Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: January 3, 2019
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Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: January 3, 2019

Pentagon official: Syria withdrawal plan aims to please Trump ‘and not get everyone killed’; Sen. Elizabeth Warren donates salary to Jewish nonprofit amid government shutdown

Turkey-backed Syrian fighters walk down a street in the town of Qirata, near the rebel-held border town of Jarabulus, on December 23, 2018. (Bakr ALKASEM / AFP)
Turkey-backed Syrian fighters walk down a street in the town of Qirata, near the rebel-held border town of Jarabulus, on December 23, 2018. (Bakr ALKASEM / AFP)

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DRIVING THE DAY — The 116th Congress is set to convene today at noon as members solemnly swear to govern a divided nation. While Republicans will increase their majority in the Senate, Democrats will take over control of the House of Representatives with Nancy Pelosi returning to the speakership to serve as the voice of the opposition to President Trump.[CSPAN]

Following the swearing-in session, Democrats are expected to attend the Speaker’s Tea honoring the Democratic women of the 116th Congress at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. In the evening, a celebration dinner honoring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Italian Embassy will be attended by former President Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton, as well as former Secretary of State John Kerry, among others.

Daniel Shapiro emails us: “Today, America restores the checks and balances the Founders intended, with a Democratic House majority that will assert itself, pursue a different agenda from the Administration, and conduct badly needed Congressional oversight. With a Democratic House and Republican Senate, and the 2020 election fast upon us, compromise will be difficult to come by, but for many Democrats, stopping Administration excesses and ethical abuses, and laying out an agenda for when Democrats have fuller control, will be worthwhile in its own right.”

“Hopefully, even more can be achieved. I expect continued strong bipartisan support for the close U.S.-Israel security partnership, and renewed emphasis on preserving, and where possible advancing, the two-state solution.”

Norm Eisen: “Nancy Pelosi will cement her reputation as one of the greatest Speakers ever, right up there with Sam Rayburn, by once again doing the impossible. Then it was getting a divided and unruly caucus to pass legislation that had thwarted every previous speaker for decades. The challenge is that there is so much to investigate, but with Pelosi working with smart and deeply experienced committee chairs like Jerry Nadler, Adam Schiff and Elijah Cummings, the investigations will be devastating. That does not mean that deals will not happen on things like re-opening the government and infrastructure. Both sides need them and they will get done, as will the pro-Israel legislation. Pelosi has demonstrated the ability to work with the independent members of her caucus since the election, as she has throughout her career, and while there may be some continued drama, she will find workable compromises.”

Newly-elected members to be sworn in today include Andy Levin (D-MI), Mike Levin (D-CA), Max Rose (D-NY), Dr. Kim Schrier (D-WA), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Dean Phillips (D-MI), Susan Wild (D-PA), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).

The new Congress will also feature a group of young activist members — including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) — who plan to defy leadership and dominate headlines. [Pic]

THE OLD GUARD TOO — “Rep. Brad Sherman plans to introduce articles of impeachment against President Trump on Thursday, the first day of Democratic control of the House.” [LATimes]

Noah Rothman, Associate Editor of Commentary Magazine, tells us: “It is clear that the independent streak exhibited by freshman Reps. Ro Khanna and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez signal that the Democrats, too, will have to deal with an unwieldy cohort of ideologically zealous lawmakers who command the sympathies of the base, just as Republicans did when they took the House majority in 2011. And given that even Sen. Elizabeth Warren had to pay deference to Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal plan when announcing a 2020 presidential exploratory committee, and the freshman representative thanked her for her prudent courtesy, they appear aware of the power they are being allowed to wield.”

Zaid Jilani writes… “Ilhan Omar Needs To Apologize For Her Anti-Semitic Tweet – Like I Did: Omar cannot make the same mistake I did of affiliating so strongly with one group — pro-Palestinian activists — that she is unable to talk to the other side and understand that they are mostly good people who simply have different convictions… As much as I may disagree with pro-Israel activists, I have committed myself to not demonizing them or their concerns, and if Omar is truly going to be the effective and courageous advocate I know that she can be, she should do the same.” [Forward]

Georgia Democrat blasts Trump from pulpit, comparing president to Hitler — by Jessica Chasmar: “Marking the 156th anniversary of the implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) warned black congregants at Atlanta’s Friendship Baptist Church to remain “diligent” against creeping tyranny by right-wing conservatives… “The Jewish people know a thing about tyranny,” he said. “Hitler did not start the Nazi Party, but he took over the party with charisma and leadership. The Nazis and Hitler became synonymous. Much like how Hitler took over the Nazi party, Trump has taken over the Republican Party.” [WashTimes]

Flashback to July 2016: “Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia compared Israeli settlers to “termites” and accused Jews of stealing Palestinian homes.” [NYPost

— RJC’s Matt Brooks in a statement: “The fact that Johnson serves on the Judiciary Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – and may be a Judiciary subcommittee chairman in the new Congress – is mind-boggling. The House of Representatives should hold Johnson accountable for his words by censuring him when the new Congress convenes this week.”

SHUTDOWN WATCH  — Sen. Elizabeth Warren donates salary to Jewish nonprofit helping refugees at the Mexico border amid government shutdown — by Paulina Cachero: “As the government shutdown enters its second week with Democratic congressional leaders and the president locked in a stalemate over funding a fortified wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, Senator Elizabeth Warren announced that she will be donating her Congressional salary to HIAS Refugees, a global Jewish nonprofit helping asylum seekers at the southern U.S. border. The Mass. representative said she will be donating her paychecks to the organization because she believes they “make our country stronger in the process.” [YahooLifestyle]

HEARD YESTERDAY — Mitt Romney on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper: “I think it’s important, as I begin this new job, to make it very clear where I stand. And I also note that the departure of Secretary Mattis and the decision to pull out of Syria and the abrupt way it was done was a precipitating event for my finally going on the record.” [Video]

Pentagon official: 120-day Syria withdrawal plan aims to please Trump ‘and not get everyone killed’ — by Jake Tapper: “Pentagon officials told President Donald Trump that his order to withdraw troops from Syria within 30 days was physically impossible without significant risk to US forces, multiple informed sources tell CNN, and the new 120-day timeline is not an example of anything but reality, logistics, and physics… The 120-day timeline is the military “trying to please the President and not get everyone killed,” one Pentagon official told CNN. “They should probably take longer if you ask me.” [CNN]

President Trump on Syria withdrawal at the start of a cabinet meeting: “Iran is no longer the same country. Iran is pulling people out of Syria. They can do what they want there, frankly, but they’re pulling people out. They’re pulling people out of Yemen. Iran wants to survive now.”

Incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD): “I strongly urge the President to issue a statement making clear that Iran must not be allowed to gain a permanent foothold in Syria from which it can threaten rocket attacks on Israel and sow instability in Jordan.”

Dov Zakheim tells us: “I think it’s a huge mistake. The Iranian government has faced opposition for a long, long time. They’re not about to fall tomorrow. In the meantime, if they wind up having a free road, essentially, from Iran to the Israeli border, they will embolden Hezbollah beyond where they already are, which is bad enough, and they will create a big problem for Israel. The president, he’s heard the concerns from Netanyahu, he’s heard from a lot of people, and he’s trying to backtrack at the same time, as he doesn’t want to admit that he made a major, major error.”

“But this is the thing about the President. In the morning it’s one thing, in the afternoon it’s something else, and in the evening it’ll be a third thing. He’s making it very difficult for his senior officials. There’s nothing new there, and it comes as no surprise.”

VIEW FROM JERUSALEM — Israeli official ‘in shock’ that Trump doesn’t get Iran moves in Syria — by Itamar Eichner: “It’s unfortunate that he isn’t paying attention to the evidence provided by the intelligence services,” said a senior Israeli source. “We are in a state of shock. Trump simply doesn’t understand the extent of the Iranian military’s presence in the region. What is comforting is that at least Trump isn’t opposed to Israel’s operations in Syria… The president’s statement will not change the situation as far as we are concerned, we will continue to act resolutely against the Iranian entrenchment.” [Ynet]

Josh Rogin writes… “Welcome to the world of President Rand Paul: Several U.S. officials and people who have spoken directly to Trump since his Syria decision tell me they believe that Paul’s frequent phone conversations with Trump, wholly outside the policy process, are having an outsize influence on the president’s recent foreign policy decisions. The two golf buddies certainly are sounding a lot alike recently… Everyone is aware that Paul’s voice is one to which the president is paying increasing attention. The existing concern over Paul’s influence on Russia policy has now boiled over with respect to Syria.” [WashPost]

SIGHTING —Rand Paul’s Communications Director Sergio Gor visited the Western Wall during a family trip to Israel yesterday. [Pic]

TALK OF THE REGION — Hariri urges end to Lebanon impasse as Hezbollah voices optimism: “Legislators have been unable to agree on a new cabinet since a general election in May. They remain at odds over how to parcel out cabinet positions among rival groups according to Lebanon’s confessional political system that allocates government positions according to sect. Meanwhile, the country continues to face economic malaise after months of political deadlock.” [AlJazeeraBloomberg]

Robert Nicholson, Executive Director of The Philos Project, tells us: “The only way to reduce the power of Hezbollah is to reduce the power of Iran, but it’s not really clear that the U.S. is interested in doing that. While Trump did cancel the Iran deal and levied sanctions, he seems less interested in checking Iranian power on the ground. His current policies actually seem likely to give Iran a stronger hand in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. That leaves Israel and its Arab allies to check the Iranians. Whether they’ll be content to rely on targeted strikes to degrade Iranian assets in Syria or will feel compelled to wage a wider war remains to be seen, but the situation seems unsustainable given America’s imminent withdrawal. Something’s got to give.”

“The future of Lebanon will be decided by these greater dynamics. All Lebanese politics stand in the shadow of regional conflict. The country has always been a microcosm of the wider region.”

TOP TALKER — A short statement made during a 90-minute cabinet meeting raised eyebrows after the President offered an unconventional explanation for the fall of the Soviet Union yesterday. “Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan,” Trump stated in remarks to reporters at the start of the meeting. “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt; they went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union.”

Josh Rogin tweeted“Does Trump know America led a worldwide campaign to stop the Soviet Union, which included helping Afghans fight the Soviet invasion? Seems clear he does not. #facepalm.”

Susan Glasser“That sound you hear is historians, everywhere, weeping…”

Aaron Blake“The overlap between the fall of the Soviet Union and its foray into Afghanistan is obvious. The USSR invaded in 1979 and left a decade later, in 1989. The superpower dissolved shortly thereafter in 1991. But correlation is not causation. And Trump — who was using that anecdote to argue that the United States should pull out of Afghanistan and Syria — is really straining for causation here.”

ROAD TO THE NEW KNESSET — Polls show Gabbay’s live ousting of Tzipi Livni lost Labor support… Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and Yahadut HaTorah are reportedly in talks to form an electoral alliance that would boost Netanyahu’s chances to form a majority government… Former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is said to be considering joining the Likud Party…

2020 WATCH — Sexism Claims From Bernie Sanders’s 2016 Run: Paid Less, Treated Worse — by Sydney Ember and Katie Benner: “Episodes of sexual harassment and demeaning treatment as well as pay disparity in Mr. Sanders’s 2016 campaign have circulated in recent weeks in emails, online comments and private discussions among former supporters. Now, as the Vermont senator tries to build support for a second run at the White House, his perceived failure to address this issue has damaged his progressive bona fides.” [NYTimes] • Sanders contrite as 2016 aides face harassment allegations [AP]

Sen. Amy Klobuchar to decide soon on presidential bid — by Patrick Condon: “Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Wednesday that she is “getting close to a decision” about running for president in 2020… “I’m continuing to talk to people about it,” the Minnesota Democrat said.” [StarTribune]

Starbucks guru is said to be considering a run for the White House. That might be a hard sell in Seattle — by Mike Seely: “Howard Schultz, owner of Starbucks, a Seattle institution, also is the former owner of the Seattle SuperSonics, and for many Seattle residents that’s a problem, at least when it comes to giving him their vote… In 2006, Schultz sold the Sonics to an ownership group led by Oklahoma City energy baron Clay Bennett… Soon after the sale, Bennett moved the NBA team to the Sooner State and rechristened them the Thunder. Schultz completed this transaction 12 years ago, but in Seattle, where bitter Sonics fans still abound, it might as well have been yesterday.” [LATimes]

Evangelical Mega-donors Are Rethinking Money in Politics — by Emma Green: “In previous years, evangelicals responded to a sense of declining cultural power with anxiety—that is what yielded the age of “ferment” that Crouch described. But at least among this subset of next-generation evangelical mega-donors, there doesn’t seem to be much of a desire to fight the culture. Their hope, instead, is that they will be known by their fruits.”[TheAtlantic]

** 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: Apollo Global Is Aiming for Arconic Deal by Mid-January [Bloomberg• Activist Elliott embraces private equity strategy[FinancialTimes] • For Hedge Funds This Year, $1 Billion Is the Loneliest Number [Bloomberg] • Kushner firm wins records dispute against Jersey City[NorthJersey] • Amitim Senior Pension Funds, the largest institutional investor in Israel by assets under management, plans to allocate $3 billion to private-equity investments globally [WSJ] • Carl’s Jr launches vegan Beyond Meat burgers [ReutersFT] • Israel’s Leumi considers listing U.S. banking unit [Reuters]

Billionaire landlords bailed on tunnel tour — by Daniel Geiger: “Steven Roth and Richard LeFrak, who each control large real estate portfolios in the city, were to visit the Hudson River tunnels with Cuomo on Dec. 11 as part of a series of public inspections of Superstorm Sandy infrastructure damages. Cuomo has been locked in a struggle with Trump to come up with $13 billion for a new pair of Hudson River rail tunnels… Roth and LeFrak are friends of Trump and, earlier in his presidency, served on a committee that was to advise the White House on national infrastructure spending priorities and how to fund them… Roth, chief executive of the $11.5 billion public real estate company Vornado Realty Trust, had appeared ambivalent toward the tunnel project.” [CrainsNY]

SPORTS BLINK — 2018’s Top 50 Most Influential People in Sports Business include — Adam Silver, David Levy, Joe Lacob, Peter Guber, Gary Bettman, Mark Lazarus, Ari Emanuel, Patrick Whitesell, Robert Kraft, Michael Levine, Howard Nuchow, Michael Rapino, Arthur Blank, and Bobby Kotick. [SportsBusinessDaily]

Jim Harbaugh, Stephen Ross and the rumors that simply won’t go away — by Adam Beasley: “Miami Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross left all but zero wiggle room last week when he said in no uncertain terms that Jim Harbaugh would not be the Dolphins’ next coach. Ross will not try to lure Harbaugh from Michigan, where Harbaugh, 55, has coached since 2015. And yet, former Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik… is not convinced.”[MiamiHerald]

TALK OF THE TOWN — Uffizi Prods Germans to Return Painting Stolen in World War II — by Elisabetta Povoledo: “The Uffizi Galleries in Florence, Italy, is calling on the German government to step into a dispute over a baroque painting that German soldiers took 75 years ago. “Vase of Flowers,” by the 18th-century Dutch master Jan van Huysum, is in private hands in Germany, and neither the museum nor the Italian authorities have been unable to persuade or pressure the people who have it to give it up. The Uffizi made its message public on Twitter on Tuesday, with a link to a lengthy “appeal to Germany for 2019” by its director, Eike Schmidt… Stuart E. Eizenstat, a former State Department official and White House adviser, said that the Italian government had not carried out “provenance research or listing of possible Nazi-looted art in their public museums,” and that Italy appeared to be more interested in “what the Italian government lost.” [NYTimes]

ACROSS THE POND — British Jews look to Germany for Brexit ‘insurance policy’ — by Hannah Roberts: “With anti-Semitic attacks on the rise since the Brexit referendum — and in the wake of a campaign that played on resentment of foreigners and immigrants — many now look to Germany, which opened its doors to refugees at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, as a place of relative safety and tolerance… A German passport is “an insurance policy,” says Gaby Franklin, an author and interior designer.” [PoliticoEU]

TRANSITION — Former New York State Senator Jeff Klein is joiningMercury Public Affairs as co-chair for the firm’s New York business. Klein served as leader of the Independent Democratic Conference until his defeat in the Democratic Party’s primaries last September.

DESSERT — Citing ‘spiritual trauma,’ judge orders company to pay $25K for misrepresenting cake mix as kosher — by Joseph Brean: “An Ontario judge has acknowledged the “spiritual trauma” that can be done to observant Jews who unwittingly eat non-kosher food, and ordered a cake mix company to pay $25,000 to Canada’s largest kosher food certification agency for misusing its logo. “The kosher Jewish community takes their dietary habits extremely seriously, and thus have placed enormous trust on the (Kashruth Council of Canada) to maintain high standards of control,” wrote Small Claims Court Deputy Judge Lai-King Hum.” [NationalPost]

Why Middle Eastern Fast-Casual Chain Naf Naf Is Growing So Fast — by Gary Stern: “According to research firm Technomic’s ranking of the top 500 restaurant chains in the U.S., Naf Naf Middle Eastern Grill is one of the country’s fastest-growing eateries… In 2018 it grew to 36 units, all company-owned, with two more planned for 2019. Naf Naf actually means “fan the flame” in Hebrew and suggests encouraging friends and family to come together for a meal.” [Forbes]

Four Kosher Food Spots on the Upper West Side Close Down; What Gives? — by Alex Israel: “Four kosher businesses –Seasons (661 Amsterdam Avenue), Chocolate Works (641 Amsterdam) near 91st Street, Big Bang Burger (426 Amsterdam) near 80th, and CoffeeBerry (618 Amsterdam) near 90th – have closed their doors on the Upper West Side… Despite a local demand for kosher establishments, high rent paired with the necessary regulation from the glatt kosher industry puts them at even more of a disadvantage, some say.”[WestSideRag]

REMEMBERING — Bob Einstein, Actor on ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ Dies at 76 — by Jackie Strause: “Bob Einstein, the two-time, Emmy-winning writer and actor who recurred on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and created the character of Super Dave Osborne, has died… Born Stewart Robert Einstein in 1942 Los Angeles, the middle child of three boys was raised Jewish by his parents, comic Harry Einstein and actress-singer Thelma Leeds… Einstein recurred on Larry David’s HBO comedy as Marty Funkhouser since the fourth season and was one of many characters to return for the comeback season that aired in 2017.” [HollywoodReporterNBCNews]

BIRTHDAYS: Treasury Secretary under President Carter (1977-1979), CEO of Burroughs Corporation and Unisys, followed by 17 years as director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, W. Michael Blumenthal turns 93… Professor of Medicine and chairman of the medical ethics committee at Columbia University Medical Center, Kenneth Prager, M.D. turns 76… CNN legal analyst, he was formerly a Watergate prosecutor and later a member of the 9/11 Commission, Richard Ben-Veniste turns 76… Contributing editor at Vanity Fair, he was previously the legal affairs reporter at The New York Times, David Margolickturns 67… Graduate of West Point and with a Harvard MBA, partner and managing director in the NYC office of the Boston Consulting Group, Neal Zuckerman turns 48… DC-based national healthcare policy reporter for The Los Angeles Times, Noam Naftali Levey turns 48… Founder and president of Golden Strategies since 2018, she was previously the director of political advertising sales at Twitter, Jenna Golden turns 35… Executive director at Guns Down since 2018, he was previously a VP at the Center for American Progress, Igor Volsky turns 33… Historian and prolific author Joshua Zeitzturns 45… Director of Israel Engagement at the Union for Reform Judaism, Reuven Greenvald… Michael Novack… Alana Herbst

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