Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: August 19, 2019

Freshman Republican lawmaker and former NFL player Anthony Gonzalez pushes bipartisanship after Israel trip; Foreign diplomats brace for Trump 2020 win

Rep.Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio speaks during an interview at the National Republican Congressional Committee offices in Washington, Nov. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Rep.Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio speaks during an interview at the National Republican Congressional Committee offices in Washington, Nov. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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FRESHMAN PROFILE — Over the Middle: The Republican receiver pushing bipartisanship — by JI’s Amy Spiro: Thirty-four members of the 116th Congress previously served as mayors, 161 hold law degrees and 78 have served in the military. Only two are former NFL players. And one of those is Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a 34-year-old freshman Republican lawmaker from Ohio.

Gonzalez, who visited Israel last week on a trip coordinated by the AIPAC-affiliated American Israel Education Foundation, sat down in Jerusalem with Jewish Insider to discuss his time in the Jewish state, his unorthodox path to Congress and his efforts to reach across the political aisle.

“When I left the NFL I was never sure exactly what would translate to the rest of my life,” Gonzalez told JI last week in the lobby of the King David Hotel. “When you leave something like the NFL, the concern is always that you didn’t develop any skills that translate into the traditional business world, or the non-NFL world.” But in fact, he said, “there are unbelievable parallels, both from a campaign standpoint, but more importantly from [the standpoint of] how to work with people who you may not agree with.”

“One flaw of American politics is that we simply do not sit together and talk through issues in a bipartisan way,” he said. “We do that in our silos, and then we come to the House floor and we argue like cats and dogs — it doesn’t make a bit of sense to me, but that’s what we do.” Gonzalez said that more conversations and discussions that reach across the aisle “will ultimately lead to better legislation and better lawmaking.”

While Gonzalez has criticized President Donald Trump — calling his attack on “the Squad” last month “wildly inappropriate” — he mostly tries to steer clear of the constant partisan squabbling.

“This job is about making law. That’s fundamentally what my job is,” he said. “My job is to advocate for policies that are going to benefit my district. And so that is what I focus all of my time and energy on. I’m somebody who doesn’t find… the tweeting and the 24-hour cable news cycle to be one that is particularly productive for lawmaking. I actually think it’s a complete disaster.”

Gonzalez’s visit to Israel this month was his first to the country, and an opportunity he immediately jumped to take.

“The Middle East is a complicated place, and I think it’s incumbent on all members of Congress to understand the issues in the Middle East, understand who our friends are, who our allies are, what the state of play is and how we can partner forward,” he said. “Not to mention that I’ve always wanted to come here for its historical significance, religious significance and geopolitical significance.”

What does Gonzalez think about the political future of his former teammate, legendary quarterback Peyton Manning? Click here to read the full profile [JewishInsider]

DRIVING THE CONVO — The Idea of Israel vs. The State of Israel: Many American Jews see the idea of Israel as representing the best of themselves — a beacon of democracy and Jewish values whose image they work hard to promote. The manner of last Thursday’s decision to ban two members of Congress from visiting undoubtedly hurt that image. Israel is — of course — not just an idea. It’s a government and a state that must often prioritize practical concerns over simply maintaining its image abroad.

Question for thought leaders: Should American Jews learn to view Israel as more of a state and less of a projected lofty ideal?

Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi tells JI: “One of the disconnects between Israelis and American Jews is that, for us, Israel is home and for American Jews it’s an idea. Many Israelis do want to see Israel aspire to higher ideals, but in the end a nation is a cross-section of humanity, with national self-interest as their most basic commonality.”

“A Russian immigrant once explained this to me in a memorable way. I asked her what surprised her most about Israel, and she said, The existence of stupid Jews. She explained that in Moscow, where she was from, every Jew was either an intellectual or an engineer. But it was only when she came to Israel that she met stupid Jews. At first it depressed her, but finally she understood: In Moscow Jews were a minority and so they had to be better than everyone else to be as good as everyone else. But here we are a nation, and we can be exactly who we are. That was as good a definition of Zionism as I’ve ever heard.”

“Still, it’s not true that Israel is only a place for Israelis. Israel still is an idea too for many of us here. And we need Diaspora Jews to remind us not to let the idea get entirely lost in the day-to-day life of the place. But Diaspora Jews also need to understand that we have the right to screw up and make mistakes, including moral mistakes, and that our right to be, along with the integrity of Judaism, isn’t being weighed anew with each screw-up.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous of congregation IKAR in Los Angeles: “Israel is a sovereign state, home to millions of real people, part of a global economy, ruled by a governing legislative body and High Court, with a strong military and police force. It’s not a ride at an amusement park. American Jews might be nostalgic for the Israel of Leon Uris, we might share a yearning for some romantic past, but it’s patronizing and self-defeating to treat Israel like it exists outside of space and time — there to receive our projections of Jewish empowerment, hold our collective history, and teach our teens self-love.”

“Israel, like any state, deserves rightful criticism when it fails, and needs meaningful and mature partnership to succeed. Yes, there will always be Yerushalayim shel ma’alah, the golden, heavenly Jerusalem of our dreams. But there is also a Yerushalayim shel matah, a real Jerusalem in the here and now. And when the real policies of real state actors make it impossible to reconcile our dreams for Jerusalem with its realities, it serves no one to hide behind the lofty ideal. Instead, we have to be honest about the reality and work toward its transformation. You can’t love something, our rabbis teach, without being honest about where the bruises are. It’s time we grow up and have a real relationship with a miraculous, beautiful and deeply flawed living reality.”

We’ll be featuring more voices on this question later today on Email if you would like to weigh in.

ON THE HILL — by JI’s Jacob Kornbluh: Senior Democratic members of Congress are considering action that expresses “deep lack of confidence and trust” in Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman for their roles in Israel’s decision to bar two House members — Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) — from entering Israel, McClatchy reported on Saturday.

According to the report, the group — which included Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), with the backing of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) — is weighing issuing a statement of no confidence in Dermer and opening an inspector general investigation into Friedman’s conduct. 

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz insisted on Saturday that Dermer did not act on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he initially said Israel would allow Tlaib and Omar to enter the country. However, a source familiar with the deliberations told Haaretz that Dermer’s original statement came after consultations with five different government offices, including the Foreign Ministry. Netanyahu defended Dermer on Sunday before heading to a two-day visit to Ukraine, saying the ambassador’s announcement last month was before Israel had viewed the congresswomen’s itinerary.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday: “House Democrats want to take action against Israel because it is fighting back against two (maybe four) people that have said unthinkably bad things about it & the Israeli people. Dems have such disdain for Israel! What happened? AOC Plus 4 is the new face of the Democrat Party!”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in an interview with The Associated Press that she had “great, great, great sadness” over Israel’s decision. She further stated that the U.S.-Israel relationship “can withstand Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu” and that “we cannot let their weaknesses stand in the way of our ongoing relationship.”

Hoyer said in a statement on Friday that he remains disappointed with Israel for conditioning Tlaib’s visit to her grandmother with agreeing to not advance boycotts against Israel during her visit. “To my knowledge, no Member of Congress has ever been asked to agree to preconditions in order to visit Israel,” he said.

WHY IT MATTERS ― The Washington Post’s Matt Viser and Rachael Bade write: “The dispute has fractured bipartisan support for Israel and moved debates over it into partisan space more typically home to issues such as abortion, gun control and immigration.”

New York Times headline — “Israel’s alliance with Trump creates new tensions among American Jews.” — Mark Mellman, president of Democratic Majority for Israel, told the Times that the Israeli government’s move has made his task to strengthen support for Israel in the Democratic Party harder. Fred Zeidman, a Houston-based Republican donor, told the paper  regarding Trump“My God, when I look at what he’s done for Israel, I’m not going to take issue with anything he’s said or done.”

Israeli software billionaire Morris Kahn cautioned in an interviewwith i24News: “There’s no question that Israelis feel that Trump’s support has been tremendous for them. But I’m afraid that actually he’s given us a sense of security and we’re doing things that I think we should perhaps not do.”

Tom Friedman writes… “If you think Trump is helping Israel, you’re a fool: Trump’s campaign to tar the entire Democratic Party with some of the hostile views toward Israel of a few of its newly elected congresswomen — and Netanyahu’s careless willingness to concede to Trump’s demand… is part of a process that will do huge, long-term damage to Israel’s interests and support in America.” [NYTimes]

David Frum writes in The Atlantic that Netanyahu’s lesson from this episode should be not to bet big on Trump. Even if he “supposes he is getting a better deal from this president than the previous one, that’s no reason to forget there will also be a next president, and a president after that.”

SCENE IN DETROIT — Tlaib took part in a Friday night Shabbat service in Detroit’s Pallister Park this past weekend organized by Jewish Voice for Peace. The Michigan congresswoman joined about 60 supporters, telling them: “I cannot tell you how much love I feel here… Thank you for uplifting peace, love and justice.”

Omar said Friday that Netanyahu’s characterization of their slated trip was incorrect. The Minnesota lawmaker tweeted that the delegation “planned to hold meetings with members of the Knesset (both Jewish and Arab) along with Israeli security officials. The claims of @IsraeliPM otherwise are not true. As a delegation, we were also were scheduling a meeting with @USAmbIsrael.”

TV BATTLE — Comedian Bill Maher’s HBO series “Real Time with Bill Maher” has become the latest flashpoint in the ongoing battle over BDS. On Friday’s show, Maher called the BDS movement a “bullshit purity test by people who want to appear woke but actually slept through history class.” In response, Tlaib urged people to boycott Maher’s show, tweeting: “I am tired of folks discrediting a form of speech that is centered on equality and freedom.” The World Jewish Congress called Tlaib’s suggestion “deeply disturbing,” and wrote that: “We find it concerning that a member of the U.S. Congress would lobby for BDS and so easily suggest that Maher’s show should be boycotted simply because he expressed an opinion with which she disagrees.”

SITUATIONAL AWARENESS — Vice News is out with a guide on Birthright titled, “What is Birthright and why is it so controversial? Everything you should know before deciding whether or not to join the free 10 day trip to Israel.”

ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — Trump told reporters on Sunday that he will likely release the White House’s Middle East peace plan after the Israeli election on September 17. “But we may put out pieces of it,” the president added.

Trump suggested that stopping aid to the Palestinians will eventually bring them back to the negotiating table. ”I think one of the reasons they’d want to make a deal is because of that,” he said. Further boasting about his deal-making skills, Trump maintained, “I think I’ve helped it very much by saying, ‘Look, until there’s a deal, we’re not going to pay you anymore.’”

STATE VISIT ― Netanyahu kicked off on Sunday a two-day visit to Kiev to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, both of whom are Jewish. Ukraine is the only country besides Israel where the head of state and its leader are Jewish.

DEEP DIVE — The Washington Post and The New York Times both published on Sunday insider views of Senior Advisor Stephen Miller’s influence in the White House, in particular on the administration’s immigration policy. “Mr. Miller now occupies a large West Wing office and has influence on virtually every element of immigration policy, from the words the president uses to the regulations he promulgates,” according to the Times. “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told the paper.

The Post reveals that Miller always remains glued to the teleprompter operator when he accompanies the president to campaign rallies and major speeches. “When Trump veers, colleagues say, Miller sometimes directs the operator to scroll higher or lower through the speech, so when the president is ready to pick it up again, he will hit those passages and make those points,” according to the Post. “He is dismissive of [Jared] Kushner’s more moderate immigration views and efforts to forge compromise.”

PALACE INTRIGUE — New Yorker profile published Monday paints Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as “the last survivor of the president’s original national-security team and his most influential advisor on international affairs.” A former official called him “among the most sycophantic and obsequious people around Trump.”

Politico revealed on Monday that Trump has turned his back on Tom Barrack, a former close friend. “The intimate relationship between the wealthy California investor and the president has fractured so badly that the two no longer speak, current and former White House officials say… Several sources said Trump’s falling out with Barrack, who hasn’t yet donated to Trump’s re-election campaign, began even before the damaging reports about the inaugural committee.”

ON THE TRAIL — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said during a speech at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday: “I’m Jewish. My family came from Poland. My father’s whole family was wiped out by Hitler and his white nationalism… We will go to war against white nationalism and racism in every aspect of our lives.”

Foreign diplomats brace for Trump 2020 win — by Nahal Toosi: “While countries such as China and Iran have shown signs of trying to wait out Trump, several foreign officials said it would be ill-advised to count on a Trump defeat in 2020. Even if Trump loses, they argued, some of his policies and views may shape U.S. foreign policy for years to come. ‘The way it looks to people is it’s going to be another four years,’ said an Arab diplomat… ‘If he gets reelected, he’s bound by nothing, except Congress. And I don’t know how that’s going to play out.’” [Politico]

PODCAST PLAYBACK — Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Charles Koch discussed why he is partnering with George Soros to create the Quincy Institute, a new think tank focused on foreign policy, on The Tim Ferriss Show last week. [JewishInsider]

Rachel Maddow picks on Trump judicial nominee’s Israel paper — by Melissa Weiss: On her show last Thursday, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow slammed President Trump’s nomination of Steven Menashi to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, describing an academic paper authored by the attorney in defense of Israel’s standing as a Jewish state as “a highbrow argument for racial purity.” [JewishInsider]

2020 BRIEFS — Elizabeth Warren chips away at Joe Biden’s strength as the one who beats Trump… How Warren went from a regulation critic to Wall Street watchdog… Bernie Sanders’ criminal justice plan aims to cut prison population… Former President Barack Obama cautioned Biden about running for president… Biden’s online fundraising has tailed off, suggesting problems generating grassroots enthusiasm…

Tom Steyer to leave the campaign trail for jury duty… Anthony Scaramucci has spoken to Bill Kristol about trying to force Trump off the GOP ticket in 2020… John Delaney draws 11 people to 2020 event – does he truly think he can win?

HAPPENING TODAY — Former Vice President Dick Cheney will headlinea luncheon fundraiser in support of Trump’s re-election and the Republican National Committee (RNC) in Jackson, Wyoming. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are listed as “special guests” at the event.

** 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 **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Warren Buffett is buying bank stocks. Why aren’t others? [NYTimes] • WeWork landlords ‘exposed to $40bn’ in rent commitments [FinancialTimes• Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management approached broadcasting company Tegna about a sale earlier this year [WSJ• Tamir Sapir’s children in $102M battle with relative over dad’s estate[NYPost• Market cap of Israel-founded Novocure exceeds $9b • [Globes] • Israeli tycoon Idan Ofer throws glitzy party on Mykonos [GreekReporter]

Trade whiplash hits Israel in slowdown worse than all forecasts — by Ivan Levingston: “Global trade tensions took a toll on Israel’s $370 billion economy, chipping away at its exports and contributing to a slowdown last quarter that was worse than anybody had envisioned. Gross domestic product rose 1% from the previous three months on an annualized basis… below a downwardly revised 4.7% gain in the first quarter and worse than every estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists.” [Bloomberg

STARTUP SPOTLIGHT — A gentler way to gentrify? — by Stefanos Chen: “Don’t call the real estate development company Venn a developer. Its founders prefer ‘neighboring start-up’… ‘We describe ourselves as a new way of living,’ said Or Bokobza, the chief executive, whose goals include ending the displacement of lower-income residents, creating ‘fair housing’ and ‘changing the narrative’ of gentrification… ‘I believe we can all agree gentrification is inevitable, with both positive and negative outcomes,’ said Mr. Bokobza, whose company was founded in Israel in 2016. The company’s Bushwick expansion came after rapid growth in once-overlooked areas in other cities, including Tel Aviv and Berlin, where Mr. Bokobza saw an opportunity to create housing for renters priced out of the city center.” [NYTimes]

Landlord who wants kosher cafes nixed from ‘Billionaire’s Row’ revealed — by Steve Cuozzo: “The mystery landlord trying to boot a pair of longtime kosher cafes from Billionaires’ Row is none other than block-gobbling mega-developer Sheldon Solow… a press-shy real estate mogul with a net worth of $5.2 billion, according to Forbes.” [NYPost]

MEDIA WATCH — Mark Halperin signs new book deal — by Bianca Quilantan: “Veteran political journalist Mark Halperin has signed a deal to publish a new book — his first since his professional world crumbled after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct in 2017… For his forthcoming book, Halperin interviewed more than 75 top Democratic strategists.” [Politico]

— David Axelrod tweeted on Sunday: “[Halperin] emailed me three questions about the 2020 race for a book he was writing and I replied in a few sentences, without giving enough thought to how my participation would be used or interpreted. By answering Halperin’s questions, I did not in any way mean to excuse his past, egregious behavior and, in retrospect, I regret responding at all.”

James Carville told CNN: “The guy called me and asked me to speak to him on a topic that I obviously care about. And I spoke to him.” Donna Brazille told the network: “I’m not the author. Ask Mark why he chose us.”

HOLLYWOOD — Golden age superheroes were shaped by the rise of fascism — by Art Spiegelman: “It might be worth pointing out (not out of ethnic pride, but because it might shed some light on the rawness and the specific themes of the early comics) that the pioneers behind this embryonic medium based in New York were predominantly Jewish and from ethnic minority backgrounds… those most vulnerable to the ravages of the great depression — who were especially attuned to the rise of virulent antisemitism in Germany… The young Jewish creators of the first superheroes conjured up mythic — almost god-like — secular saviours to deal with the threatening economic dislocations that surrounded them in the great depression and gave shape to their premonitions of impending global war.” [TheGuardian]

TALK OF THE TOWN — White supremacist charged with threatening to shoot up Jewish community center — by Jon Haworth: “An Ohio man has been arrested for making threats toward a local Jewish community center in New Middletown. James Reardon Jr., 20, has been charged with telecommunications harassment and aggravated menacing and is being held in the Mahoning County Jail on $250,000 bond… On Friday, the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force raided Reardon’s house and seized a cache of weapons and ammunition, including dozens of round of ammo, multiple semi-automatic weapons, a gas mask and bulletproof armor.” [ABCNews]

Historic Budapest synagogue to reopen amid Jewish cultural revival — by Krisztina Than: “Tamas Irsai was a teenager when he last sang in the choir in Budapest’s Rumbach synagogue during World War Two, before most Hungarian Jews were deported to death camps. Irsai survived the Holocaust but the great majority of Hungarian Jews, including many of his relatives and friends, did not… Since the 1989 fall of communism, however, Jewish community life has revived. The community now numbers about 100,000, with new schools and renovated synagogues — including Rumbach which will reopen early next year after decades of neglect during which pigeons moved in.” [Reuters]

In Pittsburgh, a bookstore where ‘freewheeling curiosity’ reigns — by Mark Oppenheimer: “Eric Ackland, the owner of Amazing Books & Records in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood… seems to have read or listened to everything in his shop, from Isaac Asimov to Michael Connelly to that small-press biography of a dead Hasidic master. He’ll gladly neglect the endless task of computerizing his shelf-busting inventory to talk with you about his beloved 19th-century authors like George Eliot and Dostoyevsky, or his fine selection of Jewish theology…. Squirrel Hill is one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods in the country, home to synagogues such as the Tree of Life… After the massacre, shops like Amazing Books functioned as sanctuaries.” [NYTimes]

Dor Hadash, New Light leaders urge AG to accept life in prison for accused Tree of Life gunman — by Megan Guza: “Members of two Pittsburgh Jewish congregations have asked federal prosecutors to seek a plea deal with accused Tree of Life synagogue shooter Robert Bowers and reject a death penalty case.” [TribLive]

LONG READ — The New Yorker reviving Jewish life on a holiday island — by Miriam Annenberg: “In recent years a tiny Jewish history museum has opened in the old Jewish quarter [of Majorca], a labyrinthine collection of winding roads and forked intersections east of the cathedral. Dani [Rotstein], meanwhile, has opened a Jewish tourism company. Among other things, he points out to visitors the groove running along the alley-side wall of Mont Zion Church that once housed a synagogue; rumour has it that generations of Chuetas ran their hands along the stones as they passed by in recognition of the building’s Jewish roots, wearing down the stone.” [BBC]

DESSERT — “CBS This Morning” featured Israeli chef Eyal Shani’s HaSalon restaurant in New York on its Saturday show. “I hope a very specific thing — that their life will be changed forever,” Shani told CBS’s Dana Jacobson of dining at his restaurants. “I came to New York because I saw and I understood, everybody that is living in the world is dreaming about that city.” [Video]

BIRTHDAYS: Former President Bill Clinton turns 73… Co-founder of Apollo Global Management, Marc Rowan turns 57… Silicon Valley investor Arthur Rock turns 93… Jerry Epstein turns 90… Former member of the South Dakota House & Senate, he’s publishing a memoir today, Stanford ‘Stan’ M. Adelstein turns 88… Former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev turns 78… Senior partner at Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, Mark C. Rifkin turns 59… Former chairman of the FCC and now managing director at the Carlyle Group, Julius Genachowskiturns 57… Managing editor of The New York TimesJoseph Kahn turns 55…

Partner and talent agent at William Morris Endeavor, Dan Aloni turns 55… Former member of Knesset, the son of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Omri Sharon turns 55… Actress Kyra Sedgwick turns 54… Queens Borough President who just narrowly won a contested primary for Queens DA, Melinda R. Katz turns 54… CEO of The Friedlander Group, Ezra Friedlander turns 51… Investor Brett Icahn turns 40… Managing partner of Handmade Capital and founder of Liveset, Ross Hinkle turns 40… Private equity investor and Jewish communal leader, Yehuda L. Neuberger… Marketing content writer for Monday[dot]com, Cassandra Federbusz..

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