Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: April 4, 2019
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Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: April 4, 2019

Israeli campaigns enter final stretch with media blitz; artist who built a Holocaust memorial by far-right leader’s home is under investigation

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz visits Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market on March 28, 2019. (Sharia Diamnet)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz visits Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market on March 28, 2019. (Sharia Diamnet)

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DRIVING THE DAY — Israelis will pay their respects to US-born Sgt. First Class Zachary Baumel, who will be buried at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem this evening, 37 years after he was likely killed in the battle of Sultan Yacoub during Israel’s first Lebanon war. Baumel’s remains were returned to Israel earlier this week, Israeli PM Netanyahu announced on Wednesday.

Netanyahu thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for helping Israel with finding the remains and assisting with its return to Israel during a brief visit to Moscow. “I would like to thank you my friend,” Netanyahu said, “on my behalf and on behalf of the people of Israel, for everything you have done and for our steadfast friendship which is very important for my country.” Netanyahu will attend the funeral upon his return.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), said in a statement to Jewish Insider“After nearly 37 years, answers have finally surfaced for the family and friends of Brooklyn-born IDF tank commander, Zachary Baumel, who was returned to Israel after going missing in Lebanon in 1982 during the First Lebanon War. As Zachary’s former Congressman, I spoke from the House floor and worked closely with his family, and in conjunction with several organizations, in pursuit of justice and answers regarding the condition of Zachary and his fellow soldiers. After so many years, he will finally get the proper burial he deserves.” Read Schumer’s House floor speech about Baumel on June 10, 1998 here [GovInfo]

BUZZ ON BALFOUR — by Neri Zilber: Israeli officials rejected the idea, floated by some (more cynical) observers, that the timing of the announcement was connected to Bibi’s re-election bid — military operations run according to their own schedule, not that of the election calendar. Yet the return home of the remains, and with it Bibi’s emotional press statement yesterday, the trip to Moscow, and tonight’s funeral, are all clearly benefits of incumbency.

Shalom Lipner, a veteran of 26 years in the prime minister’s office, emails: “Netanyahu is riding a wave of popularity moving into the home stretch of next week’s election, proving once again that he’s a world-class campaigner. It’s no coincidence that most recent polls have both the Likud as top vote-getter, and Netanyahu as still the most likely candidate to succeed at forming Israel’s next government. He’s managed a tightly disciplined and centralized operation, while his main opponents have struggled to deliver a coherent message. And on the international stage, where Netanyahu shines, these final days before the ballot have witnessed a parade of guest stars making cameos appearances alongside him and bestowing gifts. Benny Gantz’s path to victory has never been less clear, but the full picture will only begin to materialize once the votes are tabulated and we discover which parties did — and didn’t — manage to cross the 3.25% electoral threshold into the next Knesset.”

KAFE KNESSET — Campaigns Enter Final Stretch With Media Blitz — by Neri Zilber: With the election entering its final weekend, both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival Benny Gantz launched a last-minute media blitz to persuade voters ahead of next Tuesday’s poll. Ironically, both men — one (Bibi) fond of the phrase “fake news” and the other (Gantz) who famously eschewed the press earlier in the campaign — are choosing more traditional media outlets. Netanyahu yesterday gave an interview to his favorite newspaper, Israel Hayom (owned by Sheldon Adelson), where he warned right-wing voters that “we are very close to losing the election” — no matter that the momentum and polls have over the past week turned in Bibi’s favor, with his Likud now leading Gantz’s Blue and White. This morning the PM was interviewed on Reshet Bet radio, where he defended his restrained Gaza policy. “I use force when necessary and I’m willing to pay the price, but only when necessary. I’m also willing to pay the political price even when I don’t have to,” he said.

Tellingly, when asked about the looming criminal indictments against him, Bibi pointed to his continued effectiveness on the world stage, saying “last week I met with President [Donald] Trump, [Brazilian President Jair] Bolsonaro was here all week, and today I’m flying to Moscow to meet with [President Vladimir] Putin.” Netanyahu is set to appear on Channel 13’s Friday evening talk show tomorrow, helmed by two hosts known to be supportive of the PM.

For his part, Gantz yesterday was interviewed on Channel 12’s early evening newscast, where he attacked Netanyahu in harsher terms than he has previously. “I once thought it wasn’t right that Netanyahu will be prime minister — today I think it’s forbidden [that he be re-elected],” Gantz said. “There are dangerous processes here that must be stopped.” Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset newsletter by subscribing here [KafeKnesset]

REPORT — Netanyahu likely benefited from his cousin Nathan Milikowsky’s unauthorized deals with Libya while holding stock in Texas-based Seadrift Coke, according to a report in the Huffington Post. During that time, Milikowsky’s other company, C/G Electrodes, was charged by the U.S. Department of Commerce with violating U.S. nonproliferation regulations in selling electrodes to Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya. Milikowsky told HuffPost that Netanyahu did not know about C/G Electrodes’ sales to Libya “and was just a passive investor in Seadrift.”

Kachol Lavan (Blue & White) is looking at potentially taking bigger sums than currently allowed from Israel’s nascent sovereign wealth fund to invest in badly needed infrastructure projects, Orit Farkash-Hacohen, a candidate on the party’s Knesset ticket who’s advising the bloc on its economic agenda, told Bloomberg’s Ivan Levingston.

PEACE PLAN TIMING — Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday: “We know that the [Trump peace] plan is completed… We believe that after the elections they will make it public. We will see the context of the plan. We haven’t seen the plan. We will discuss it with our colleagues in Washington and our colleagues here at the U.N. We are open-minded, but we will wait. It’s only a few weeks. We have elections in a week, so in a few weeks we will see the plan.”

Amanpour: Can I get a better answer from you than Rep. [Nita] Lowey did from the secretary of state? Is it April 10th — a day after the election, is it May, is it June? What do you think, what do you know?

Danon: “It’s coming. It’s coming right after the elections. It’s a matter of weeks. I wouldn’t say days. You know, we have to count the votes. But I would say a few weeks, right after the elections we will see the plan, and it will be exciting to see the work of the administration.” [Video]

ON THE HILL — by JI’s Laura Kelly: Pro-Israel groups are rallying supporters around two anti-BDS bills, asking for pressure on representatives to join as co-sponsors and bring the resolutions to the floor.

Both AIPAC and NORPAC are backing resolutions in the House and Senate that put Congress on record as opposed to efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel through the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The resolutions also define BDS as undermining the two-state solution and that it denies the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their homeland. 

The bill was introduced in the House by Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) and co-sponsored by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY). It has 123 additional sponsors at present. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) is the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate, joined by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), with 29 other sponsors currently.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), outside a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on assessing U.S. policy in the Middle East, tells JI“We have to remain engaged in the Middle East, the U.S. does. The previous administration, we had the so-called ‘pivot’ to Asia, out of the Middle East to Asia, and then referring to it as the ‘re-balance.’ The U.S. has to stay engaged. If we don’t, Iran essentially is going to continue to become more and more powerful and jeopardize our allies, Israel being our strongest ally in the Middle East and our Arab allies as well.”

FLOOR FIGHT — House Republicans are expected once again to try to add an amendment on antisemitism to a Yemen war resolution, giving Democrats a wrenching choice: Vote down the amendment amid charges that their party is coddling anti-Semites, or approve it and kill a hard-fought resolution aimed at ending U.S. involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) implored members of his party to oppose the Republican motion. “If anybody thinks that I’m not supportive of an anti-Semitism resolution, you don’t know much about my history, and I’m going to tell that to the members on the floor,” Mr. Hoyer later told reporters. “This is about Yemen. This is not about some extraneous, maybe very important, but extraneous and undermining” amendment.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), the lead sponsor of the Yemen resolution, described the Republican maneuver as “a divisive tactic of anti-Semitism to block an effort to save lives in Yemen.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) told the NYTimes“I don’t see the issue going away. Silence isn’t an option.”

TAKING IT TO THE AIRWAVES — An official from American Action Network, a conservative advocacy nonprofit group founded by former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) and the recently deceased GOP donor Fred Malek, told CNN the group will spend six figures on digital ads that criticize Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) for her “anti-Semitic slurs.” The ad urges House Democrats to “stand up to hate” and remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

AAN, affiliated with the GOP Congressional Leadership Fund, also plans to air 30-second online ads in four swing districts held by moderates freshman Democrats — Reps. Dean Phillips (MN03), Abigail Spanberger (VA07), Tom Malinowski (NJ07) and Haley Stevens (MI11).

Dem pollster Mark Mellman, who also serves as president of the Democratic Majority for Israel, tells us: “Republican efforts to turn Israel into a wedge issue damages Israel. Republican attacks on Congresswoman Omar may be good for AAN’s fundraising, but are counterproductive. Republican attempts to smear strong pro-Israel Members of Congress like Dean Phillips, Abigail Spanberger, Tom Malinowski, and Haley Stevens are dishonest, deceptive and disgusting. Sincere advocates of a strong U.S. Israel relationship would be thanking them for their staunch support not attempting to mislead their constituents.”

— Rep. Omar will soon learn the conclusions of an investigation into allegations that she violated campaign spending laws during her time as a state lawmaker — including accusations that she used campaign money to pay for her divorce attorney and personal travel.

CONFIRMATION — Roy Altman, a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, became the first in a likely wave of Trump district court appointees to be considered under an accelerated Senate confirmation timetable. The chamber voted 66 to 33 to invoke cloture on Altman’s nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and set the stage for a likely confirmation vote today.

HEARD YESTERDAY — On the 70th anniversary of the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addressed the Congress on Wednesday, touting the shared values of the alliance, the importance of its mission and providing praise to President Trump for pushing member states to spend more on defense.

“Hitler could not have been stopped with peaceful protests,” he said. “Stalin could not have been deterred with words. ISIS could not have been defeated with dialogue. Future enemies of freedom may choose violence again. Our desire for a peaceful world is simply not enough. We must act and invest to make it so. NATO allies must spend more on defense. This has been the clear message from President Trump and this message is having a real impact.”

IN THE SPOTLIGHT — The House Intelligence Committee has askedStephanie Winston Wolkoff, one of the top contractors to President Trump’s inaugural committee, to provide it with documents about the event and parties around the inauguration in 2017. Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) said that the panel would investigate any “financial or other leverage” that “foreign actors” might have over Trump and his administration.

Jared Kushner was identified only as ‘Senior White House Official 1’ in committee documents released this week describing the testimony of Tricia Newbold, a whistleblower in the White House’s personnel security office who said she and another career employee determined that Kushner had too many ‘significant disqualifying factors’ to receive a security clearance. Their decision was overruled by Carl Kline, the political appointee who then headed the office, according to Newbold’s interview with committee staff.

REPORT — President Trump pondered nominating Merrick Garland — President Obama’s last nominee to replace former Justice Antonin Scalia — to the Supreme Court seat now filled by Brett Kavanaugh, Politico reporters Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer write in a new book, The Hill to Die On: The Battle for Congress and the Future of Trump’s America, due for publication next week.

YESTERDAY IN DES MOINES — Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, addressed the Iowa Legislature. Along with Israeli Consul General to the Midwest, Aviv Ezra, Amb. Dermer spoke about the potential partnership between Israel and Iowa as it relates to precision agriculture, cyber security and water quality. In addition to meeting with the Governor and the Iowa Legislature, Amb. Dermer met with the Greater Des Moines Partnership (chamber) and the Jewish community. Dermer was hosted by immediate past president of the Des Moines Jewish Federation David Adelman and his wife Liz.[PicPic]

STATE VISIT — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro created a political storm towards the end of his 3-day Israel trip, declaring “there is no doubt” that Nazism was a leftist movement. Following his tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum on Tuesday, Bolsonaro was asked if he agreed with remarks made by his foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, that the Nazis were leftists. “There is no doubt, right?” he responded. Bolsonaro added that the Nazi party’s formal name included the term “socialist.” 

WATCH — Netanyahu and Bolsonaro, who visited the Western Wall together, recorded a video in which they invite Brazilian soccer player Neymar and surfer Gabriel Medina to visit Israel. Both Neymar and Medina accepted the invitation. [Video]

2020 WATCH — Joe Biden, in video, says he will be ‘more mindful’ of personal space…Beto O’Rourke raised $9.4 million in the first 18 days of his 2020 campaign… Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) is expected to announce a presidential campaign this week… Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) has prostate cancer, but he still intends to run for president… Schultz will appear on a live Fox News town hall held in Kansas City, Missouri at 6:30 PM EST.

Democrats are increasingly critical of IsraelNot Pete Buttigieg: A senior foreign policy adviser for South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg tells Vox’s Alex Ward that ‘Pete doesn’t see the Israel-Palestinian issue as a zero-sum game.’

** Good Thursday 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: Larry Mizel bids over NIS 1b for Africa Israel[Globes• Max Levchin’s Affirm Raises $300 Million for Payments Tech[Skift] • Carl Icahn Sold Lyft Stake Prior to Initial Public Offering[WSJ] • Lenny Kravitz firm to help design new Temple Detroit hotel[CrainsDetriot] • Uber spent $2M to help push through congestion pricing [NYPost• New York puts tax lien on former Trump SoHo[CrainsNewYork] • Jonathan Newhouse will become chairman of Condé Nast’s board of directors [WSJ]

The Shed opens this Friday—take a sneak peek now — by Jonathan Hilburg: “The Shed… is nearly ready to open. On April 5, this Friday, the public will finally get to venture inside Manhattan’s newest, and largest, cultural institution… On the top floor are the Lizzie and Jonathan TischSkylights, a wide, multipurpose section that affords one of the few views towards the rest of Hudson Yards, including a prominent view of Vessel. The open area features 9,500-square-feet of flexible event space, the 1,700-square-foot Tisch Lab for local artists, and a 3,300-square-foot rehearsal space. The two namesake skylights provide the entire floor with plenty of natural light, making up for the difference in ceiling heights found throughout the rest of the building.” [ArchPaper]

SPOTLIGHT — Starwood’s Barry Sternlicht Says Real Estate Health Is Tied to Tech — by Gillian Tan: “Sternlicht said at a conference sponsored by the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate in New York on Wednesday that Starwood has invested about half of its $7.55 billion fund that closed in April 2018 in properties such as the Wells Fargo Centers in Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon and the St. Regis Princeville Resort in Kauai, Hawaii, which it intends to renovate. ‘I’m surprised, frankly, that this late in the cycle we’ve found so many things to do,’ he said… Starwood, based in Miami, currently prefers Europe to the U.S. and recently bought two properties in Milan, one of which includes WeWork Cos. as a tenant, Sternlicht said. He added that Starwood is ‘pencils down’ on new investments in London until the outcome of Brexit becomes certain.” 

“Another real estate investor, Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments Inc., weighed in on U.S. politics when he spoke during lunch at the same conference. ‘I wish we had a little more stable leadership, which we don’t,’ said the 77 year-old, who also expressed concern about refugees from Venezuela destabilizing Latin America.” [Bloomberg] • Sam Zell talks ‘jungle’ entrepreneurs, ‘dearth’ of mergers [RealDeal]

SPORTS BLINK — Roman Abramovich no longer paying up front for £1m-a-year Chelsea box amid absence over visa issues — by Tom Morgan: “Roman Abramovich is no longer paying up front for his £1million-a-year corporate boxes at Chelsea as he continues to miss every game at Stamford Bridge following his visa row with the Government… A Chelsea spokesman told Telegraph Sport that Abramovich will now be charged ‘in arrears’ for hospitality as he has been attending fewer games.” [Telegraph]

Muslims and Jews face a common threat from white supremacists. We must fight it together — by Jonathan Freedland and Mehdi Hasan: “Just as we acknowledge that the communities we were born into harbor prejudice, so we are ready to say the same of our chosen political community. We need no lectures on the importance of tackling antisemitism and Islamophobia on the left as well as on the right. Both of us have condemned Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party for its failure to tackle anti-Jewish racism within its ranks, while one of us has discussed the importance of avoiding antisemitic tropes in conversation with the controversial Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar… Both of us have condemned anti-Muslim bigotry in liberal-left circles too… But this is no time for whataboutism… The growing and lethal threat to life and limb for Muslims and Jews is now coming not from the far left but from an emboldened and violent far right.” [TheGuardian]

INTERVIEW — The Internet May Be Just As Omniscient As God In ‘Kaddish.com’ — by Ari Shapiro: “Author Nathan Englander was raised in an observant Jewish family and now considers himself secular… His latest book is called kaddish.com, and it’s a satire about what separates the doubters from the devout… On the idea that the all-knowing Internet has some similarities to an all-knowing God: ‘We have built beta God. If you have a phone and live in a city, or Google anything, it really does know everything you’ve done, what you’re doing, what you’re doing next. So I was like, the question “could God exist in an all-knowing way?” We’ve sort of already got that, because my Instagram feed is downright scary at this point. It knows what I’m hungry for.'” [NPR]

TALK OF THE TOWN — He Built a Holocaust Memorial by a Far-Right Leader’s Home. Now He’s Under Investigation — by Katrin Bennhold: “Germany’s most notorious far-right politician, Björn Höcke, a man who has called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin ‘a monument of shame,’ was furious when he woke up one morning to find a section of the memorial built to scale outside his bedroom window. It was November 2017. Mr. Höcke sued the artist who had secretly rented the neighboring property and prepared the stunt over many months. He tried to have him evicted. He even launched criminal proceedings against him. But to no avail. The rental lease is open-ended. And the replica of the Holocaust memorial remains. But where civil and criminal proceedings have failed, a state prosecutor has stepped in, it emerged Wednesday. The prosecutor’s office in Mr. Höcke’s eastern home state, Thuringia, is investigating the artist, Philipp Ruch, on suspicion of ‘forming a criminal association.'” [NYTimes]

Is now a good time to talk about Jews and money? The Jewish Museum thinks so, and perhaps it is right — by Douglas Murray: “Is now a good time to talk about Jews and money? The Jewish Museum in London thinks so, and perhaps it is right…A film at the start of this new exhibition at the museum in Camden gives some context, with clips of recent anti-Jewish statements from the likes of Louis Farrakhan and other conspiracy theorists. It also includes Donald Trump talking about ‘elites’ draining power from America.” [Spectator]

MEASLES OUTBREAK — Bethany Mandel writes… “Parenting in the Time of Measles: If vaccines are so important to my family, I’ve come to ask myself how intellectually honest it is for me to turn a blind eye and continue to allow my kids to socialize with families who are putting us all at risk. That’s the problem with vaccine refusal: It is not an individual choice. It is a choice that endangers everyone, especially those too young or sick to be vaccinated.” [NYTimes]

DESSERT — An old-school, ‘authentic’ Tel Aviv market has become a vegan haven — by Karen Chernick: “It was, in fact, the market’s time-honored quality that recently attracted a surprising newcomer to the scene: the upscale vegetable-centric restaurant Opa… ‘I think that Levinsky Market is one of the last truly authentic places remaining in the city,’ said Shirel Berger, chef and co-owner of Opa, about her choice to open a fine dining establishment there last November. ‘People have had their stores for generations, and I really like the vibe – it seems real and not like a mall, or anything new. It’s very raw and authentic.'” [JTA]

BIRTHDAYS: Author of books about her childhood experiences as a Jewish girl in the Netherlands during the Holocaust, she is a long-time NYC resident, Johanna Reiss turns 87… Retired MLB player for the Orioles, Senators, Athletics, Rangers and Angels (1966-1974), Mike Epstein turns 76… French-German politician who is a Green Party leader in Europe, Daniel Cohn-Bendit turns 74… Hungarian dramatist, novelist and essayist whose recent works are focused upon Jewish characters, György Spiró turns 73… Author of many books and over 100 articles, political historian who teaches at American University in D.C., his most recent book is “The Case for Impeachment ” regarding President Trump, Allan Jay Lichtman turns 72… Poet, essayist, editor, literary scholar, professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, Charles Bernstein turns 69… Visiting fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, he was previously chief of staff to former Australian PM Julia Gillard (2012-2013) and an advisor to then Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), Bruce Wolpe turns 68…

Emmy Award-winning film director, producer, freelance journalist and writer, Simcha Jacobovici turns 66… Tel Aviv-born animator and film director, now a freelance director in NYC, Tatia Rosenthal turns 48… Member of the Knesset since 2006, he is now a member of the Hatnuah Party, Yoel Hassonturns 47… Actress since she was six years old, she has appeared in many movies and television series, Natasha Lyonne (born Natasha Bianca Lyonne Braunstein) turns 40… Israeli journalist who serves as the political correspondent and senior analyst for The Times of Israel, Haviv Rettig Gurturns 38… Israel’s top men’s tennis player, who had broken into the top 30 of world rankings, David “Dudi” Sela turns 34… NYC-based freelance editor and lifestyle writer, she was previously a senior editor for Hearst Digital Media’s content studio, Daisy Melamed Sanders turns 32… Sherman Oaks resident, Gloria Margulies… Phyllis Wilner

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