Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: July 24, 2019
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Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: July 24, 2019

Robert Malley met with Iranian FM in New York City; Rashida Tlaib compares BDS to Americans boycotting Nazi Germany

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019 (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019 (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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JI SCOOP — Robert Malley met with Iran’s foreign minister in NYC — by Jacob Kornbluh: Robert Malley, a former Obama administration national security official, met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during the Iranian diplomat’s visit to New York last week, Jewish Insiderhas learned.

Malley is currently the president and CEO of the International Crisis Group in Washington, D.C. A spokesperson for the Crisis Group confirmed the meeting, and insisted that it was part of the group’s “regular contacts with all parties, whether it be Iran, the U.S., Gulf states or European countries.”[JewishInsider]

Former Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro tells JI: “Individuals, including former U.S. government officials, meeting with foreign government officials in their current professional capacities is completely legitimate. If they do, they should be at pains to guard against giving Iranian officials the impression that they are an alternative outlet to debate U.S. policy. We have one government and one president at a time. If we have disagreements on U.S. policy — as I do, including believing that the administration should have a diplomatic dialogue with Iran — we should direct that debate within the U.S., not to foreign governments.”

HEARD YESTERDAY — Bill de Blasio: ‘I will use my right to free speech to oppose BDS’ — by JI’s Laura Kelly: On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defended his opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel on a panel at the Muslim Collective for Equitable Democracy Conference in Washington D.C.

“I believe in the right to free speech, so I will use my right to free speech to oppose BDS. But I’m not telling other people they don’t have the right to free speech,” said de Blasio, a Democratic presidential hopeful. 

De Blasio added: “I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that I’m pandering on an issue that I care about a lot. Because I have strong views on BDS and I suspect I disagree with a lot of people in the room, but I want to tell you why… It’s about the thing itself. I believe, I’ve always believed, I still believe it’s possible to have a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.”[JewishInsiderPic]

ON THE HILL — by JI’s Laura Kelly: The House voted overwhelmingly to condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, closing one chapter on an issue that stoked deep divisions among Democrats since the early months of the 116th Congress. While the vote passed with a majority of 398 Democrats and Republicans, there were 17 no votes and five abstentions.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), who abstained, recording her vote as “present,” didn’t want to discuss the vote, telling Jewish Insider, “I’m not going to talk about it.” The other abstaining Democrats included Danny K. Davis (D-IL) and Jared Huffman (D-CA), although Huffman signed on as a co-sponsor to the resolution.

Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI), who recently left the Republican Party, abstained, casting his vote as present.

Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA), a freshman congresswoman who flipped Georgia’s sixth congressional district in 2018, told JI that she signed on as an early co-sponsor of Rep. Brad Schneider’s resolution because she doesn’t believe in boycotts and divestment as effective means in achieving peace. “I think we should always be brokers for peace and I think the United States has had a responsibility towards continuing to be peacekeepers,” she said. “I don’t believe in any other way, any other means, other than the measures that we’re taking. But not divestment and sanctions, I just don’t believe in that.”

Democrats who voted “no” included Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Andre Carson (D-IN), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Notably, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), of “The Squad” that includes Tlaib, Omar and Ocasio-Cortez, voted in favor of the resolution.

Pocan, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus and an ally of Omar, spoke on the House floor and said while he does not support BDS, he couldn’t vote in favor of the resolution as worded. “I also do not support the resolution today as it goes too far, in my opinion, in telling people what they can or should think or say about the situation in Israel.” 

Pocan also questioned why a resolution supporting the two-state solution — authored by Reps. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and Bass — was not also brought to the floor. “I was told a resolution advocating for a two-state solution would be up today as well,” he said. “A resolution I support. But apparently it is not, and that is a mistake.”

Six Democrats, including vocal BDS supporters Omar and Tlaib, introduced a resolution last week affirming boycotts as legitimate expressions of speech. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) joined on as a leading co-sponsor. On Tuesday, Lewis voted in favor of the anti-BDS measure, of which he was also a co-sponsor.

Ocasio-Cortez told BuzzFeed News“My concern with being overly punitive on nonviolent forms of protest is that it forces people into other channels and I would hate to be a part of, you know, paving that kind of path.”

Earlier in the day, Tlaib defended her support of the BDS movement in a floor speech: “Americans boycotted Nazi Germany in response to the dehumanization, imprisonment and genocide of the Jewish people,” she said.[Video

Twelve members of Congress didn’t cast a vote on the resolution, even though 11 of them had signed on as co-sponsors. This includes Reps. Ralph Lee Abraham (R-LA), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), Greg Gianforte (R-MT), Sam Graves (R-MO), Martha Roby (R-AL), Chris Stewart (R-UT), Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL).

Moulton, who is a Democratic presidential primary candidate, emailed JI that his absence was due to a scheduling conflict but that he would have voted in favor.

“The bill on the floor today created incentives for Americans not to participate in the BDS movement, a movement I believe might complicate America’s position as a potential broker of a lasting two-state peace plan,” he wrote. “However, I value the First Amendment, and for those reasons do not support other measures that penalize or criminalize participation in the BDS movement,” he added. “I believe this bill did a good job of creating positive incentives and that in turn will take some pressure off the peace negotiations that the BDS movement creates. I’m glad it passed.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) was the only congressman who did not cast a vote. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), voted no, consistent with his view of congressional authority.

The House also passed by voice vote Rep. Ted Deutch’s bill on the U.S.-Israel relationship (H.R.1837), writing into law the 10-year memorandum of understanding signed under President Obama. Reps. Brian Mast (R-FL) and Josh Gottheimer’s (D-NJ) bill on sanctioning associates of Hamas (H.R.1850) also passed by a voice vote.

JI INTERVIEW — Rep. Brad Schneider, who originally sponsored H.R. 246, spoke to JI’s Jacob Kornbluh following the vote on the anti-BDS resolution: “This sends a strong bipartisan message that the United States Congress (a) supports Israel and Israel’s security (b) supports the path to security through a negotiated two-state solution and (c) strongly and in a clear articulated language, condemns the BDS movement as anathema to peace, moving it further away.”

Schneider on why the resolution, rather than legislation, sends the right message: “I’m proud to be from Illinois, which was the first state to take action against BDS, and I have supported that legislation in the past. But that doesn’t take away from what’s happening tonight. We have roughly 80 percent of the House of Representatives co-sponsoring a resolution supporting Israel, supporting two states and condemning BDS. That is a strong statement, especially when you think that BDS is active in delegitimizing Israel within cultural forums, international forums, and also on college campuses. For pro-Israel students to be going back to school armed with the knowledge that Congress supports their position and condemns the BDS movement, that’s a really important statement.”

On the political debate, the Democratic lawmaker added: “I will condemn efforts by the president and others who are trying to use Israel to create a wedge between the two parties. Israel’s security is enhanced by the very fact that Israel in the U.S. Congress enjoys bipartisan support. And for either one, anyone on either side of the political divide, to believe that it’s in their interest to use Israel as a wedge between the parties, or a club against another party, is doing a disservice to Israel, is doing a disservice to the Jewish community, and is putting Israel’s long-term security at risk.”

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to sanction Turkey for purchasing the Russian S400 air defense system. The letter — co-signed by all of the Democratic members on the committee — also criticized the president for not including Democrats in a meeting with Senate Republicans on the matter. “United States foreign policy is most effective and durable when done in a bipartisan way,” they wrote.

Trump met with 45 Republican senators at the White House on Tuesday to discuss possible sanctions on Turkey. See here for a full list of attendees. 

DRIVING THE DAY — Robert Mueller will arrive on Capitol Hill this morning to give testimony and answer questions about his two-year investigation into the president and his ties to Russia. All eyes in D.C. are expected to be on Mueller, who will be speaking publicly about the investigation for the first time, though many experts have said they do not expect any bombshell revelations during his appearance. [CSPAN

CNN’s Manu Raju, Jeremy Herb and Evan Perez report“Lawmakers from both parties went through their final preparations ahead of Wednesday’s hearing… Norm Eisen, a counsel on the House Judiciary Committee, played Mueller during a mock hearing with Democrats on the committee.”

IRAN WATCH — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that Iran is “completely ready for just, legal and honest negotiations to solve the problems.” The president did not specify with whom, though he was likely referring to talks with the United States over pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal. Rouhani added: “But at the same time we are not ready to sit at the table of surrender under the name of negotiations.”

United States Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said in an interview with CBS News on Tuesday that the U.S. may have downed a second Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz last week.

David Petraeus, the former commander of CENTCOM and former director of the CIAwarned on Tuesday that there is “clearly the prospect for some inadvertent escalation” between the U.S. and Iran if the Iranian provocations continue. In an interview on CNBC’s Halftime Report program, Petraeus warned that the threat also comes from Iran’s proxies — “the paramilitaries, the Shia militia in Iraq, in Syria and in other places in the Middle East. Not to mention Hezbollah, which poses an extraordinary threat to Israel, now not just from Lebanon but also from Syria.”

Petraeus added: “It is not entirely clear to me what our objective is for our policy relative to the nuclear program, Iranian missile program and then this malign activity.” [Video]

AT THE UN — Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon addressed the monthly United Nations Security Council meeting on Tuesday. Danon accusedSyria and Lebanon of cooperating with Iran and Hezbollah to exploit civilian companies and smuggle arms into Beirut.

ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — White House Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt said in remarks before the U.N. Security Council that President Donald Trump is set to decide “soon” when to release the Jared Kushner-crafted peace plan. “President Trump has not yet decided when we will release the political portion of the plan, and we hope to make that decision soon,” Greenblatt said.

In his speech, Greenblatt also asserted that the Palestinians’ aspirations for a capital in East Jerusalem “is not a right.” He added: “Aspirations belong at the negotiating table.” [Video]

HAPPENING TODAY — The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) will host a seminar today on the resurgence of antisemitism. Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY), as well as Elan Carr, the White House special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, will address the seminar. Also slated to speak are Rabbi David Saperstein, former ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom; Gary Bauer, commissioner of the USCIRF; and Ted Stahnke, director of international educational outreach at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

PEW SURVEY — A new study released by the Pew Forum on Tuesday reveals that the majority of Americans are unfamiliar with basic facts about Judaism. Less than a quarter of those polled knew that Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year, and only 29% knew that Shabbat begins on Friday. The survey also indicated that American Jews were the most knowledgeable group on questions overall about all religions.

ACROSS THE POND — Boris Johnson, the newly elected leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, is expected to be sworn in as prime minister today, replacing outgoing leader Theresa May. Johnson will immediately face several daunting tasks, including Brexit negotiations and an ongoing crisis with Iran over its seizure of a British oil tanker. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif congratulated Johnson on Tuesday, and said that “Iran does not seek confrontation. But we have 1,500 miles of Persian Gulf coastline. These are our waters & we will protect them.”

The British Jewish community largely welcomed Johnson’s selection, praising him as a steadfast ally of the community. The Conservative Friends of Israel said he has a “long history of standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel and the Jewish community.” The Board of Deputies of British Jews said they wish him “every success as prime minister at this critical time for our country.” Several MPs told The Jewish Chronicle, however, that they are worried the selection of Johnson, viewed as a more hardline conservative, would only strengthen Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Johnson, saying he was “looking forward to working closely together, both in facing our common challenges and seizing the opportunities ahead.” Netanyahu challenger Yair Lapid, Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog and Foreign Minister Israel Katz all also offered their best wishes to the incoming prime minister.

2020 BRIEFS — Elizabeth Warren bet big on impeachment. Will Robert Mueller pay it off?… Who is Kamala Harris, really? Ask her sister Maya… De Blasio unveils first major policy proposal at union headquarters in D.C… Gabbard says Harris ‘not qualified to serve as commander in chief’… Cory Booker is all out of love.

** Good Wednesday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip? 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: WeWork aims to go public in September, sooner than expected [WSJ• The fall of Mic, co-founded by Chris Altchek and Jake Horowitz, was a warning [HuffPost] • Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck edged out Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld for the first time in lobbying revenue in the second quarter [Bloomberg] • Former American Express CEO Harvey Golub backs Israel-linked banking software startup TradAir [Calcalist] • Amazon cloud service said mulling regional data center in Israel [ToI] • Buoyant Wix beats analysts and raises guidance [Globes• Proptech exec Ari Teman arrested on bank fraud charges [RealDeal]

HAPPENING TONIGHT — Some of the biggest hedge fund titans will face off at the tenth annual Take ‘Em To School poker tournament in New York City. Greenlight Capital’s David Einhorn and Avenue Capital’s Marc Lasry are among the hedge fund managers who will host tables at the event.

JUDICIAL CHAT — Justice Ginsburg: ‘I am very much alive’ — by Nina Totenberg: “[Ruth Bader] Ginsburg’s interview with NPR was wide-ranging, discussing, among other things, her health… ’The work is really what saved me,’ she said, ‘because I had to concentrate on reading the briefs, doing a draft of an opinion, and I knew it had to get done. So I had to get past whatever my aches and pains were just to do the job.’… Asked if she worries that the current conservative court majority will retrench on questions of gender equality, she replied, ‘I don’t think there’s going to be any going back to old ways.’” [NPR]

FIELD TRIP — Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam visited the famed Ponevezh Yeshivah in Bnei Brak on Tuesday. Adelson toured the yeshiva on his scooter and engaged with the students about their studies. [Video]

The Adelsons also visited KamaTech’s Ampersand coworking office in Bnei Brak. He was welcomed by co-founder Moshe Friedman. [Pic]

TOP-OP — Shmuel Rosner writes… “The last thing Israel needs is yet another election: A do-over election should mean one of two things. Either more people will vote for a coalition led by Mr. Netanyahu, or more people will vote for a coalition led by someone else. Unfortunately, according to the polls, neither is about to happen… A third vote would not be a charm. It would be detrimental to Israel in many ways. In fact, even a second round has been detrimental.” [NYTimes]

IN THE SPOTLIGHT — Accused sex trafficker and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein moved money overseas through Deutsche Bank, in transactions the bank reported to a federal agency, The New York Times reported on Tuesday. And Bloomberg revealed on Tuesday that, in 2007, Epstein cut a secret deal with New York real estate titan Andrew Farkas. The deal, kept under wraps for more than a decade, “made Epstein a partner in a small marina on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, not far from where Epstein was developing a 70-acre island.”

Meanwhile, the story of Epstein’s alleged crimes and legal battles is poised to become a documentary on the Lifetime network, the same channel which aired the acclaimed documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” earlier this year.

MEDIA WATCH — Jodi Rudoren was hired as the new editor-in-chief at the Forward. Rudoren is currently an associate managing editor at The New York Times and previously served as the newspaper’s Jerusalem bureau chief.

Rudoren tells Jewish Insider“I hope we can build on the amazing foundation of independent journalism that has defined The Forward for 120+ years to truly embrace the digital moment and help drive the American Jewish conversation… With the broadest possible umbrella of what it means to be Jewish, I hope The Forward can bring people a step closer to Judaism, and be a forum for civil discourse on the most difficult issues dividing us. I see it as a community and a convener, a collector of diverse views and experiences.” [JewishInsider]

SPOTTED IN ISRAEL — A veritable slew of celebrities have touched down in Israel this week, and been spotted taking in the sights across the country. Jon Bon Jovi and the rest of his band arrived in Israel earlier this week ahead of a concert in Tel Aviv on Thursday night. Latin music superstar Ozuna is also in town for a show in Rishon Lezion tonight. Legendary Hollywood director Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor, Transformers, Armageddon) is in Israel touring the country, and met up with Fauda’s Lior Raz, who stars in his upcoming Netflix film “Six Underground.” Bay was also spotted running into actress Hailee Steinfeld (Pitch Perfect, True Grit, Ender’s Game), who is in Israel on a trip partly sponsored by the Creative Community for Peace. Next week, superstar Jennifer Lopez is slated to arrive for a concert, along with her fiance, former Yankee Alex Rodriguez.

DEEP DIVE — Inside the anti-sexism protests rocking Israel — by Annika Hoiem: “Arab, Jewish, Ashkenazi, young, old, religious, and non-religious — they decided to create a coalition of civic society organizations against domestic violence in Israel, declaring a national emergency. They named their movement Red Flag, and wrote ‘it’s an emergency’ on their hands in both Hebrew and Arabic.” [Nylon]

TALK OF THE TOWN — Federal court orders review of election date that coincides with Jewish holiday — by Peter Zimonjic: “The Federal Court has ordered the chief electoral officer to review his decision to not recommend a change in the scheduled federal election date — October 21 — which coincides with a Jewish holiday. Orthodox Jewish candidate Chani Aryeh-Bain, who is running for the Conservatives in the Toronto-area riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, and Ira Walfish, an Orthodox Jewish political activist, said Elections Canada’s Stéphane Perrault did not properly consider their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” [CBC]

Accused antisemite arrested in Iowa for threatening NYC Jewish organization — by Stephen Rex Brown: “According to a complaint filed in Manhattan Federal Court, Garrett Kelsey, 31, called the Jewish organization on May 23, incensed over a video the group posted about Nordic neo-Nazis. The organization was not identified… He identified himself as Garrett Odinschild and allegedly sent an email with more threats to the Jewish group, according to the complaint… Kelsey was due to be presented in Iowa court Tuesday on a charge of making interstate threats, which carries a maximum five years in prison.” [NYDailyNews]

DESSERT — Dearborn burger franchise founded in Israel delays opening after backlash, threats — by Anna Bauman: A franchisee has delayed the scheduled opening of his Burgerim restaurant in Dearborn amid backlash from the Arab-American community over the popular burger company’s Israeli roots… [Lebanese-American Sam] Zahr [said]… someone messaged him on Facebook with threatening comments… he set up a tent with free burgers… but he said the tent was destroyed the next morning. Zahr said he has lost everything after pouring money into the Dearborn location.” [DetroitFreePress]

Over in Portland, Oregon, Leikam Brewing is cooking up what it says is the city’s first-ever certified kosher beer. The beer, brewed in the couple’s backyard, will be the star of the company’s first taproom, slated to open August 1. A new kosher fusion restaurant just opened in St. Louis, Missouri, melding Japanese and Italian cuisines. The restaurant, Café Coeur, serves dishes like matcha linguine and arancini onigiri. And this fall, the executive chef of Mishiguene, a Jewish-themed restaurant in Buenos Aires, will serve as the chef in residence at Intersect by Lexus in Manhattan’s Union Square. Chef Tomás Kalika will bring over his menu staples, including pastrami short ribs with truffled farfalach and his signature babaganoush.

BIRTHDAYS: Vice Chairman of Promontory Interfinancial Network, senior counsel at Covington & Burling, he was U.S. Ambassador to Romania (1994-1997) and President of the American Jewish Committee, Alfred H. Mosesturns 90… Founder and chairman at Chicago-based housing developer The Habitat Company, he is also the founder of the East Bank Club, Daniel Levinturns 89… Professor (now emeritus) at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, Lowell Bergmanturns 74… Israeli physician, author and playwright, he is the younger brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel, Iddo Netanyahuturns 67… Political consultant known for his senior role in both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns, he was the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and is now working for the Blue and White party in the Israeli elections, Joel Benenson turns 67…

Los Angeles attorney, he has served as a board member of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the United Jewish Federation and Sinai Temple, Michael Jeffrey Bordy turns 67… Radio anchor and reporter on both CBS nationally and NYC’s WCBS since 2016, during his 22 years at CBS in San Francisco (1994-2016) he won eight national Edward R. Murrow Awards, Michael Sugerman turns 65… Russian oligarch and Chairman of the Council of Patrons of The Conference of European Rabbis, Boris Mints turns 61… Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit since 2013, Judge Patty Shwartzturns 58… Retired offensive lineman in the NFL, he played for the Green Bay Packers (1986-1990) and the Dallas Cowboys (1991-1992) where he won in Super Bowl XXVII, now a motivational speaker, Alan (Shlomo) Veingradturns 56…

Partner in the Lexington, Kentucky office of Frost Brown Todd and author of “The Liberal Case for Israel,” he was a cabinet secretary and then a statewide elected official in Kentucky, Jonathan Miller turns 52… President of Access Computer Technology in West Bloomfield, Michigan, he is a rabbi, entrepreneur and social media expert, Jason Miller turns 43… Member of Congress (D-Michigan-13) since 2019, Rashida Harbi Tlaib turns 43… Rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom, the largest Jewish congregation in the San Fernando Valley, a 2008 graduate of JTS, previously a rabbi in Biloxi, Mississippi, Noah Zvi Farkas turns 40… Actress, screenwriter and director, she is married to Seth Rogen, Lauren Miller Rogen turns 37… Co-founder and partner at Orfin Ventures, Adam Finkel turns 33… Sarah Citrenbaum turns 29… Yale Law School student, Shlomo Klapper..

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