Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: April 15, 2019
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Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: April 15, 2019

American Jewish leaders to meet with White House on Tuesday; Netanyahu eyes grand alliance to tame Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters as election results are announced in Tel Aviv, April 09, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters as election results are announced in Tel Aviv, April 09, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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JI SCOOP ― The White House will hold a meeting with American Jewish leaders on Tuesday, according to an invitation obtained by Jewish Insider on Friday. The meeting is billed as a “gathering with Jewish leaders” for a “discussion” with key administration officials on “pertinent issues impacting the community.” [JewishInsider]

DRIVING THE DAY — National Security Advisor John Bolton will meet with his Israeli counterpart, National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat, in Washington, D.C. “We have much to discuss, including our shared commitment to countering Iranian malign activity and other destabilizing actors in the Middle East and around the world,” Bolton tweeted on Sunday.

ON THE HILL ― by JI’s Laura Kelly: President Trump’s allies in the House of Representatives are urging him to revoke the waivers on Iran oil exports, ahead of a May deadline.

“Cutting Iran’s oil exports to zero remains a key, and as yet unfulfilled, part of your administration’s maximum pressure campaign,” House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY), joined by 34 other GOP members, wrotein the letter. “Forcing Iran off of its oil money would leave the country’s leaders with a choice: they can either finance their own malicious terror schemes abroad or they can support the Iranian people at home.” [JewishInsider]

FDD’s Mark Dubowitz tells JI“I’d predict that the administration will renew the waivers, with a clear signal to buyers of Iranian oil that they must continue to make significant cuts. There is no maximum pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic until Iranian oil exports are at zero.”

As Iran’s oil production and exports have slumped due to sanctions, Iranian oil officials concede that contracts via the Iran Energy Exchange have not been successful, according to a report by Bloomberg News. “We knew from the beginning that it was almost impossible to sell oil” on the exchange, Morteza Behrouzifar, deputy head of the Iranian Association for Energy Economics, said. “Iran’s crude is sanctioned and under no circumstances can anyone buy Iranian crude except those who were granted waivers.”

TOP TALKER — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro came under fire over the weekend for suggesting the crimes of the Holocaust are forgivable. “We can forgive. But we cannot forget,” Bolsonaro said of the Holocaust during a meeting with evangelical pastors in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday. President Reuven Rivlin and Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial criticized the Brazilian leader, who had faced criticism before for his controversial statements on other subjects.

Bolsonaro clarified his remarks in a statement given to Israeli Ambassador to Brazil Yossi Shelley. “To the people of Israel, I wrote in the guest book of the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem: ‘Those who forget their past are doomed to not have a future.’ Therefore, any other interpretation is only in the interest of those who want to push me away from my Jewish friends,” Shelley posted on Facebook quoting Bolsonaro.

2020 WATCH ― Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign kickoff event in Newark, NJ on Saturday was briefly interrupted by pro-BDS activists waving Palestinian flags and keffiyehs and shouting ‘Justice for Palestine.’ According to USA Today, the activists chanted “from Palestine to Mexico, borders have to go.”

Some of the protesters were identified by Yahoo News as supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, and members of a local Students for Justice in Palestine chapter. A source with Booker’s campaign told reporter Hunter Walker that he met with some of the protesters following the event to discuss their concerns.

OF NOTE — These demonstrators appear to be part of a trend of activist groups challenging the pro-Israel policies of certain 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

Booker discussed Democratic criticism of Israel in an interview with The Washington Post last week. Booker said that he can’t speak for other Democrats, but that he sees nothing wrong in pointing out injustice, highlighting the fact that the Palestinians are being denied clean water and health care in the West Bank. Booker also reiterated his strong support for Israel: “We see in Israel a nation that is constantly under assault from terrorism and the media and is in a precarious position when it comes to its security and the freedom to exist.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an interview with The New Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells published on Saturday: “While I am very critical of Netanyahu’s right-wing government, I am not impressed by what I am seeing from Palestinian leadership, as well,” he said. “It’s corrupt in many cases, and certainly not effective.” Sanders spotlighted the United States’s leverage in Israeli politics, because of its alliance and economic support (“$3.8 billion is a lot of money!”). Asked if he would make that aid contingent, on greater political rights for Palestinians. Sanders responded, “I’m not going to get into the specifics.”

BRIEFS — Sanders accused the Center for American Progress of undermining Democrats’ chances of taking back the White House in 2020 by “using its resources to smear” him and other contenders pushing progressive policies… Joe Biden is expected to run for president by casting himself as an extension of Obama’s presidency and political movement…

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg formally launched his White House bid on Sunday… The young candidate raised a whopping $1 million in just hours after the announcement… Buttigieg called VP Mike Pence a ‘Pharisee,’ an ancient Jewish sect ― a metaphor that carries antisemitic overtones, Jewish scholars say… Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand raised $3 million in the first quarter of 2020 run… 2020 Dems stand by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) as she’s hammered for 9/11 comments… Trump and his 2020 team are trying to make Omar a household name to rally the base.

David Frum writes… “Democrats Are Falling Into the Ilhan Omar Trap: Trump wishes to make Omar the face of the Democratic Party heading into the 2020 elections — and now he has provoked Democrats to comply… Having promised not to ‘let him drive us apart’ from Omar, Democrats are now stuck with responsibility for the reckless things the representative from Minnesota says, not only about Jews, but about other issues, too” [TheAtlantic]

HEARD LAST NIGHT — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked about the group of progressive freshmen, which include Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, on CBS’s 60 Minutes. “That’s like five people,” Pelosi responded.

WATCH ― Beto O’Rourke congratulated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his victory and reiterated his commitment to a two-state solution during a campaign stop in South Carolina over the weekend:

“This is my first public opportunity to do this ― to publicly congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu on his victory. I may not agree with a lot of what he has done or said, especially recently aligning himself with far right, very hateful parties employing some very racist rhetoric, disavowing functionally the two-state solution ― which if you care about Israel, and I deeply do, is going to undermine and jeopardize a peaceful, secure future for that state. It will make it nearly impossible for Israel to remain both a Jewish state and a democracy. So I have some serious differences, but our differences should not hold us captive to being able to advance our cause, which is a two-state solution. Our friendship, which is historic with the state of Israel, which must transcend who’s in power at a given time or the party affiliation of the president of the United States. That is an everlasting relationship and friendship. But for the full benefit of everyone in that region, Israelis and Palestinians, we must ensure that there are two states.” [Video]

JI INTERVIEW ― Stuart “Stu” Eizenstat, who was among President Jimmy Carter’s closest aides, criticized O’Rourke for singling out Netanyahu and calling him a racist in a phone interview with Jewish Insider‘s Jacob Kornbluh.

“It’s way beyond the line, way out of bounds, for somebody like Beto O’Rourke to say Netanyahu is a racist. He called the prime minister of Israel a racist. That’s not appropriate. It’s beyond the pale,” said Eizenstat. “You can’t just separate the prime minister from his government and from the state. You can be very strongly against the settlement policy, you can be very strong against the fact that Likud has moved away from a two-state solution, and you can question how can Israel stay a Jewish democratic majority without a two-state solution. That’s all fair. It should be. Israel is a sovereign country. Just like the United States, it’s subject to criticism, but when you start calling the leader of the country in purple terms, that’s beyond the pale.”

In the interview, Eizenstat urged Netanyahu to “shift the burden of proof on the peace process to the Palestinians” by announcing that Israel will stop building new settlements outside the settlement blocs and announce a big economic initiative that will invest in the Palestinian economy. “If you can’t compromise with Likud because of your coalition on political issues, at least make it appear that you recognize that there are a lot of Palestinians and Gazans who are suffering, and that that’s not a Jewish way of dealing with your neighbors. That would help a lot,” Eizenstat suggested. “Show a humanitarian face if you can’t make political concessions because of your coalition. Give them an equity in a better future, even if there’s no political dimension. Now, without the political dimension, Abbas will turn it down, as he’s already turned it down. He said whatever they do is dead on arrival, but let him be the one that’s the fall guy.”

Alan Dershowitz posted on Twitter: “Mazal tov to Israeli PM Netanyahu, who I’ve known since he was a student at MIT. Waiting for the new peace plan to be implemented. Time for a fair two-state solution that assures Israel’s security.”

HEARD THE OTHER DAY — Former President Bill Clinton during an event at the Beacon Theater in NYC on Thursday: “You should never underestimate [Netanyahu], he’s highly intelligent, he understands his electorate. He’s smart and able and he knows how to hit people where they’re tender.” [ToI]

KAFE KNESSET ― Government formation begins — by Neri Zilber: This morning President Reuven Rivlin began consultations at his residence in Jerusalem with officials from the eleven political parties represented in the next Knesset, in the second stage of Israel’s electoral process: the formation of the next government. Likud, Blue and White, Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Hadash-Ta’al were there in forty-five minute intervals. Tomorrow will see Labor, Israel Beiteinu, Union of Right Wing Parties, Meretz, Kulanu, and Ra’am-Balad arrive to recommend to the president who among the Knesset members they would like to see form the next government.

After consultations end, Rivlin will task Netanyahu — likely on Wednesday — with the task of forming the next government. The PM will then have 28 days, with another 14 day extension if need be, to negotiate with his future coalition partners. The man holding the most leverage over Netanyahu is Yisrael Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman and his five Knesset seats. At present Bibi has a potential right-wing coalition of 65 seats with Lieberman; without him he doesn’t have a parliamentary majority. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset newsletter by subscribing here [KafeKnesset]

Benjamin Netanyahu eyes grand alliance to tame Iran ― by Anshel Pfeffer: “Netanyahu is not focused on opening an Israeli embassy in Riyadh. What he is after is cementing a trilateral alliance between Washington and the Gulf, confronting Iran. This alliance, he believes, will have a secondary purpose, backing up the peace plan President Donald Trump is soon expected to present to the Israelis and Palestinians, perhaps within weeks. Dealing with the Trump plan will be one of Netanyahu’s first challenges as he begins his fifth term. But he has an even more immediate and much more personal concern as he forms his coalition in the coming weeks.” [SundayTimes]

NPR’s Daniel Estrin shared his experience talking to young soldiers on election day on why they supported Netanyahu’s reelection on NPR Weekend Edition: “They don’t remember much of anyone else. Netanyahu has been prime minister for a decade — since these soldiers were 9 and 10 years old. In a recent survey, the majority of 18 to 24-year-olds supported Netanyahu over his centrist rival. About 75 percent of them defined themselves as right or moderately right-wing. Those who call themselves left or moderate left-wing — only 9 percent. The soldiers I met don’t think there will ever be peace with the Palestinians.”

The Trump-Netanyahu Alliance — by David Remnick: “Just as Netanyahu provided Trump instruction on the political possibilities of right-wing populism, Trump has provided Netanyahu with instruction on the possibilities of outrageous invective, voter suppression, and disdain for the law… Netanyahu was initially wary of Trump, suspecting that an erratic dunce had entered the Oval Office. Over time, he was not necessarily dissuaded from that impression, but he was beyond enchanted when he realized that Trump was prepared to do whatever he asked.” [NewYorker]

ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH ― Trump’s peace plan is likely to stop short of “ensuring a separate, fully sovereign Palestinian state,” The Washington Post reported on Sunday, based on conversations with people familiar with the main elements of the plan. Regarding the roll out, a senior White House official was quoted as saying, “Timing is still being worked out, and no decision has been made at this time as to when we are going to roll it out.”

Axios’ Jonathan Swan, Alayna Treene and Ch. 13’s Barak Ravid reportIn a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month, King Abdullah II of Jordan said the White House had given him zero visibility into the most fraught part of their peace plan: how it proposes to divide Israeli and Palestinian territory. A source in the room told Axios that King Abdullah “gave the impression that it was more of an economic deal rather than a peace deal.”

The report also notes that only five or six people in the entire U.S. government have seen the political side of the plan, and that it’s unclear if the White House will reveal the whole thing at once or will roll out the economic side first.

HEARD ON CABLE — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested in an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s The Lead on Friday that Netanyahu’s pledge to apply Israeli law to West Bank settlements won’t hurt the Trump administration’s peace plan.

Tapper: Do you have any concerns about the comments of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made right before he was re-elected, vowing to annex the West Bank. Do you think that might hurt the pursuit of peace, the two-state solution proposal that Jared Kushner and others, including you, have been working so hard on?

Pompeo: “I don’t. I think that the vision that we’ll lay out is going to represent a significant change from the model that’s been used… Our idea is to put forward a vision that has ideas that are new, that are different, that are unique, that tries to reframe and reshape what’s been an intractable problem… We hope that we can get to a better place. Everyone wants this conflict resolved. We want a better life for the Israelis without this conflict and we certainly want a better life for the Palestinian people, both in the West Bank and in Gaza.”

A group of four prominent pro-Israel Democrats — Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Brad Schneider (D-IL) — warned the Israeli government against taking unilateral steps to annex the West Bank in a statement on Friday. [JewishInsider]

VIEW FROM RAMALLAH — Swearing in a new government, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas predicted that “nothing will remain of” the peace plan and “there will be no announcement about it.” Abbas addedthat the Palestinians rejected the deal from the beginning, “because it excluded Jerusalem from Palestine, and therefore we do not want the rest. There is no state without Jerusalem, no state in Gaza, no state without Gaza.”

Palestinians eye Israel’s election — by Donald Macintyre: “The reaction in Bethlehem to the victory of Netanyahu’s Likud party ranges from grim indifference to frustration that if the Israeli public can elect him – for the fifth time – despite his entanglement with the law, the country really must be becoming ever more nationalistic.” [TheGuardian]

President Trump warned the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Friday against trying to prosecute Israelis or Americans following a complaint by Palestinians. “Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response,” Trump said in a statement. Prime Minister Netanyahu congratulated the Trump administration on Sunday “for their steadfast position on the side of the citizens of Israel and the soldiers of the IDF.”

REPORT — Trump warned Netanyahu during their meeting last month that if Israel doesn’t limit its ties with China, security cooperation with the U.S. could be reduced, according to Israeli officials. Netanyahu had promised Sec. Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton that his security cabinet would pass a decision on forming a new government mechanism that will monitor Chinese investments in Israel. According to Ch. 13’s Barak Ravid, Trump didn’t set an ultimatum or threaten Netanyahu, but he wanted to know the status of the steps he had promised Bolton and Pompeo.

NBC News‘s Jonathan Allen writes about the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) influence over Trump on Israel policy: “While critics of Israel and its policies — including Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has elicited condemnation from Trump and many Democrats for her commentary — tend to focus on the perceived power of American Jews, Christian Zionists like Hagee and his followers exercise tremendous influence in Washington… The hand of the Christian Zionists has become increasingly visible because of Trump’s reliance on their community and his periodic candor, according to people who study the issue closely.”

TALK OF THE REGION — A delegation of around 30 Israeli business executives and government officials that was due to attend a conference in Bahrain this week has pulled out due to security concerns, the organizers said on Sunday. A spokeswoman for Economy Minister Eli Cohen said his planned visit to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) in Bahrain this week had been “delayed because of political issues”

ON THE GROUND — An alleged Israeli airstrike on a military position in central Syria early Saturday wounded six soldiers and destroyed several buildings, according to Syria’s state news agency SANA. Unlike previous strikes against Iranian targets, Israel remained silent, declining to comment about the reported strike. Though Netanyahu appeared to hint that Israel was behind it, declaring at an event in Jerusalem for families of fallen IDF soldiers, “We are continuing to operate on all fronts, including the northern one.

Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak told al-Hayat that Netanyahu was willing to give up all of the Golan Heights during talks with former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in 1998 in exchange for normalizing relations and the opening of embassies in the two countries. The U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan “was the result” of the failed talks, he said.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Karen Elliott House takes an inside look at the early years of Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), how he became the kingdom’s de facto ruler, and how he conducts himself: “Prince Mohammed prefers action over caution and secrecy over transparency. Those who work with him say that he hardly ever tips his hand, often appearing in meetings to favor one option only to force associates to provide better arguments for the one he really favors. He keeps aides and cabinet members on a short leash… The crown prince — a workaholic like his father — rarely relaxes, say retainers. When he does, it is usually to play videogames or to watch the sort of TV shows favored by young men, like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘The Walking Dead.'”

** Good Monday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: KKR founders set sights on Japan conglomerate[FinancialTimes] • Tel Aviv smart ridesharing begins Monday [Globes] • SpaceIL’s Morris Kahn commits to second Beresheet lunar mission[TechCrunch] • Greece’s Energean discovers natural gas reserve offshore Israel [Reuters]

SPOTLIGHT — Matthew Bronfman Will no Longer Invest in Regulated Businesses in Israel — by Adi Pick: “Matthew Bronfman won’t invest in another regulated business in Israel, the entrepreneur and philanthropist said Thursday, speaking at Calcalist’s Mind the Tech conference in New York… When he bought into Discount Bank in 2006, Bronfman said, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the finance minister at the time. Netanyahu advised that it would be a good idea for Bronfman to buy an additional bank and merge it with Discount, Bronfman said Thursday, But regulators such as the Bank of Israel did not approve the plan. ‘I’m not saying we were duped, but…’ Bronfman said.” [Calcalist]

ACROSS THE POND — Jeremy Corbyn admits: Labour ‘ignored’ antisemitism — by Richard Kerbaj, Gabriel Pogrund and Tim Shipman: “Jeremy Corbyn has privately admitted that evidence of antisemitism in Labour has been ‘mislaid, ignored or not used.’ He made the admission during a secretly recorded meeting with the MP Margaret Hodge to discuss the party’s antisemitism crisis. It is the first time Corbyn has cast doubt on his own staff’s ability to tackle the problem that has dogged his leadership for years and whether they have mishandled evidence of racism.”[SundayTimes]

DESSERT — The Must-Try Israeli Café, Hidden Away in New Jersey — by Tzach Yoked: “Friday, 8:30 A.M. The aroma of fresh challah for Shabbat greets customers as they enter the Bread Boutique and Café, an Israeli-owned locale in a small shopping center in this town of 15,000, one of the biggest Israeli strongholds in the New York area… Owners Tali Siso and Orly Amos stand behind the counter enjoying every minute. They opened the café a little over a year ago, and now practically every Israeli – and Jew – from the area is talking about it.” [Haaretz]

BIRTHDAYS: Psychiatrist, entrepreneur, and movie producer, Dr. Henry George Jarecki turns 86… Senior advisor at Covington & Burling, he was a fifteen-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1983-2013), Howard Lawrence Berman turns 78… Duke University professor, physician, biochemist and Nobel Prize laureate (Chemistry in 2012), Robert Lefkowitz turns 76… Candidate for Mayor of Philadelphia in 2020, he previously served as the City Controller of Philadelphia (2006-2018) and as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1991-2005), Alan Butkovitz turns 67… CEO of DMB Strategic, a consulting and advisory group focusing on domestic and international affairs and philanthropy, he was once a legislative aide to Senator Henry M. Jackson (1975-1976), David Brand turns 66… Founder and director of the graduate school in the decorative arts at Bard College in Dutchess County, New York, she was previously married to George Soros (1983-2005), Susan Weber turns 64…

Journalist, media critic and executive director at American Press Institute, he is the author of nine books, including two novels, the pride of Woodside, California, Tom Rosenstiel turns 63… Born in NYC, now living in Jerusalem, he is the Rebbe of the Boyan Hasidic dynasty (a position he assumed in 1984 when he was 25 years old), Rabbi Nachum Dov Brayer turns 60… Former deputy secretary of the Treasury (2014-2017) and member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2010-2014), Sarah Bloom Raskinturns 58… Managing partner, CEO and chief investment officer of Hudson Bay Capital Management, Sander R. Gerber turns 52… CEO of the New Israel Fund since 2009, prior to that he was the executive director of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, Daniel Sokatch turns 51… Cheryl Myra Cohn turns 44…

Senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and founder of the Truman National Security Project, Rachel Kleinfeld, Ph.D. turns 43… VP of government affairs at Cross River Bank and co-founder of the Online Lending Policy Institute, he was previously a member of the New York State Assembly (2011-2016), Y. Phillip Goldfeder turns 38… Actor, comedian, writer, producer and director, Seth Rogen turns 37… Carly Zakin, co-founder and co-CEO of theSkimm turns 33… Policy director at the DC-based, Arab American Institute, Kristin McCarthy turns 31… Resident of NYC and Tel Aviv, he is the founder and CEO of Stoop and Mdrn., two platforms offering residential housing solutions as a service, Zach Ehrlich turns 30… Social entrepreneur, environmental, human rights and pro-Israel activist, she ran for Congress in 2016, Erin Schrode turns 28… Moshe Lehrer..

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