Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: December 20, 2018

Bibi was right: The arc of history has bent toward authoritarianism; a strategy of retreat in Syria, with echoes of Obama

A US soldier walks on a newly installed position, near the tense front line between the US-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council and the Turkish-backed fighters, in Manbij, north Syria, April 4, 2018. (AP/Hussein Malla)
A US soldier walks on a newly installed position, near the tense front line between the US-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council and the Turkish-backed fighters, in Manbij, north Syria, April 4, 2018. (AP/Hussein Malla)

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ARGUMENT — Bibi Was Right: The arc of history has bent toward authoritarianism — by Ben Judah: “Instead of aligning himself with John Kerry and Cathy Ashton, Bibi positioned Israel to work with the emerging demagogues. And now we are living in the world that Bibi expected. Only watching from Jerusalem, keeping a tab on his visits and his visitors, can you see just how successful Bibi has been. Never before have the leaders of Russia, Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and now Italy had such strong ties with Israel. Never before have they seen the leader that sits in Jerusalem as indispensable to their objectives.”

“But even should the pendulum swing, Bibi will still be right. Should backlash produce a left-wing populist as president of the United States he has ensured Israel can pivot quickly, opening up new peace talks to satisfy the United States. For all his bluster, Bibi has not moved on the fundamentals. The West Bank is neither annexed nor abandoned. It remains ready to be bargained for, all over again. Bibi has hedged his bets, to the frustration of those like Naftali Bennett to his right, instead of investing in a settler theory of history.”

“The price for this, I realized, was one I could feel. Because the Jewish diaspora—its unity, its vulnerability—was something Bibi was willing to compromise, even abuse, to advance the project of Israeli power. Trump, Orbán, Salvini: Jerusalem would not vocally protest the sudden upswing in anti-Semitism these demagogues brought. What were the Jews of Hungary? Or the affinity of young, assimilated Jews toward Israel? And for all my emotions, I knew what Bibi would say: The comfort of the Western diaspora ranks low, when it comes to calculating the core interests of the Jewish state.” [TheAtlantic]

Dan Shapiro, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel in the Obama administration, responds: “Israel, in a tough neighborhood and with an essential mission of survival, understandably seeks constructive relations wherever it can find them. That’s true whether in an era of democratic expansion, or, as is unfortunately the case today, amidst a rising wave of illiberalism. But who one can work with, and who one identifies with, are two different things. Israel’s historic choice to associate itself firmly with the camp of democracies, like its efforts to achieve separation from the Palestinians, have far more to do with what Israelis want for their own society, than with what anyone else thinks. In the long run, I expect Israel’s democratic identity to prevail.”

DRIVING THE CONVO — President Trump’s surprise announcement that the U.S. will withdraw all its ground troops from Syria — against the adviceof his national security team and top generals — drew a strong reaction from both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Adding to the frustration among hawkish Republicans, Trump cancelled a meeting with outgoing Senator Bob Corker, while the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was waiting at the White House. Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton were immediately dispatched to explain the move, but the White House struggled to rationalize or detail “the deliberative process.”

Trump tweets this morning: “Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing their work. Time to come home & rebuild. #MAGA. Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight. Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us.”

HOW IT PLAYED — A Strategy of Retreat in Syria, With Echoes of Obama — by David Sanger: 
“Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said that if [Barack] Obama “had done this, we’d be going nuts right now.” … “On this issue — maybe on this issue alone — there is more continuity between Trump and Obama than would make either administration comfortable,” said Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.” [NYTimes]

VIEW FROM JERUSALEM — Trump’s Syria withdrawal hurts Netanyahu, U.S. reputation, Israelis say — by Andrew Carey and Amir Tal: “An opposition figure described it as a surrender, while a retired air force general said it was a move that would damage the reputation of the United States… Political figures said the move was acutely embarrassing for Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made his close relationship with President Donald Trump one of the cornerstones of his foreign policy.” [CNN]

— “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Trump administration had informed him of the move… “This is, of course, an American decision,” he said in a video statement. “We will learn its timetable, the manner of implementation and of course the implications for us.”[WSJAxios]

Netanyahu at the Israel-Greece-Cyprus summit in Be’er Sheva this morning: “We will continue to take very strong action against Iran’s attempts to entrench itself in Syria… We are not going to reduce our efforts, we are going to increase our efforts… and I know that we do so with the full support and backing of the U.S.” [Video]

Ilan Goldenberg tweets“I’m sure if Obama had done this the response would have been equally measured.”

Washington Institute’s Rob Satloff emails: “Israel cannot be thrilled with a U.S. volte-face on Syria that will leave the field open for Iran to complete its land-bridge to the Mediterranean and expand its influence in the country, all the while further sowing doubt about American credibility and staying-power in the region. In short, a huge shock to Israel and its reliance on the deterrent power of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Dore Gold, former Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “Western intervention on the ground in the Middle East has produced two results that need to be avoided. The first is a quagmire and endless war. But the second is that premature withdrawal emboldens the forces of jihad that will claim the West is weak. This latter problem arose when the Soviets left Afghanistan and al Qaeda was born. It was seen when Israel withdrew from Gaza and Hamas took over. This could give ISIS a new lease on life. It could also give Iran the sense that it is winning on the battlefield, regardless of the sanctions it faces.”

“A careful balancing act is needed. Only the U.S. can calibrate the necessary mix of force and diplomacy that will be needed, since the lives of American soldiers are involved. But Israel will be there to the extent that its assistance is sought.”

ON THE HILL — An effort to pass the bipartisan Israel Anti-Boycott Act through a year-end appropriations bill hit a roadblock last night after the Senate moved forward with a stopgap spending bill intended to avert a government shutdown, without reaching consensus on several items that were to be included in the package.

Ahead of the vote, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) urged Senate leadership to remove the legislation from the spending bill, expressing their opposition to the measure. “While we do not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, we remain resolved to our constitutional oath to defend the right of every American to express their views peacefully without fear of or actual punishment by the government,” the Senators wrote in a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The letter gained the support of J Street.

AIPAC spokesperson Marshall Wittmann tells Jewish Insider“We will continue to work to gain passage of this important legislation which would help protect American companies from being compelled to boycott Israel in violation of U.S. foreign policy.”

TALK OF THE TOWN — She Wouldn’t Promise Not to Boycott Israel, So a Texas School District Stopped Paying Her — by Jacey Fortin: “Joel Schwitzer, the regional director of the American Jewish Committee in Dallas, which supported the [anti-BDS] bill’s passage in Texas last year, said the law was appropriate because the B.D.S. movement threatens the very existence of Israel, and because the law does not violate the United States Constitution. “You absolutely have a First Amendment right to free speech, but there is no absolute right to do business with the State of Texas,” he said. But he added that the law was misapplied in the case of [Bahia] Amawi because she is an individual who can avoid Israeli products without affecting her work. “If her choice is to boycott Israel, that’s her right and it doesn’t have any bearing on her ability to provide speech pathology,” he said.” [NYTimes]

COMING SOON — Pompeo to give Cairo address on U.S. role in Middle East — by Nahal Toosi: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to deliver a speech about America’s role in the Middle East during a visit to Egypt next month… The address, which is still in the planning stages, would come as President Donald Trump struggles to settle on a coherent policy toward the region… The Cairo visit will likely be part of a broader swing through the Middle East by Pompeo, with potential stops in Israel and nearby Arab states.” [Politico]

U.S., Turkey Take Key Step Toward Patriot Missile Deal — by Lara Seligman: “The United States on Tuesday approved a tentative $3.5 billion sale to Turkey of Raytheon’s Patriot surface-to-air missile system, in a potential breakthrough that could pave the way for smoother Turkey-NATO relations after a tumultuous few years. The sale would provide Ankara with a NATO-interoperable system for defending Turkish airspace, instead of the Russian S-400 missile system.” [ForeignPolicy]

ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — Oman’s foreign minister visits Washington to seek greater role in Israel-Palestine peace process — by Joyce Karam: “Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi touched down in the U.S. capital in his second visit since July and was expected to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday as wells as members of Congress. Mr. Alawi will also hold talks with President Donald Trump’s advisor, Jason Greenblatt, in a move that underscores Muscat’s growing role in the Israel-Palestine peace process.” [TheNational]

REPORT ― Netanyahu tries postponing publication of Trump’s peace plan — by Ben Caspit: “A very high-placed political source in Jerusalem told Al-Monitor… that “Netanyahu reached the conclusion that if the deal will be unwrapped in the coming months… it will make it very difficult for him to win with a significant majority and it would harm his survival plan vis-a-vis the anticipated… indictments against him.” … According to information from European sources, Trump is the one pushing for completion of the plan and its unfurling.” [Al-Monitor]

AT THE UN —  Israel urges international condemnation after finding fourth Hezbollah tunnel from Lebanon — by Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash: “Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, showed aerial imagery of the area of Kfar Kela, including the concrete block factory and a nearby UNIFIL observation post. He said that after Israel gave precise information to the peacekeepers on the location of the tunnel, the UNIFIL force was prevented from accessing the area. Danon accused the Lebanese army of tipping off Hezbollah. “If Hezbollah dares to attack Israel, it will bring ruin to Lebanon,” he said.” [WashPost

2020 WATCH — Frank Bruni writes… “A gay, female or Jewish president? A friend asked me which milestone, in my opinion, would come first: a gay president, a female president or a Jewish president. I have no idea. And that’s because the answer doesn’t hinge on what drove my friend’s question, which is whether homophobia, sexism or anti-Semitism is more deeply and broadly ingrained. It hinges on the effectiveness of the candidate who’s in a position to make history. It hinges on the political circumstances of that particular moment… As it happens, all of those categories — gay, female, Jewish, black — could wind up represented in the Democratic field for 2020.” [NYTimes

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Soros Fund Is Cutting Back on the Bets That Made Its Founder a Billionaire [YahooFinance] • Wedding Bells at Aurelius Hedge Fund Said to Spur Redemptions [Bloomberg] • 
Billionaire Superyacht Celebration: Who’s Who in St. Barths for New Years[Forbes] • When Mark Cuban needed help, he turned to Cynthia Marshall[Bloomberg] • Cybersecurity expert Gil Shwed says system functionality is more vulnerable than data [CNBC] • Pepsico’s SodaStream to open manufacturing plant in Gaza [Reuters]

STARTUP NATION — Move over San Francisco; Tel Aviv is becoming the center of all things e-scooters — by Jason Bellini and Conall Jones: “When the first retail stores for electric scooters launched in Israel in early 2018, they carried models that cost around $500… Then in August, U.S.-based Bird entered the market, offering electric scooters for rent by the minute. That made it easier for residents to begin testing them as a way to breeze through the city and avoid traffic. By December, one in 10 Tel Avivians had rented a Bird e-scooter, according to the company — many of them riding on the Sabbath when public transportation is shuttered.” [WSJ]

WeWork Strikes Delicate Religious Balance With Jerusalem Site — by Tofi Stoler and Orr Hirschauge: “Shared real estate company WeWork launched its first Jerusalem location just two weeks ago and had already managed, at least temporarily, to dodge a bullet in the form of wide ranging protests from the city’s large community of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jews… City councilman Yochanan Weizman, of Haredi party Agudat Yisrael, sent a letter to other ultra-Orthodox city council members, urging them to protest against what he called “mass Shabbat desecration” at WeWork’s facility… Members can enter and use the facilities on a 24/7-basis, but services by WeWork personnel are not provided during Shabbat in Israel or weekends in other countries.” [Calcalist]

SoftBank’s Biggest Backers Balk at Planned $16 Billion Acquisition of WeWork — by Liz Hoffman, Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell: “Key investors in SoftBank Group Corp.’s giant tech fund have balked at a planned $16 billion investment in co-working startup WeWork Cos., leaving SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son to find an alternative as his ambitions hit up against the limits of his financial firepower… The deal would leave WeWork Chief Executive Adam Neumann with control of the company.”[WSJ]

Watch ― Adam Neumann deliver the keynote speech at the UJA-Federation of New York Wall Street Dinner on December 10. [Video]

HOLLYWOOD — Jerry Stiller confused by George Costanza’s heritage on ‘Seinfeld’ — by Mara Siegler: “Jerry Stiller — who famously played George Costanza’s dad on “Seinfeld” — says he was always confused about the on-screen family’s heritage. In a video appearance at the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot gala at the Mandarin Oriental on Monday, the veteran comic said, “It was never really clear if the Costanzas were Jewish or Italian or what they were… but there were episodes where I cooked Jewish food and ate knishes and kasha varnishkes in bed.” Stiller added, “When people asked me about this, I would simply say it was because we were a Jewish family in the witness protection program.” [PageSix]

SPORTS BLINK — How Robert Kraft tried to help Alex Rodriguez — by Evan Marinofsky: “Sometimes during people’s darkest times, unlikely friendships are forged. For then-New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, that came during his steroid suspension in 2014 with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft… “I saw A-Rod there,” Kraft told Jeff Howe of The Athletic… “I was concerned that he was battling with a lot. People were after him. I just said ‘You’re an important messenger to young people. You’re charismatic. You have a nice way about you.'”  This all took place at Mary Erdoes’s (chief executive officer of J.P. Morgan Asset & Wealth Management) holiday party in 2014. Kraft had a simple message for the struggling slugger: “Build bridges. Don’t burn them.” [WEEITheAthletic]

MAZEL TOV — Shayndi Raice, a national news reporter for the WSJ, and Dov Weiss, associate professor of Jewish studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, welcomed Zalman Leo Raice-Weiss. [Pich/t Playbook

Mazel tov to Mike Basch on his engagement to Romi Kaplan. Watch their announcement here. [YouTube

DESSERT — How Cooking Triumphs Over Division in Israel & Palestine — by Suze Olbrich: “As the sun glides into the Mediterranean, my first meal in Tel Aviv is a no brainer: hummus. In the relentless humidity, I opt for the closest spot, Abu Zakir, a Gazan-led corner joint. Decent (for the region) hummus soon arrives… I mention to the Arab cashier that I’m curious if food brings people together here. “Food and music connects us all,” he replies… “It’s too early to identify Israeli cuisine,” says Amos Sion, chef-proprietor of the elegant Helena restaurant in Caesarea… Over watermelon salad with sheep’s cheese; calamari with za’atar, okra, and zhug, and tahini ice cream with date syrup and halva—“happy food”—Sion enlightens me on how food facilitates communal ties.” [Vice

L.A.’s 10 Best New Restaurants of 2018 — by Garret Snyder: “Chocolate babka sticky buns. Half-sour pickles with avocado and furikake. Pastrami Crunchwrap Supreme. It’s likely none of these dishes existed before the arrival of Freedman’s, the reimagined delicatessen in Echo Park from Jonah and Amanda Freedman. This is Jewish cooking in the sense that Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song” is a religious hymn, but that doesn’t mean your great aunt Myrtle flying in from Boca Raton wouldn’t also approve.” [LAMag]

BIRTHDAYS: Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, Jeremy Burton turns 50… Founder of an online children’s bookstore featuring titles in a variety of languages, she holds a Ph.D. in physical chemistry and an MBA, Yona Eckstein turns 77… Former chair of the executive committee of the Jewish Federations of North America, he also served three terms as president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington,Michael Gelman turns 74… Illusionist, magician, television personality and self-proclaimed psychic, Uri Geller turns 72… Television producer, he is the creator and executive producer of the Law & Order and Chicago franchises, which since 1990 have included ten police/fire/courtroom/medical dramas, Richard Anthony (Dick) Wolf turns 72… Marina Del Rey, California resident, Carol Gene Berk turns 68…

President of the University of Miami since 2015, he is a Mexican-born physician and former Secretary of Health of Mexico, Julio Frenk turns 65… Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Yale since 2014, she is a professor of both philosophy and psychology, Tamar Szabó Gendler turns 53… Writer and a psychotherapist based in Los Angeles, she authors the “Dear Therapist” column for The Atlantic and the forthcoming book “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” Lori Gottlieb turns 52… Swiss-born British philosopher and author, Alain de Botton turns 49… Actor, producer, screenwriter and comedian, Jonah Hill (full name Jonah Hill Feldstein) turns 35… Development executive at the UJA-Federation of New York, Adam Wolfthal turns 33… Denver-based managing director at Israel on Campus Coalition, Megan Nathan turns 33… Bob Lindenbaum

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