56… Voting rights and election law attorney, Marc E. Elias turns 55… Mid-Atlantic regional director for AIPAC, Tara Brown… Managing director of Pickwick Capital Partners, Ari Raskas… Canadian actress, Rachelle Lefevre turns 45… Commissioner of the New York City Department of Sanitation, Jessica S. Tisch… Experimental jazz guitarist, bassist, oud player and composer, Yoshie Fruchter turns 42… Venezuelan journalist, writer and TV and radio presenter, Shirley Varnagy Bronfenmajer turns 42… Libertarian political activist, radio host and author, Adam Charles Kokesh turns 42… Comedian, writer, actress and illustrator, Abbi Jacobson turns 40… Account executive at Google focused on elections, Andrew Friedman… Sportscaster and sports reporter who covers the New York Mets for SNY, Steven N. Gelbs turns 37… AVP for health policy at the University of Southern California, Stephanie Beth Cohen… Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-CA), Sara Josephine Jacobs turns 35… Ob-Gyn physician in Atlanta, she is married to Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Alisha Sara Kramer turns 34… Director of demand generation at SchoolStatus, David Aryeh Leshaw… Television and movie actress and model, Julia Garner turns 30…