Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: February 28, 2019
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Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: February 28, 2019

Jared Kushner meets with Saudi crown prince to push Mideast peace plan; two days after resigning, Iran’s foreign minister returns to post

In this October 24, 2018 photo released by the Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman addresses the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Saudi Press Agency via AP, File)
In this October 24, 2018 photo released by the Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman addresses the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Saudi Press Agency via AP, File)

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DC SCENE — Reps. Omar and Tlaib: Anti-Semitism charges shut down criticism of Israel — by JI’s Laura Kelly: Several hundred supporters of Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) crowded into Busboys and Poets, a bookstore cafe in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night to hear the pair speak at a ‘Progressive town hall.’ The night was billed as a conversation on a wide array of progressive issues but it was questions on anti-Semitism and Israel that ignited the fiercest passions, from Reps. Tlaib and Omar and those in the audience. “It is about the Benjamins,” shouted one audience member to laughter and acclaim. Reps. Omar and Tlaib both smiled along furtively. [Pic]

To begin the discussion among a boisterous and friendly audience, the moderator asked what “we as a community here can do to support you criticizing Israel for some of the war crimes that it has done so that it’s not seen as ‘you’re anti-Semitic’? Because you’re not criticizing the religion, you’re not criticizing Jewish people, you’re criticizing the government policies.”

Rep. Omar elaborated that when she hears her Jewish constituents offer criticisms of Palestinians, she doesn’t automatically equate them as Islamophobic but is “fearful” that people are painting her as anti-Semitic because she is a Muslim. “What I’m fearful of — because Rashida and I are Muslim — that a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel to be anti-Semitic because we are Muslim,” she explained. “To me it’s something that becomes designed to end the debate because you get in this space of – yes, I know what intolerance looks like and I’m sensitive when someone says, ‘The words you used Ilhan, are resemblance of intolerance.’ And I am cautious of that and I feel pained by that. But it’s almost as if, every single time we say something regardless of what it is we say… we get to be labeled something. And that ends the discussion. Because we end up defending that and nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of what is happening with Palestine.”

“So for me, I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” Rep. Omar exclaimed.

Reps. Omar and Tlaib were joined onstage by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the first Indian-American woman to serve in the House, and Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI), co-chair of the House’s LGBT Equality Caucus. At the event, Rep. Pocan made note that two years ago he led a delegation of five members of Congress to Ramallah, Hebron and East Jerusalem. “As someone who’s not religious and [is] gay, it doesn’t seem to be natural that Palestine would be an important issue,” Rep. Pocan said, “but it’s an important issue because it’s a human rights issue.” [JewishInsiderVideo]

PODCAST PLAYBACK — Omar discussed her tweets and criticism of Israel on The Intercept’s Deconstructed podcast posted this morning: “I think [the criticism of the AIPAC tweet] was appropriate for our party to speak on it, and it was appropriate for me to acknowledge the harm that it caused. But I think that people conflate two things. I think there were some people who were condemning me not only on the hurt the words can cause. There were people who were actually condemning me for speaking the truth about the kind of influence that determine our foreign and domestic policies, and for that, I think, my tweet kind of spoke to it.”

Omar on the two-state solution: “I believe in a two-state solution. I think it is important for there to be the existence of two states that allow both of the peoples that are involved to have their own sanctuaries.” [Deconstructed]

— In an interview with Rolling Stone, published on Tuesday, Rep. Omar discussed the fallout of her now-deleted anti-Semitic tweets — Rolling Stone wrote in an editors note that the original interview took place in January and following the controversy with Rep. Omar’s anti-Semitic tweet, they asked for a follow-up call, which the congresswoman denied. Instead, she offered an email statement to their questionIn a tweeted apology, you wrote you were grateful to ‘Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating [you] on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.’ What do you think you still have to learn about the Jewish faith or Jewish culture to avoid repeating such mistakes? In her response, Omar mentioned, “One of the first things I did as a member-elect was to speak about the rise of anti-Semitism — and one of the first bills I cosponsored as a new member was legislation to elevate the position of a Special Envoy to combat anti-Semitism.'” [RollingStone]

— Rep. Lee Zeldin (D-NY) disputes Omar’s claims: “Perhaps, her inability to justify these anti-Semitic statements is why she declined to explain them in Rolling Stone’s request for a follow-up interview. For this reason and many others, she should not be serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House should immediately pass H. Res. 72, condemning the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hate rising in the United States and around the world.” [DailyCaller]

ON THE HILL — A bipartisan group of House members relaunched the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism, that had been reinstated since the 114th Congress with more than 100 Republicans and Democrats, on Wednesday. “Congress has an important responsibility to raise awareness of this anti-Jewish bigotry and to condemn and combat it in all its forms,” Reps Nita Lowey (D-NY), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Kay Granger (R-TX), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Randy Weber (R-TX), Marc Veasey (D-TX), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), serving as co-chairs of the panel, said in a joint statement.

ON THE GOLAN — by Laura Kelly: Following the move by Republican Senators to formally recognize Israeli control over the Golan Heights, Annalise Davis, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), told JI, “Mr. Hoyer believes Israel should maintain control of the Golan Heights. He will review the legislation as it is considered by the Committee of jurisdiction.”

HEARD YESTERDAY — All the Jewish moments from Michael Cohen’s dramatic House testimony — by Ron Kampeas: “It was Mark Meadows (R-NC) who inadvertently brought about the day’s most Jewish moment when he challenged Cohen’s testimony… Meadows demanded to know how Cohen could call Trump a racist when Cohen himself brought Lynne Patton, an African-American woman, into the Trump organization. ‘You made some demeaning comments about the president that Ms. Patton doesn’t agree with!’ Meadows said… ‘She says that as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, that there was no way she should work for an individual who is racist — how do you reconcile the two of those.’ Cohen interrupted: ‘As neither should I as the son of a Holocaust survivor.'” [JTA

Trump judicial nominee Rao faces uncertain committee vote — by Marianne Levine: “The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote Thursday on whether to send Rao’s D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nomination to the Senate floor… Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) remains undecided on Rao’s nomination and met with her Wednesday afternoon.” [Politico]

KUSHNER MIDEAST TOUR — Jared Kushner Met With Saudi Crown Prince to Push Mideast Peace Plan — by Ben Hubbard: “The meeting, held on Tuesday, was Mr. Kushner’s first face-to-face encounter with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since Saudi agents killed the dissident Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October… The White House issued its statement a day after the meeting took place, as public attention was dominated by congressional testimony by Michael Cohen… Mr. Kushner, King Salman and Prince Mohammed, the White House statement said, discussed the peace efforts, as well as American-Saudi cooperation and plans to improve conditions in the region through investment.” [NYTimesCNN]

— “One of the sources… said the plan presented this week did not appear to take into consideration previously stated Arab demands on the status of Jerusalem, the right of Palestinian refugees to return and Israeli settlements in occupied territory… The source said Kushner, a real estate developer with little experience of international diplomacy or political negotiation, wanted to make a deal first and then agree on details.” [Reuters]

TALK OF THE REGION — Two Days After Resigning, Iran’s Foreign Minister Returns to Post — by Benjamin Mueller: “Two days after saying he intended to step down, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, returned to his post after President Hassan Rouhani rejected the resignation. There were smiles all around on Wednesday, as Mr. Zarif appeared alongside Mr. Rouhani during a welcoming ceremony for a visiting dignitary broadcast live on state television.” [NYTimes]

Trump defends Kim over death of Otto Warmbier — by Josh Dawsey: “President Trump on Thursday defended North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, whose family says was ‘brutally tortured’ while imprisoned in North Korea… ‘I don’t believe he would have allowed that to happen,’ Trump said. ‘It just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen.’ Trump said he spoke to Kim about the death of Warmbier and that ‘he feels badly about it.’ He said the North Korea leader, who holds an iron grip over the country, knew about the case, but he only learned about it after the fact… ‘He tells me he didn’t know about it and I take him at his word,’ Trump said.” [WashPost]

BUZZ ON BALFOUR — Israel awaits decision on Netanyahu corruption indictment — by Aron Heller: “Israel’s attorney general is expected to deliver a much-anticipated decision Thursday on whether to indict Benjamin Netanyahu on a series of corruption allegations, a momentous move that looks to shake up Israel’s election campaign and potentially spell the end of the prime minister’s illustrious political career.” [AP]

MEANWHILE, WHERE’S BIBI? — Filming Facebook videos on the roof of the Ritz Carlton Moscow, made infamous by the Trump-Russia dossier. Netanyahu appears to be standing next to the rooftop Macallan Winter Baroverlooking the Kremlin and Red Square. No word on whether Bibi enjoyed the 1969 Macallan single malt whisky available on the menu at $400 a measure.

HEARD THIS MORNING — President Trump during a press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam: “I can say this, [Netanyahu] has done a great job as prime minister. He’s tough, smart, and strong. He’s very defensive, his military has been built up a lot. They buy a lot of equipment from the U.S.”[Video]

Is Netanyahu coordinating with Trump over ‘deal of the century’? — by Ben Caspit: “The prevailing opinion within Israel’s highest political-security ranks is that Netanyahu is completely in the U.S. administration’s loop regarding the ‘deal of the century.’ … The [plan], explains a high-level Israeli Cabinet member, ‘is meant to try to extricate Netanyahu from his legal troubles. After the elections, he is supposed to take a political turn to the center and announce to the public that there is no way he can turn down the best US president that Israel ever faced in the White House.'” [Al-Monitor]

KAFE KNESSET — Sexual Harassment Claim Made Against Gantz — by Neri Zilber: An Israeli national living in the U.S. alleged yesterday in a public Facebook post that main Netanyahu challenger Benny Gantz (head of Blue and White) sexually harassed her when both were teenagers studying in a youth village in central Israel in the 1970s. Israel’s Channel 12 interviewed a distraught Nava Jacobs on its primetime telecast last night, with the local press debating whether it was appropriate to air/publish such uncorroborated, four-decades old accusations. Walla News reported today that a senior Likud minister may have assisted Jacobs in airing the salacious details, a claim the Likud has denied. Blue and White, for its part, told Kafe Knesset that the allegations were “a blatant lie” and that they were pursuing legal action against the woman. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset newsletter by subscribing here [KafeKnesset]

NYTimes editorial… “Netanyahu Stoops to Survive: Perhaps AIPAC will use its gathering to let Mr. Netanyahu know that his pact with the Kahanists is unacceptable. And then it will be the Israeli people’s task to sort this out.” [NYT]

Israel’s Election Shows How Dead the Two-State Solution Really Is — by Shmuel Rosner: “The main parties, Likud and Kahol Lavan, both speak about security much more than about peace. Both are attacked from the right because of the likelihood that they will accept the ‘deal of the century’ — President Trump’s peace plan… Both are attacked from the left for offering essentially the same platform… So, this is it. The two-state solution is acceptable to most Israelis, including center-right, center and center-left Israeli voters, only if the Palestinians do not really get what they consider a state. This probably means that it cannot be a solution.” [NYTimes]

2020 WATCH — Beto O’Rourke has decided not to run for U.S. Senate next year against Texas Republican incumbent John Cornyn and likely will announce a campaign for president soon… As Joe Biden weighs 2020 bid, Democrats ask: ‘Does he meet the moment?’… Michael Bloomberg lookingat 7 World Trade Center and the old NYT building in Times Square as headquarters for 2020 campaign… Inside Chuck Schumer’s plot to be majority leader.

HAPPENING TODAY — The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) enters its second day at the National Harbor in Maryland, with speakers like former Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka, Fox News host Laura Ingraham and political strategist Matt Schlapp headlining some of the day’s events. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is expected to speak in the afternoon, although his speech has been left untitled, and Dore Gold, former advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will hold a session on ‘Protecting the Freedom of Jerusalem.’

** Good Thursday 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: Robert Greenblatt is in advanced talks with AT&T to take a senior role at WarnerMedia that could include oversight of the HBO and Turner entertainment networks [WSJ Bob Iger’s Disney-Fox Merger Nears Completion as Brazil Grants Approval With Conditions [Variety• Altice Europe’s Portuguese Fiber Is Said to Draw Brookfield, KKR [Bloomberg]• Ashkenazy deal for Brookfield’s Atlantis resort in the Bahamas falls through [RealDeal] • Scott Bessent, the former investor for George Soros lists a $22.5 Million Hamptons home [WSJ] • Experts question value of Hawaiian statue Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff bought for $7 million [BusinessInsider]

Israel’s Newest Airport Is a Futuristic Desert Mirage — by Nick Mafi: “The new airport — which was named after Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon (who died in the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster) and his son Asaf, an Israeli Air Force pilot (who died during a training exercise) — is a $473.5 million structure that’s slated to begin operations this winter… What makes this airport so different from most others in the world is not only its location but also the fact that much of the technical infrastructure was buried underground. This includes the area through which both public and private vehicles travel to drop off and park. Furthermore, baggage handling, security processes, and other technical operations are located dozens of feet below ground. This allows for much of the logistical work to be done underground, opening the ground level to provide uninterrupted views of the dramatic desert expanse all around.”[ArchitecturalDigest]

DEEP DIVE — Inside Facebook’s War on Hate Speech — by Simon van Zuylen-Wood: “Guy Rosen’s team trained its automatic detection classifier to seek only the most severe tier of hate speech. Since then, Facebook has gone from flagging about a quarter of all hate speech before users do, to more than half, without accidentally removing proud uses of ‘dyke.’ … Here’s how it works in practice: late last year, Facebook removed several posts by Yair Netanyahu, the son of Israel’s prime minister. Netanyahu had called Palestinians ‘monsters’ and advocated that ‘all the Muslims leave the land of Israel.’ Palestinians and Muslims are both protected groups. ‘Monster’ is dehumanizing, ‘leave’ is a call for exclusion, and both are classified as hate speech. The removal was consistent with the new policy. In response, Netanyahu called Facebook ‘the thought police.'” [VanityFair]

Court filing links spy exposed by AP to Israel’s Black Cube — by Raphael Satter and Aron Heller: “In a court filing made public last week, Toronto attorney Darryl Levitt says that the spy, whose real name is Aharon Almog-Assouline, ‘bears a striking similarity’ to a man he identified as an alleged Black Cube operative… Levitt made his claim after reading the AP’s account of how Almog-Assouline was caught trying to extract information from an employee of Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity research group, at the Peninsula Hotel in New York on Jan. 24.” [AP]

MEDIA WATCH — theSkimm is launching a daily news podcast offering contextualized, nonpartisan coverage — by Sarah Perez: “News media company theSkimm is delving further into podcasting, with the launch of its first daily news podcast called Skimm This, set to launch on March 4… For starters, it will be released in the evenings — Monday through Friday at 5 PM — in order to reach people hitting the gym after work, commuters on their way home, or those who like to listen to podcasts during dinner prep, among others… Skimm This will focus on around four stories in total over the course of about 10 minutes.” [TechCrunch]

A new conservative media company — by Mike Allen: “Jonah Goldberg is leaving National Review in the coming months to start a new conservative media company with Steve Hayes, who was editor-in-chief of The Weekly Standard when its owner shut it down in December.” [Axios]

What’s Next For New Yorker Reporter Jane Mayer? — by Molly Langmuir: “Since 2016, due to some weird alchemy between Twitter, where Mayer has 167,000 followers, and the rise of Trump, her work’s prominence has risen dramatically, with her New Yorker features — about Trump’s The Art of the Deal ghostwriter, about the ex-spy behind the Trump dossier — slamming into the media landscape, one after the next… The paradox is that Mayer is having this moment at a time when even deeply reported pieces are dismissed as ‘fake news’ and blockbuster stories soon get swallowed up.” [Elle]

SPOTLIGHT — Israeli musician with Iraqi roots finds fans from Tel Aviv to Baghdad — by Rami Ayyub and Hamuda Hassan: “Singing in Arabic, an Israeli musician is winning over listeners from Tel Aviv to Baghdad, covering tunes by his grandfather and great uncle, an Iraqi Jewish duo who were once two of the Arab world’s most famous performers… ‘We get reactions from all over the Arab world, on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram,’ Dudu Tassa, who regularly sells out concerts in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities, said… ‘We love Dudu not only because he is the grandson of [Daoud] al-Kuwaiti, but because he has his own unique style,’ Fatima Kabbani, 24, said while streaming Tassa’s music from a park near the University of Baghdad.” [Reuters]

TALK OF THE TOWN — Meet the Muslim family who looks after a Jewish synagogue in India — by Nina Strochlic: “Today, only two dozen Jews live in Kolkata, according to the New York Times, but dedicated Muslim caretakers tend to the three active synagogues and their dwindling congregations. One patriarch, featured in this Short Film Showcase, has been a caretaker for 60 years. He now shares the work with his two sons. Without them, the last vestiges of a Jewish Kolkata could disappear… With only a few aging members left, the last of Kolkata’s Jews fear that the community’s future will be a memory held by gravestones and fading street names. For now, the synagogues are kept afloat by donations and the dedication of the Muslim families who oversee them.” [NationalGeographic]

SPORTS BLINK — Saudi Arabia Rejects Report That Prince Wants Manchester United — by Zaid Sabah and Steve Geimann: “Saudi Arabia dismissed a U.K. newspaper report that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is stalking Manchester United and wants to tempt the Glazer family to cede control of the Premier League soccer team… United is controlled by the Glazer family, owners of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers… They have no interest in selling, the newspaper said.” [Bloomberg]

Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea confronts anti-Semitism problem — by Rob Harris: “For more than a year, Chelsea has been working with Jewish organizations to harness the power and influence of the world’s biggest sport to promote a more inclusive environment at games… UEFA disciplinary officials on Thursday will decide how to punish Chelsea for anti-Semitic chants made by fans during a Europa League game in Hungary in December against Vidi. Chelsea could be forced to play a game behind closed doors without any fans… Bruce Buck hopes up to $4 million will be raised for the campaign, and that awareness will be boosted by Chelsea playing a game later this year in suburban Boston against Robert Kraft’s New England Revolution.” [WashPost]

BIRTHDAYS: Counsel in the NYC office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a former New York State Assemblyman (1957-1962) and New York state judge (1970-1993), Bentley Kassal turns 102… Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1972, Professor of Science at Brown University since 1958, Leon Cooper turns 89… Professor emeritus of Mathematics at the University of California, San Diego, Linda Preiss Rothschild turns 74… Screen, stage and television actress and singer, Ilene Susan Graff turns 70… Former State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism (2013-2017), Ira Niles Forman turns 67… NYTimes op-ed columnist and 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, author of 27 books, Paul Krugman turns 66… Professor of medicine and chairman of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, and brother of ZOA president Morton Klein, Samuel Klein, MD turns 66… Stand-up comedian, actor and voice actor, Gilbert Gottfried turns 64… Self-described as “America’s most notorious lobbyist,” at the center of an investigation that led to 21 convictions, Jack Abramoff turns 60…

Editor-in-chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Andrew Silow-Carrollturns 58… Jerusalem-born businessman and philanthropist, worked as a NYC taxi driver after completing his IDF service, started and sold several companies in the automotive field, Mordechai (Moti) Kahana turns 51… Deputy director general for international affairs of all local governments in Israel, she formerly served as advisor for Shimon Peres, Ruth Wasserman Lande turns 43… Mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey, he was first elected in 2013 and re-elected in 2017, Steven Fulop turns 42… Reporter for The New York Times covering campaigns, elections and political power, Lisa Lerer turns 39… Research director at Purple Strategies, Erica Goldman turns 31 (h/ts Playbook)… Commercial and constitutional litigator in the Los Angeles office of Latham & Watkins, he is vice chair of the LA branch of the American Constitution Society, Adam Sieff turns 30… Risk assurance associate in the Boston office of PwC, Li-dor David turns 29… Executive Director of the Montreal chapter of ORT, Emmanuel Kalles

And special wishes for those whose birthday truly only happens every four years — on February 29th: Advisory director and senior investment strategist at Goldman Sachs, where she was the long-time Chief Investment Strategist, former Board Chair at Jewish Theological Seminary (2009-2015), Abby Joseph Cohen turns 67… Former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives (2013-2018), Paul D. Rosenthal turns 59… Former US Supreme Court law clerk and now a UCLA law professor known for his eponymous prominent legal blog “The Volokh Conspiracy,” Eugene Volokh turns 51… Israeli mountain climber, search and rescue professional, photographer and speaker, best known for his heroic rescue of an unconscious Turk he found near the summit of Mount Everest in 2012, Nadav Ben Yehuda turns 31… Samantha Friedman turns 27…

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