Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: December 19, 2018
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Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: December 19, 2018

Trump considering full withdrawal of US troops from Syria; Haley, previewing Mideast peace plan, says Israel wants peace agreement but does not need it

A US soldier sits on an armored vehicle at a newly installed position in Manbij, north Syria, April 4, 2018. (Hussein Malla/AP)
A US soldier sits on an armored vehicle at a newly installed position in Manbij, north Syria, April 4, 2018. (Hussein Malla/AP)

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DRIVING THE DAY — Trump Considering Full Withdrawal of U.S. Troops From Syria — by Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt and Mark Landler: “President Trump is considering pulling the country’s 2,000 troops out of Syria… In a series of meetings and conference calls over the past several days, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior national security officials have tried to talk Mr. Trump out of a wholesale troop withdrawal, arguing that it would be a significant national security policy shift that would essentially cede Syria to Russia and Iran.” [NYTimes]

Trump tweets this morning: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

FDD’s Mark Dubowitz emails: “Pulling U.S. troops out of Syria would be a gift to Putin and to the mullahs in Tehran. And it would be disastrous for the region. The departure of U.S. forces would be an open path for Iran to continue its hegemonic activities in the Middle East. It would give up all of the U.S. leverage it has won in recent months, it would create an opportunity for Iran to finish the land bridge between Tehran and the Mediterranean, and it would eventually lead to the rise of ISIS again. This would be Obama 2.0, and I hope the president does not go down that path.”

Aaron David Miller‏ tweets“We cannot accomplish any of our fantastical goals with 2000 troops — checking Russians; beating back Iran, leveraging Assad out of power, Give me a compelling reason to stay.”

SCENE LAST NIGHT — Over 100 people packed the second floor living room of the World Values Network townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper West Side on Tuesday evening for a lively panel discussion with Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations, and New York Times columnist Bret Stephens. The conversation, held in advance of the much-anticipated peace deal rollout, was moderated by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.[Pic]

Greenblatt cautioned that the media reports about the administration’s peace plan being delayed were incorrect. “The only time in two years the administration has ever given a timeframe about the rollout was when President Trump said at the UN in September that he was aiming to release the plan within 2-4 months, which would put us at the end of January,” Greenblatt said. “We are watching what is happening in the region and we will release the plan when the time is right. We only have one shot at this, and we going to pursue it and roll out the plan at the best possible time to get the best possible chance for positive engagement.”

Improving relations between Israel and several Arab countries are “cracks in the glass ceiling,” according to Greenblatt. “Two years ago, I never believed it was going to happen, but here we are today, it’s a remarkable change.” But he also cautioned that at the moment there’s a limit to how far Arab states will go in forming relations with Israel while the Palestinian issue remains unresolved. Pointing to the recent vote at the United Nations on the resolution against Hamas, Greenblatt stated that Arab states are willing to take steps towards Israel, “but there is a limit for the time being.” The Arab bloc vote against the U.S. resolution condemning Hamas, a terror organization, is an example of this.

“We do not believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core conflict of the region,” Greenblatt asserted, adding that he does not even refer to possible negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians as the ‘Middle East peace process.’ The Middle East has numerous conflicts, “and if we are fortunate enough to be able to solve this conflict, it’s not going to solve the other serious conflicts in the region.”

Greenblatt also explained that the administration has refrained from using the term “two state solution” since “it means different things to different people and that using the term has done nothing to advance the cause of peace. Instead, we are focused on a complete vision for peace. The plan is a comprehensive plan which will allow both sides to understand our vision for peace, how significantly their lives can be improved and the parties will have to decide for themselves if they want to make the compromises needed to achieve it.” [JewishInsider]

AT THE UN — Haley, previewing Mideast peace plan, says Israel wants peace agreement but does not need it — by Anne Gearan and Carol Morello: “U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Tuesday that “Israel wants a peace agreement but it doesn’t need one,” signaling the Trump administration’s embrace of Israel’s security-centered approach that may not include a Palestinian state… Giving what is probably her final U.N. address on the Middle East before she leaves office this month, Haley said… she has read the plan, which has been kept secret from Israeli and Palestinian leaders as well as from Congress and U.S. allies.”

Haley: “Given my record, some might mistakenly conclude that I am unsympathetic to the Palestinian people. Nothing could be further from the truth.” [WashPostVideo

HAPPENING TODAY — The UN Security Council will convene at 10 AM to discuss Hezbollah’s cross-border terror tunnels and breaches of Security Council Resolution 1701, at the request of Israel and the United States. Speaking ahead of the meeting, Netanyahu called on the UN to “condemn Hezbollah’s wanton acts of aggression,” to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and to press for heightened sanctions against Hezbollah. “I call on the Security Council to demand that UNIFIL fully meet its mandate and deepen its operations. This includes ensuring that UNIFIL has unrestrained access to any area in southern Lebanon, including private and public lands.”

DEEP DIVE — Hacked European Cables Reveal a World of Anxiety About Trump, Russia and Iran — by David Sanger and Steven Erlanger: “Hackers infiltrated the European Union’s diplomatic communications network for years, downloading thousands of cables that reveal concerns about an unpredictable Trump administration and… the risk that Iran would revive its nuclear program… The compromised material provides insight into Europe’s struggle to understand the political turmoil engulfing three continents. It includes memorandums of conversations with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel and other countries that were shared across the European Union.” [NYTimes

ON THE HILL — Senate passes sweeping criminal justice reform bill — by Rebecca Shabad and Phil Helsel: “The Senate passed a huge criminal law reform bill on Tuesday night, seizing on bipartisan support for the broadest set of changes to federal crime statutes in a generation… The House is expected to take up the Senate version of the bill at a later date.” [NBCNews]

— Jared Kushner earns praise for support of criminal justice reform — by Jill Colvin: “Kushner, the likely subject of new investigations when Democrats take control of the House next year, is getting credit for helping to spearhead what could be the first major bipartisan legislative success of the Trump era… Kushner was in his early 20s and a law and business school student in the mid-2000s when his father was sentenced to federal prison… “When you’re on the other side of the system, you feel so helpless,” Kushner told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “I felt like, I was on this side of the system, so how can I try to do whatever I can do to try to be helpful to the people who are going through it” and deserve a second chance.”[AP]

The unlikely story behind the criminal justice overhaul — by Jeremy Diamond and Alex Rogers: “Kushner extracted a promise from McConnell to bring the bill to a vote after the midterms if a whip count showed they had the votes. The delay gave supporters a chance to regroup and expand their coalition. Kushner began calling Sen. Mike Lee of Utah so frequently that when he interrupted Lee’s family dinner during a vacation in Canada, they knew who it was. “My family said, ‘Oh it’s Jared, isn’t it?’ ” Lee recalled.” [CNN

PALACE INTRIGUE — How Jared and Ivanka blocked Bannon ally David Bossie for chief of staff — by Gabriel Sherman: “Trump’s freewheeling search to replace John Kelly as chief of staff unnerved Ivanka and Jared Kushner… Trump, who was annoyed at Kushner after Kushner’s pick, Nick Ayers, turned down the job, told people he was seriously considering Citizens United president David Bossie. Kushner told people that giving Bossie the job would empower Bossie’s friend and co-author Corey Lewandowski, a longtime Kushner nemesis… Bossie is also an ally of Steve Bannon, another Kushner enemy. “Jared got Steve Mnuchin and his buddies to tell Trump no way,” a source briefed on the discussions said.” [VanityFair]

DAVOS 2019 — White House announces Trump will again attend World Economic Forum in Davos — by Carmin Chappell: “President Donald Trump will attend the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in January, the White House announced on Tuesday… A delegation of U.S. government leaders will travel with the president to Davos, including his daughter Ivanka Trump, who did not attend last year.” [CNBC] 

TALK OF THE NATION — Texas AG, universities face suit challenging anti-BDS law — by Ryan Tarinelli: “The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas on Tuesday filed a lawsuit over a state law requiring contractors to certify that they do not boycott Israel or Israel-controlled territories, arguing the law forces people to choose between their First Amendment rights and their livelihoods. The lawsuit claims the four plaintiffs bringing the suit have either lost “contracting opportunities” because they declined to sign the certification, or they signed “at the expense” of their First Amendment rights.” [AP]

David Bernstein writes… “Everyone is Misreporting the Texas BDS Lawsuit: Note that, consistent with the language and obvious intent of the law… the school district certification applies to the business, “it,” not the individual “she.” Contrary to what I’ve been reading all over the internet, [Bahia] Amawi is not being asked to pledge that she, in her personal capacity, will not privately boycott Israel, much less that, e.g., she will not advocate for boycotting Israel or otherwise refrain from criticizing Israel.” [Reason]

NY Times editorial on the Israel Anti-Boycott Act… “Curbing Speech in the Name of Helping Israel: It would be more constructive if political leaders would focus on the injustice and finding viable solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than reinforcing divisions between the two parties and promoting legislation that raises free speech concerns.” [NYTimes

** Good Wednesday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? 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: Jeffrey Katzenberg Fills Out Quibi Leadership Team [HollywoodReporter] • Kushner Cos. seeks OK for 102-room Long Branch oceanfront hotel [APP] • Israel’s Tech Sector Needs Foreign Workers, Netanyahu Says [Bloomberg] • In London’s Jewish hub, Brexit jitters are causing a housing slump [JTA]

IN THE SPOTLIGHT — As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants — by Gabriel J.X. Dance, Michael LaForgia and Nicholas Confessore: “Facebook’s stock price has fallen, and a group of shareholders has called for Mr. Zuckerberg to step aside as chairman. Shareholders also have filed a lawsuit alleging that executives failed to impose effective privacy safeguards. Angry users started a #DeleteFacebook movement.” [NYTimes] • Sheryl Sandberg, back in Miami, says Facebook missed signs of abuse on platform [MiamiHerald]

STARTUP NATION — Why This New Innovation Hub In Israel Decided To Welcome Startups And Enterprises — by Jennifer Kite-Powell: “On October 9, 2018, Amazon Web Services (AWS) opened a new office in Tel Aviv, Israel which encompasses the teams working across Alexa Shopping, AWS, Prime Air, and Annapurna Labs. It also happens to be the location of Floor 28, a unique co-working space designed to help both enterprise companies and early-stage startups… Harel Ifhar, Head of AWS Israel, said that when AWS launched in 2006, Israeli technology companies were among the first to adopt the services and leverage the AWS cloud to support their inventions, accelerate growth, and reach global markets.” [Forbes]

Jews and Muslims Unite to Save Lives — by Eliora Katz: “Last year Sarah Idan became the first Iraqi in 45 years to compete in the Miss Universe pageant, held in Las Vegas. There Ms. Idan took a selfie with Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman, and posted it on Instagram. “Saddam’s regime taught us that Israel and the U.S. are our enemies, and so we need to be at war with them,” Ms. Idan tells me at an Iraqi restaurant near Regent Park. Ms. Gandelsman sits to her left. The two have reunited to host a fundraiser supporting United Hatzalah of Israel. The Jerusalem-based organization is the Uber of emergency medicine. It trains, equips and deploys 5,000 volunteers to medical emergencies through a smartphone app… The volunteers are Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze: “I have people who pray five times a day and people who might be afraid of them,” says founder Eli Beer.” [WSJ]

HEARD THIS MORNING — British Prime Minister Theresa May on the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK during the weekly PMQ session: “Jewish people should be able to feel safe and secure in this country. I never thought I would see the day when Jewish people living in this country questioned whether they should stay in this country… Every one of us must stand up now, as we go into the new year, and say 2019 will be the year when we stand up and say there is no place for anti-Semitism or racial hatred in our society.” [Video

George Soros named ‘Person of the Year’ by the Financial Times: “The Financial Times’s choice of Person of the Year is usually a reflection of their achievements. In the case of Mr. Soros this year, his selection is also about the values he represents… For more than three decades, Mr. Soros has used philanthropy to battle against authoritarianism, racism and intolerance… “I’m blamed for everything, including being the anti-Christ,” scoffs Mr. Soros. “I wish I didn’t have so many enemies, but I take it as an indication that I must be doing something right.” There are so many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories targeting Mr. Soros that it is difficult to keep count. Hardly a day goes by without a statement, a tweet or an image depicting him as a master manipulator of global politics.” [FinancialTimes]

Orban gov’t blames George Soros for opposition protests over ‘slave law’ — by Shaun Walker: “Hungary’s beleaguered political opposition has vowed to keep up the pressure on the country’s far-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán, after a week of protests… triggered by a so-called “slave law”… which allows employers to force employees to work overtime, and lets them delay payment for up to three years… The Hungarian government’s response has been to banish almost all discussion of the protest from state-controlled media. When it has referenced the protests, it has put the blame on its usual target: the Hungarian-born financier and philanthropist George Soros, the favored bogeyman of the far right across the globe.” [TheGuardian]

HOLLYWOOD — Steven Spielberg on Storytelling’s Power to Fight Hate — by Adam Popescu: “Mr. Spielberg has expanded the [U.S.C. Shoah] foundation’s footprint on the University of Southern California campus, along with its mission and public focus: to fight hate, which he says has become commonplace globally… While the foundation continues to archive stories from victims of anti-Semitism, and advocate on their behalf, it is also collecting what Mr. Spielberg calls “living testimony” from modern genocide victims.”… “I think there’s a measurable uptick in anti-Semitism, and certainly an uptick in xenophobia,” said Mr. Spielberg. “People in the highest places are allowing others who would never express their hatred to publicly express it. And that’s been a big change… Storytelling is fundamentally human. But the art of listening is what I’m hoping the Shoah Foundation is able to inspire.” [NYTimes]

TALK OF THE TOWN — Man who said he wanted to ‘kill all of the Jews’ convicted of federal hate crime, lying to FBI: “A man who prosecutors say yelled, “I want to kill all of the Jews” while beating another man outside of a Cincinnati restaurant in February 2017 has been convicted of a federal hate crime. It was the first conviction under the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the Southern District of Ohio, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman said.” [CincinnatiEnquirer]

DESSERT — Israeli Star Chef’s Amsterdam Restaurant Gets Two Michelin Stars — by Rotem Maimon: “Israeli celebrity chef Moshik Roth retained two Michelin stars for his Amsterdam restaurant, renamed &Moshik, previously called Samhoud & Places… Moshik Roth’s culinary style combines traditional European cooking with molecular gastronomy techniques, which also photograph well. “Moshik Roth invites you on an adventure,” the Michelin guide states.” [Haaretz]

Oy to the world! Rabbi discusses Jewish X-mas traditions: “A culinary event this Friday will dish out the details of how American Jews used Chinese food to forge their own Christmas traditions… “Jews lived in close proximity to Chinese immigrants on the Lower East Side and there were a lot of Chinese restaurants, so Jews started to eat out at those and other ethnic restaurants in the 1890s,” said [historian] Rabbi Joshua Eli Plaut… Jews patronized the eateries because they were among the few to stay open on Christmas Day, and because East Asian cuisine did not use dairy, which made it closer to kosher than say, Italian food, which often mixes meat with cheese.” [BrooklynPaper]

BIRTHDAYS: Communications director in the Clinton administration (1999-2001) and then a senior aide to Hillary Clinton, she is President of the Joint Action Committee Education Foundation, Ann Frank Lewis… Retired President and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University (1976-2003), then YU’s Chancellor (2003-2013), scholar, author and communal leader, Rabbi Norman Lamm turns 91… Israeli novelist, essayist and playwright, winner of virtually every Hebrew book award, referred to as the “Israeli Faulkner,” A. B. Yehoshua turns 82… Journalist and playwright, he worked as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times based in Saigon, London, Nairobi and New Delhi, Bernard Weinraub turns 81… 1983 winner of a MacArthur Genius Fellowship, mathematical physicist, scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Mitchell Feigenbaum turns 74… NYC-based real estate investor, developer of four of Manhattan’s tallest towers in recent decades, Douglas Durst turns 74… Ruth Wolff turns 72… Israeli scientist, high-tech entrepreneur and leading businesswoman, Orna Berry turns 69…

Host of RealTalk MS Podcast, he was previously the publisher of Long Beach (California) Jewish Life, Jon Strum turns 64… SVP at the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, Eli Schaap turns 64… CFO at wine importer and distributor, New York Wine Warehouse, Jane Troy turns 64… British cellist Steven Isserlis turns 60… Member of the Knesset for the Meretz party (2000-2003 and again since November 2017), he has served as secretary general of Peace Now, Moshe “Mossi” Raz turns 53… Founder, President and Chief Creative Officer of Rachel G Events LLC, Rachel L Glazer turns 46… Acclaimed actor, his mother is Jewish, he reports that on his 13th birthday he performed a “bar-mitzvah-like act, without the typical trappings,” Jake Gyllenhaal turns 38… Washington correspondent and senior political reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, she was previously a reporter for CNN (2015-2018), Tal Kopan turns 32 (h/t Politico)… Partner in Tel Aviv-based venture capital firm Aleph, Aaron Rosenson turns 29… David Ginsberg

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