Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: December 21, 2018
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Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: December 21, 2018

Syria pullout by US tilts Mideast power toward Iran and Russia, isolating Israel; US fundraising site suspends Palestinian boycott account

Illustrative: A picture taken during a press tour hosted by the Russian Armed Forces shows a Russian soldier looking through the scope of a sniper rifle on the outskirts of Syria's eastern city of Deir Ezzor on September 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/France2/Dominique Derda)
Illustrative: A picture taken during a press tour hosted by the Russian Armed Forces shows a Russian soldier looking through the scope of a sniper rifle on the outskirts of Syria's eastern city of Deir Ezzor on September 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/France2/Dominique Derda)

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TOP TALKER — Jim Mattis, Defense Secretary, Resigns in Rebuke of Trump’s Worldview — by Helene Cooper: “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis… resigned Thursday in protest of President Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria… Officials said Mr. Mattis went to the White House with his resignation letter already written, but nonetheless made a last attempt at persuading the president to reverse his decision about Syria… Mr. Mattis… was rebuffed. Returning to the Pentagon, he asked aides to print out 50 copies of his resignation letter and distribute them around the building.” [NYTimes]

HOW IT PLAYED —James Mattis’s Final Protest Against the President — by David Graham: “Mattis is the last brake on a president that makes major life-and-death decisions by whim without reading, deliberation, or any thought as to consequences and risks,” said a senior U.S. national-security official… “The saving grace is that this president has not been tested by a major national-security crisis. But it will come, and when it does, we are f****d.”[TheAtlantic] • Eli Lake: Mattis Puts Trump’s Presidency in Peril[BloombergView]

Dov Zakheim,  a former Pentagon official, tells us: “This is a disaster for the U.S. Mattis remained the only adult in the President’s national security team. He had the trust of our allies and the respect of our enemies. The U.S. is losing one of the better Secretaries of Defense we have had. I met him a few weeks ago, he looked less tired than in the past. There was no indication that he would leave. But after Trump made this awful decision on Syria, he just couldn’t take it anymore. This is an unbelievable situation we are in.”

Sam Vinograd tweets“I was also at the White House when General Mattis and President Obama disagreed on Iran policy. General Mattis didn’t quit.”

Jeffrey Goldberg writes“James Mattis knew who Trump was, and joined him anyway, because he is a patriot. And because he is a patriot, he would have remained with Trump, if he thought he could influence Trump’s policies. But whatever influence he had, he lost.”

Susan Glasser“This debacle has all the elements we have come to associate with Trump’s Presidency: the imperious Twitter decree; the reckless and untrue claims; the snubbing of advice from experts, allies, and his own staff; the transparent effort to distract from one set of scandals by creating another. Even if this latest Syria crisis does not prove to be the most consequential one of his tenure, it provides a fitting end to another year of Trump.”

DRIVING THE CONVO — White House senior advisor Stephen Miller claimed critics of Trump’s Syria move are the “same voices” who supported the war in Iraq during an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN.

“The media that’s having this hysterical reaction to James Mattis retiring is the same media in many cases, the same politicians in many cases, who cheered our nation into a war in Iraq that turned out to be an absolute catastrophe,” Miller stated. “This president got elected to get our foreign policy back on the right track after years of being adrift. One foreign policy blunder after another in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya, that hasn’t worked out for the national interest.”

Miller added: “Since when has the United States media become the supporters of every entanglement in the Middle East that has bogged down this country? I just don’t know where that’s coming from… Let’s put America first. Let’s not spill American blood to fight the enemies of other countries as is the case in Syria.” [Video]

CFR’s Elliott Abrams emails: “Mr. Miller knows nothing about national security policy. Barack Obama is the man who abandoned Iraq, and that action opened up a vacuum in which ISIS grew. Many, many Republicans remember that and recognize the dangers of abandoning Syria. They said when Obama pulled out of Iraq far too soon that it was a great mistake, and they are saying the same thing now.”

FDD’s Mark Dubowitz: “I didn’t back the war in Iraq. However, I’ve been a long-standing supporter of a robust Iran policy. I thought President Trump and Steve Miller were, too. This Syria move has gutted their Iran policy. They can pretend otherwise; they’re misguided.”

Miller’s comments echoed similar statements made by Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor under President Obama, who referred to the foreign-policy establishment as “the Blob” and “Iraq-war promoters.” ​

Rhodes tweeted on Thursday: “U.S. alliances and some semblance of the international order can probably survive two more years of this but definitely not another 6.”

VIEW FROM JERUSALEM — Syria pullout by U.S. tilts Mideast power toward Iran and Russia, isolating Israel — by David Halbfinger: “Israel, which hoped the American presence in Syria would block Iran from completing its corridor to the sea, now has to reckon with a new reality. “This leaves us alone in the arena with the Russians,” said Michael Herzog, an Israel-based fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former Israeli defense official. “We are alone in the battle against Iran in Syria.”

“To Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Mr. Trump’s decision came as a deep embarrassment heading into an election year in which his national-security credentials, closeness with Mr. Trump and obsessive focus on stopping Iranian expansion were central to his argument for another term… “This caught the Israeli government by surprise,” said Ofer Zalzberg, an Israeli analyst at International Crisis Group… While Israeli military experts played down the tactical dangers of being left alone to fight Iran in Syria, many said an American retreat was debilitating to Israeli morale.” [NYTimes

Netanyahu spoke with Trump yesterday, the second such phone call in a week, about the Syria withdrawal. The two leaders “discussed ways to continue cooperation between Israel and the US against the Iranian aggression,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

— Barak Ravid reports: “Israeli officials tell me Netanyahu is very disappointed by Trump’s decision but is careful not to say it publicly.”

HEARD YESTERDAY — Trump, addressing his demand for $5 billion in funding towards building a wall on the border with Mexico: “Walls work whether we like it or not… In Israel, 99.9 percent successful. Think of it. I spoke to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, two days ago. We were talking about it. He said it’s 99.9 percent. I mean, he [brought it] up; I didn’t ask. He said it’s 99.9 percent successful.”

IPF’s Michael Koplow tweets: “Yesterday, Trump pulled the rug out from Netanyahu with his Syria announcement. Today, he is using Netanyahu’s endorsement for a U.S.-Mexico border wall to justify shutting down the government. What a functional and mutually beneficial relationship.”

REPORT — Netanyahu rejected Russian plan to work with U.S. on Syria, Iran — by Barak Ravid: “More than three months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s national security adviser Nikolai Petrushev gave his Israeli counterpart… an unofficial proposal for a deal between the U.S. and Russia [that] would have tied a U.S. withdrawal from Syria to an Iranian exit from the country, and provided the U.S. and Israel more influence over a future political settlement in Syria. However, it also called for a freeze on U.S. sanctions on Iran — something Netanyahu found unacceptable… “For Netanyahu, stopping the Iranian nuclear program was above everything else, and this is why he refused to show any flexibility on the issue of U.S. sanctions,” one Israeli official told me.” [Axios]

Dennis Ross tweets: “Nothing like being in the Middle East now to see and feel the reaction to the president’s decision to withdraw from Syria. Many of those who called me crestfallen after the Obama decision not to act on the red-line are again downcast. So much they say for US commitments.”

ON THE HILL —  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced the End Palestinian Terror Salaries Act of 2018 yesterday. The legislation would impose sanctions on Palestinian officials who provide financial rewards for Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli and U.S.-born citizens.

Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt tweeted on Thursday: “We had a productive meeting yesterday with Omani Foreign Minister Yousuf Alawi Abdulla Al Ibrahim & welcomed hearing his thoughts on the future of the region & how Oman can work with us toward trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

US fundraising site suspends Palestinian boycott account — by Josef Federman: “A U.S. software company said Friday it blocked the fundraising account of the Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel… Donorbox, which makes fundraising management software, confirmed that the BDS campaign’s account was temporarily blocked while it investigates the allegations… The decision came in response to a complaint from Shurat HaDin, an Israeli advocacy group that files lawsuits around the world against Israel’s foes, submitted in coordination with Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry.” [AP]

DEEP DIVE — Russian Agents Sought Secret US Treasury Records On Clinton Backers During 2016 Campaign — by Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold: “U.S. Treasury Department officials used a Gmail back channel with the Russian government as the Kremlin sought sensitive financial information on its enemies in America and across the globe… Russia’s financial crimes agency, whose second-in-command is a former KGB officer and schoolmate of President Vladimir Putin, also asked the Americans for documents on executives from two prominent Jewish groups, the Anti-Defamation League and the National Council of Jewish Women, as well as Kremlin opponents living abroad in London and Kiev.” [BuzzFeed]

JARED INSIDER — Can Kushner’s work on the criminal justice overhaul save his reputation? — by David Smith: “On Wednesday Jared Kushner… woke up to headlines not accusing him of corruption or mocking his political naiveté. They were headlines of praise. Kushner had helped bring about bipartisan accord almost unheard of in today’s Washington to overhaul criminal justice… Some observers caution, however, that while Kushner deserves limited credit for riding a wave, his reputation is already doomed by conflicts of interest and a close relationship with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince… Kushner may wish to savor the moment while he can. When Democrats take control of the House next month, they will have subpoena power. Kushner is likely to face an onslaught of investigations into his businesses, security clearance and relationship with Mohammed bin Salman.” [TheGuardian]

2020 WATCH — Cory Booker Isn’t Yet Running for President. But a Supporter is Launching a Super PAC to Back Him — by Shane Goldmacher and Ken Vogel: “Steve Phillips, an influential San Francisco-based Democratic donor and activist, said he would formally file paperwork on Thursday to create the pro-Booker super PAC, Dream United… Mr. Phillips said he had already collected $4 million in commitments… Mr. Phillips named two early donors supportive of his pro-Booker 2020 effort: his wife Susan Sandler, a philanthropist who is the daughter of the billionaire Democratic donor, Herb Sandler, and Dr. Gary Michelson, a billionaire philanthropist and surgeon in Los Angeles.” [NYTimes]

Meet Sherrod Brown’s Louder Half — by Michael Kruse: “If there is a commonly held image of how a political spouse should behave—seen and heard but not too much, not exactly muzzled but certainly measured, ever aware of some nebulous, help-or-hurt calculus—Connie Schultz is not it. And only Sherrod Brown—no other person who might run for president—has a her… “I am the woman he hates,” Schultz said.” [PoliticoMag]

Perry Gershon Eyes Another Run — by Christopher Walsh: “Perry Gershon, who lost a bid to unseat Representative Lee Zeldin in last month’s midterm elections, is contemplating a second campaign to represent New York’s First Congressional District… “I’m giving it strong consideration,” he said on Friday.” [EastHamptonStar]

** Good Friday 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: Hollywood Makes a Big Bet on Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi [Bloomberg] • Will Scandal-Scarred CBS News Pull the Plug on Its Chief, David Rhodes? [DailyBeast] • Maverick Carter is joining the board of Live Nation [FastCompany] • Marc Lasry talks Bucks, DNC and the economy[Bizjournals] • Israel, Greece and Cyprus Back EastMed Gas Pipeline[WSJ] • Sotheby’s sales of Important Judaica and Israeli & International Art total $5.5 million in New York City [Artdaily] • 10 years ago, the Bernie Madoff scandal rocked the American Jewish world. Here’s how those victims have fared [JTA

START-UP NATION — This robot picks a pepper in 24 seconds using a tiny saw, and could help combat a shortage of farm labor — by Magdalena Petrova: “Researchers from Europe and Israel have built a robot that can pick ripe peppers in a greenhouse. The prototype, called Sweeper, is backed by the European Union as part of its Horizon 2020 innovation program… Sweeper is not the only harvesting robot out there. Argobot is testing a machine that picks strawberries, Green Robot Machinery has a cotton-picking robot and Israeli start-up MetroMotion is working on a tomato-picking bot.” [CNBC]

TRANSITION — David J. Skorton, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, is leaving his position to return to the world of health care and medicine as head of a nonprofit organization, the Association of American Medical Colleges. [NYT]

MEDIA WATCH — BuzzFeed wins its dossier suit, and Ben Smith takes a victory lap — by Joe Pompeo: “Christmas came about a week early for BuzzFeed on Wednesday, when a federal judge in Miami handed the Web site a major victory in a lawsuit that was filed in response to BuzzFeed’s controversial decision, in January 2017, to publish Christopher Steele’s Trump-Russia dossier… The ruling was a vigorous and resounding statement of the rights of journalists, and a clear vindication for BuzzFeed.” BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith: “It’s impossible not to have moments of real doubt and moments of real stress. It wasn’t something I was worrying about day-to-day, but it sure felt good to win. More than I had realized, it was lingering in the back of my mind.” [VanityFair]

PROFILE — After More Than Two Decades of Work, a New Hebrew Bible to Rival the King James — by Avi Steinberg: “One morning this fall, at his home high in the Berkeley hills, the literary critic and translator Robert Alter chatted with me about the dilemmas he faced while translating the Hebrew Bible… Published this month, it represents the culmination of nearly two and a half decades of work… Alter came to Hebrew, like many an American Jewish child, somewhat haphazardly — first in traditional contexts, like bar mitzvah lessons but also in Hebrew-only summer camps of the period… Alter took to it immediately and chose to continue his studies, even while playing varsity football and running track. As a young man, Alter was so enamored with the language that he spent much of his time systematically mastering a Hebrew-Hebrew dictionary. “I figured if I could get everything from that book into my head, I’d have it,” Alter said.” [NYTimesMag]

Institute Gives Yiddish Songs a Fresh Star Turn — by Charles Passy: “The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, a nearly century-old New York-based nonprofit organization, has launched the archive, which features hundreds of the late Ruth Rubin’s recordings of amateur and established singers performing Yiddish folk songs. The institute also will host a concert Sunday evening at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan that will celebrate tunes from the archive.” [WSJ]

Shmuel Rosner writes… “Jewsraelis: A Cultural Revolution: If you want to understand the stark difference between Israeli Jews and American Jews by looking at just one set of numbers, this is probably the one you ought to look at. A strong majority of Jewish Israelis, 61 percent, have complete confidence — that is, a 10! – that their children will also be Jewish… And when we asked the same question about whether their grandchildren will be Jewish, the number of responses ranking confidence from 8 to 10 were only slightly lower — 79 percent. So, either Israeli Jews are fools and don’t understand where they live, or they understand and internalize what it means to be Jewish in Israel.” [JewishJournal

DESSERT — The Many Euphemisms for ‘Pork’ in Israel — by Naomi Zeveloff: “In Judaism, which outlaws the consumption of pork, pigs and their flesh have been referred to in coded language for millennia. It’s a reflection of the ancient taboo surrounding the animal… Today, that taboo persists in the modern state of Israel… To Ronit Vered, a food journalist at the Israeli daily Haaretz, these euphemisms signify a desire on the part of pork-eating Israelis to “make peace with their conscience” even as they break the ultimate dietary taboo. “If you refer to it as the ‘other meat,’ or as the ‘short cow meat,’ it’s not as bad,” she said. “It doesn’t violate the laws directly.” [ExtraCrispy] • The Whiskey Bar and Museum in Tel Aviv [HiConsumption]

Europe’s Far Right Melts Down Over Toblerone Halal Certification — by Erik Sherman: Some in Europe’s far right have found a new source of outrage and anger, but not about migrants or nationalism. This time they’re seething about chocolate. It started when Toblerone, the chocolate bars with the triangular cross section, got a halal certification… That means the candy meets rules for dietary guidelines for Muslims, which are similar to Jewish kosher tenets. In fact, Toblerone is certified as kosher. The halal designation has stirred anti-Muslim rhetoric… with some saying they’d never buy the confection again.” [Fortune]

WEEKEND BIRTHDAYS — FRIDAY: Director of the LA Initiative at the UCLA School of Public Affairs, he was a member of the LA County Board of Supervisors (1994-2014) and the LA City Council (1975-1994), Zev Yaroslavsky turns 70… CEO of WndrCo (created in 2017 to invest in new media), he is the former CEO of DreamWorks Animation (2004-2016) and chairman of Walt Disney Studios (1984-1994), Jeffrey Katzenberg turns 68… United States Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin turns 56… Former Chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in the Bush 43 and Obama administrations, he was chair of the NY Fed and a partner at Goldman Sachs, Stephen Friedman turns 81… Producer of over 90 plays on and off Broadway for which she has won seven Pulitzer Prizes and ten Tony Awards, Daryl Roth turns 74… Music director of the San Francisco Symphony and artistic director of the New World Symphony, conductor, pianist and composer, Michael Tilson Thomas (family name was Thomashefsky) turns 74…

Member of Knesset since 1999 for the Likud party, he serves as Minister of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services, Haim Katz turns 71… Film, television and voice actor, he served as president of the Screen Actors Guild (1988-1995), Barry Gordon turns 70… Atlanta-based criminal defense attorney who has become a behind-the-scenes fixture in the world of rap musicians, Drew O. Findling turns 59… NFL Insider for ESPN since 2009, previously on the NFL Network (2004-2009), Adam Schefter turns 52… Member of the Knesset since 2015 for the Kulanu party, Rachel Azaria turns 41… Co-host of the Katie Couric Podcast, he was the founder and president of Junction Investments and a producer at CBS Evening News, Brian Goldsmith turns 37… Chief investigative reporter at KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, IA, after a stint at New Haven, CT’s WTNH News 8, Josh Scheinblum turns 30… VP in the financial services practice at NYC-based Bliss Integrated Communication, Julia Mellonturns 29… Political reporter for the Boston Globe since 2013, he worked previously in DC for The Atlantic, ABC News and the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, Joshua Miller… Marta Skipper

SATURDAY: Former President of the World Bank, US Ambassador to Indonesia, US Deputy Secretary of Defense and Dean of JHU’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Paul Wolfowitz turns 75… NYC-based political consultant since 1969, ordained as a Rabbi in 2011, his early career included stints as a policeman, taxi driver and bounty hunter, Hank Sheinkopf turns 69… Associate at Mersky, Jaffe & Associates, he was previously executive director of Big Tent Judaism and VP of the Wexner Heritage Foundation, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky turns 64… Mary Rose Franciniturns 62… Senior managing director in the DC office of Newmark Knight Frank where she is responsible for investment sales and commercial leasing transactions, Lisa Benjamin turns 59…

Former CFO of Enron Corporation, he served a six-year prison sentence for charges related to the Enron financial fraud (2006-2011), Andrew Fastowturns 57… David Novak turns 56… NPR correspondent covering the State Department and Washington’s diplomatic corps, formerly NPR’s Moscow bureau chief, Michele Kelemen turns 51… Junior US Senator from Texas since 2013, Ted Cruz turns 48… CEO of American Council of Young Political Leaders, which promotes travel of future US leaders to foreign countries and reciprocal visits to the US, Libby Rosenbaum turns 37… Head of philanthropy and impact investment for EJF Philanthropies, previously founder of Metrics Group, an analytics company, Simone Friedman… Visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and columnist, James Kirchickturns 35…

SUNDAY: Television producer, best known for his work on the 1980’s television series “Cagney & Lacey,” Barney Rosenzweig turns 81… Electrical engineer, who with Vint Cerf, invented the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), the fundamental techniques at the heart of the Internet, Robert Elliot “Bob” Kahn turns 80… Emmy Award-winning actor, best known for his work on The Simpsons, Harry Shearer turns 75… Russian-born mathematician, living in France, known for important contributions in many different areas of mathematics, including geometry, analysis and group theory, Mikhail Leonidovich Gromov turns 75… Documentary filmmaker, best known for her films on businessman Julius Rosenwald and baseball players Hank Greenberg and Moe Berg, Aviva Kempner turns 72… Political analyst, commentator, founder and editor at large of the recently shuttered political magazine “The Weekly Standard,” William “Bill” Kristol turns 66… Israeli singer, songwriter, musician and composer of the genre known as Mizrahi music, Dudu Aharon turns 34… Israeli fashion model who has appeared in major international campaigns for Armani, Ralph Lauren, Maybelline, and L’Oreal, Shlomit Malka turns 25…

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