Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: May 7, 2019

Ilhan Omar expresses remorse for anti-Semitic tweets in interview; The Hezbollah sleeper agent busted for black ops in America

Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota listens as lawmakers speak about the Voting Rights Enhancement Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on February 26, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images/AFP)
Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota listens as lawmakers speak about the Voting Rights Enhancement Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on February 26, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images/AFP)

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EXCLUSIVE — White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney addressed AIPAC’s board and top national lay leaders in Washington, D.C. last night, according to several sources. We’re told the conversation mostly focused on Mulvaney’s time in politics, including several humorous anecdotes, both in Congress and the White House.

JI INTERVIEW — Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) discussed House legislation concerning U.S. support for Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his view of American Jews today in an interview with Jewish Insider‘s Laura Kelly on Monday.

Raskin on the recent escalation between Israel and Hamas: “It’s a terrible and dangerous situation. The rocket fire on Israel is completely unacceptable and the loss of life on both sides is intolerable. All of it to me, speaks to the need to revive a meaningful peace process quickly and to end the violence.”

On Trump labeling the Democratic Party as ‘anti-Israel and anti-Jewish’: “It’s obviously ridiculous that the Democratic party is anti-Israel. Of course, it was Harry Truman that recognized the nation of Israel 11 minutes after it was created, and the Democratic party has always been a stalwart champion of Israel. The vast majority of Jewish members of Congress are in the Democratic party, not the Republican party. Jewish-Americans are voting for Democrats at 77 or 78 percent because the Democratic party embodies many of the values that the Jewish people have traditionally believed in.”

“It was not our president who equated neo-Nazis and klansmen with anti-racist protestors, that was not Barack Obama or Bill Clinton that said that. That was Donald Trump. It was not our party which ran the most antisemitic political TV ad in the history of the United States in 2016. That was Donald Trump. Donald Trump ran a TV ad targeting Janet Yellin, Lloyd Blankfein and George Soros as the enemies of the American people, this was essentially the closing argument of the Trump campaign in 2016. One could only regard with amazement the idea that Donald Trump would even bring up the question of a political party being antisemitic in America in 2019 because if there is an antisemitic political party, it’s not the Democrats.” Read the full interview here[JewishInsider]

HEARD ON NPR’S RADIO WAVES — A conversation featuring Leo Ferguson from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and cartoonist Eli Valley discussing antisemitism and criticism of Israel with Bob Garfield on WNYC’s On The Media:

Ferguson: “There is an entire cottage industry from the Zionist Organization of America to Canary Mission. These organizations that exist to essentially conflate, confuse and confound definitions of antisemitism. They particularly target pro-Palestinian organizing on campus, but they also look for any breadcrumb they can use to delegitimize that work.”

Garfield: So for example, if I were to say, ‘Well, you know, I believe that Israel is not just a security state, but an apartheid state where Arabs are second-class citizens or guest workers.’ I will be accused of antisemitism by one of these groups?

Ferguson: “Absolutely. Another example are folks targeting the BDS movement, where you have organizers working to advocate for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel to pressure Israel to address its human rights abuses and treatment of Palestinians. Whether you agree or disagree with their tactics, this is clearly a legitimate form of political protest, widely used — the anti-apartheid movement, lots of other movements throughout history — and yet there is a ton of energy going towards trying to smear these folks as being across the board antisemitic and to conflate the use of this Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions tactic with antisemitism.”

Eli Valley discussed his recent cartoon ridiculing Meghan McCain for linking Rep. Omar to the Chabad of Poway attack last week. Valley told Garfield that Ms. McCain believes her authority to speak on Jewish issues “comes from her friendship with Joe and Hadassah Lieberman.”

The Jewish cartoonist also mocked McCain for labeling his cartoon ‘antisemitic’: “A Christian woman is saying a Jewish cartoonist is antisemitic. But given the narrative we’ve been forced to live in, it was not out of the ordinary. And in fact, there were so many people on the Jewish right — who have been condemning me for years for saying maybe Netanyahu is not the messiah, who were embracing her, who were inviting her over for Shabbat dinner — basically saying, not even implicitly, ‘You’re the Jew. That guy who draws cartoons critical of Israel, no Jew.’” [NPR] Read more here[JewishInsider]

REP. OMAR SPEAKS OUT — Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) expressed remorse over her past antisemitic tweets in an interview with the Huffington Post, published on Monday: “Antisemitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of antisemitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize. At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”

TALK OF THE REGION — The Israeli military warned on Monday that war with Gaza could be back on the horizon in days or weeks if Israel did not work to ease living conditions in the Gaza Strip. In the meantime, however, the military is keeping the air force, including air defense units, on high alert in case of another breakout of violence. Israeli officials are pointing blame at the Palestinian Islamic Jihad for stoking the latest flare-up. Experts who track the weapons arsenals of Hamas and Islamic Jihad estimated that they have managed to stockpile between 5,000 and 20,000 rockets.

Qatar will be sending $480 million to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as part of the ceasefire deal mediated by Egypt. Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that $300 million would support health and education programs of the Palestinian Authority, while $180 million would go toward “urgent humanitarian relief” in U.N. programs and toward electricity.

Shalom Lipner writes… “A Shaky Truce in Gaza: It is widely presumed that Hamas and Israel were amenable to suspending combat. Both parties wished undoubtedly to improve their strategic posture in the theater, but they also recognized that one knows only how such battles begin. Where they stop, nobody can foretell.” [AtlanticCouncil]

David French writes… “The Law of War Permits Israel to Destroy Hamas: When it comes to Hamas, ‘restraint’ is Israel’s choice — one it may make for tactical and strategic reasons of its own. The actual law of war would allow Israel to invade Gaza, utterly destroy Hamas, and occupy Gaza City until Israel’s safety is ensured, even if it burned in the fight.” [NationalReview]

Former MK Michael Oren suggested on Twitter that, “Right after our holidays and Eurovision, Israel must evict Hamas from Gaza. The U.S. should back us militarily and diplomatically and, together with Arab states, commit to Gaza’s renewal. Peace in the region is impossible with Hamas in Gaza. Israel is ready to act.”

Meanwhile, U.S. and Israeli officials declined to comment on whether the Trump administration was involved in the ceasefire talks mediated by Cairo over the weekend. However, U.N. and Hamas officials confirmed to the Times of Israel that Washington was a non-factor in mediating the ceasefire.

HEARD YESTERDAY — Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) reacting to the latest round of violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and criticized the Trump administration’s Iran policy in an interview with CBSN Live.

“We support Israel’s right to defend itself, full stop,” Booker said. “You have a terrorist organization that actually suppresses its own people, conducts acts of violence and human rights violations against people who live in Gaza. And so Israel has a right to defend itself and it should do that. But for the people that live in Gaza, this is not about them. It’s about the terrorist organization that is attracting such violence, that is using children, hospitals and schools as shields for their insidious aims, which is the destruction of the state of Israel.”

“That terrorist organization is like a cancer undermining the security of both Gazans as well as Israelis. And so I support the defense of the state of Israel, but I also support the human rights and self determination of the Palestinian people. I don’t think there’s any conflict there. I think we need to continue to work for peace in that region and work towards a two state solution.”

Booker on the administration’s Iran policy: “I have a real problem with the president and his policies towards Iran, pulling out of a deal with our allies. Really, we made a deal — when American makes deals, we stick by what we say. He’s turned his back on that, weakening our position with critical allies. We need to secure that region. He seems to be ceding or wanting to cede territory to the Iranians, tweeting out that ‘I’m going to pull back troops from Syria.’ We don’t do foreign policy by tweet in America. We don’t give Iran a highway through Syria to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon. I really worry that he is actually making the region less stable and giving Iran more free rein and not less.” [VideoJewishInsider]

URJ’s Rabbi Rick Jacobs wrote on Twitter, “We deeply appreciate the long-time support for Israel of both the Republican and Democratic parties. We continue to urge all leaders of those parties, including those Democratic and Republican presidential candidates who haven’t yet spoken to the recent rocket attacks from Gaza, to stand by Israel at this time of need.”

ON THE HILL – By JI’s Laura Kelly: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urged House members on Monday to show support for Israel by taking up S.1 (Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East) legislation that passed the Senate in January that includes the reauthorization of the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding signed between the U.S. and Israel in 2016 and a measure that empowers state and local governments to counter the BDS movement.

Last week, House Republicans launched an effort to bring their version of S.1 to the floor.

“I hope this turn of violence can again spur my colleagues in the House to act on the bipartisan legislation that’s been languishing over there for weeks, the first item we took up this year,” Sen. McConnell said, speaking on the Senate floor. “Clearly, the need to reaffirm our commitment to the safety, security and sovereignty of Israel is just as important as it ever was.”

IRAN DEAL WATCH — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is expected to announce that Iran would reduce some of its “minor and general” commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal on Wednesday, one year after President Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the international pact, the state-run IRIB news agency reported on Monday.

A senior European diplomat confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that Iranian officials have been considering a partial withdrawal from some parts of the deal, including stepping up research into centrifuges that could more speedily produce highly enriched uranium.

REPORT — Israel passed on information on an alleged Iranian plot to attack U.S. interests in the Gulf before National Security Adviser John Bolton threatened Iran with “unrelenting force” on Sunday. The intelligence — gathered by the Mossad intelligence agency — was presented by an Israeli delegation headed by National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat during a meeting at the White House two weeks ago.

Three senior American officials said new intelligence that surfaced over the weekend raised concerns about the Revolutionary Guards and their activities in Iraq, where they have helped train Shiite Arab militias. On Monday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan called the decision to send the USS Abraham Lincoln closer to Iran “a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”

An Israeli intelligence assessment reported earlier on Monday predicted that Iran is expected to withdraw from the nuclear deal in response to the “maximum pressure” campaign by the U.S., which could impact regional stability. According to Haaretz’s Amos Harel, Israel’s army is already discussing prospects of a broad military campaign in the coming months.

TRUMP SQUARE  — The city of Petach Tikvah will name a square after Trump on the Fourth of July “in gratitude to and appreciation of the president for his unwavering support of Israel,” Mayor Rami Greenberg announced on Monday. Prime Minister Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman will be invited as guests for the unveiling ceremony, the mayor said.

PEW POLL — U.S. Jews are split about Trump’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, with 47 percent saying he is striking the right balance between the Israelis and Palestinians, while 42 percent believe he is favoring the Israelis too much, according to a new Pew Research Center survey published on Monday. By comparison, U.S. Christians are more likely to say Trump is striking the right balance between the Israelis and Palestinians (59%) than to say Trump favors the Israelis too much (26%).

AT THE UN — Caroline Glick is being floated as a possible candidate to replace Danny Danon as Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N., according to a reportby JPost’s Gil Hoffman. “If [Netanyahu] asked me, I would say yes, because the kind of defense of Israel I’ve done for 19 years in my writing is what Israel deserves at the UN,” Glick, who was a candidate for the Knesset on the New Right’s list headed by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, told the publication.

BEHIND BARS — Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen reported to a federal prison in Otisville, New York on Monday, where he will begin serving a three-year sentence. “I hope that when I rejoin my family and friends that the country will be in a place without xenophobia, injustice and lies at the helm of our country,” Cohen told reporters before leaving his apartment in Manhattan. Donny Deutsch, an old friend of Cohen, told Vanity Fair‘s Emily Jane Fox, “He seemed relaxed, in a way. The day he gets there is the most peaceful day he will have in years. The fight is over. There are no lawyers to talk to. No reporters to field. The work is done.”

IN THE SPOTLIGHT — Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to First Lady Melania Trump, disputed reported accounts of her departure from the White House last year, after controversy arose over the $26 million her firm received from the presidential inaugural committee, in a statement to the New York Times. “Was I fired? No,” Winston Wolkoff said. “Did I personally receive $26 million or $1.6 million? No. Was I thrown under the bus? Yes.”

2020 WATCH — Bernie Sanders is playing rough with his opponents this time… Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) outlined a gun control plan that calls for a national licensing program… Desperate drive to make the debate stage shakesDem campaigns… Bill de Blasio postponed an expected announcement of his 2020 presidential bid…

Republicans Think They Know How To Win Back Congress In 2020. Races Like This One Could Screw It Up — by Alexis Levinson: “Staten Island, which makes up the bulk of the NY11 district, is Trump Country — full of blue-collar workers and union households… For Republicans to have any hope of winning the House in 2020, they have to win districts like these. ‘If this is in their path to take back the House, they’re f****d,” Rep. Max Rose (D) told BuzzFeed News over a steak and pasta… When Rep. Ilhan Omar sent a tweet using anti-Semitic tropes, Democrats had to pick a side. Rose has said emphatically that he is not a socialist. And he condemned Omar’s remarks in no uncertain terms. But that hasn’t made Republicans any less enthusiastic about tying him to those Democrats.” [BuzzFeed]

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Patrick Drahi’s Altice pays heavy price for new bond deal after facing resistance from US fund managers [FinancialTimes• Ruth Madoff Reaches Deal With Ponzi Trustee [WSJ] • Israel’s cannabis potential is immense, Ehud Barak said at Calcalist’s cannabis conference in Tel Aviv [Calcalist• Google launches Israel program to help startups grow globally [Reuters]

SPOTLIGHT — How Billionaires Henry Kravis And George Roberts Turned $120,000 Into A $200 Billion Powerhouse — by Antoine Gara: “KKR popularized the leveraged buyout in the 1970s and 1980s and became the face of Wall Street’s conquest of corporate America. Forever known as ‘barbarians,’ after the bestselling book that chronicled their $25 billion takeover of RJR Nabisco, KKR was grilled by Congress for tax avoidance and the aggressive use of debt as they swallowed up RJR and other corporate giants… Thirty years later they epitomize a fundamental shift. No longer a clubby partnership, KKR is now a publicly traded corporation.”

“Like most iconic duos, Kravis and Roberts are a study in contrasts. They are first cousins and best friends going on 70 years with fathers who became wealthy from oil, and they attended college together at Claremont McKenna in California. They learned the art of dealmaking from the same mentor — KKR’s third cofounder, Jerome Kohlberg — and have been business partners for 43 years, working in harmony virtually all that time, 2,930 miles apart, high-profile Kravis in New York and low-profile Roberts in San Francisco. [Forbes]

Game of Thrones Can Wait After a Week of Billionaire-Studded Galas — by Amanda Gordon: “Last Wednesday, back at Cipriani 42nd Street, hedge fund managers Paul Singer, John Paulson and Dan Loeb sat together to see Betsy DeVos honored by the Manhattan Institute, while downtown at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Leonard Stern, Ira Rennert and Ron Lauder previewed a new exhibit of artifacts from Auschwitz, a few weeks after Goldman Sachs’s Elisha Wiesel helped Blue Card raise money to give Holocaust survivors in need cash assistance. And back at Lincoln Center, Boaz Weinstein and Chris Kojima took in a gala for the Juilliard School, where $1.8 million was raised with students performing.” [Bloomberg]

HOLLYWOOD — Israeli War Story ‘Angels in the Sky’ Bought by Mark Damon — by Dave McNary: “Producer Mark Damon… has bought the film and television rights for Israeli war story ‘Angels in The Sky’ in a pre-Cannes Film Festival deal. Damon, the co-head of DCR Finance Fund and Foresight Unlimited, will executive produce with DCR Finance Fund as primary financial backer. Damon will partner with former Paramount Pictures executives Mike Flint and Jerry Meadors along with Mark Lansky… The 2017 book, written by Bob Gandt, dramatizes the 1948 conflict in the Middle East immediately after the state of Israel was formed.” [Variety]

DEEP DIVE — The Hezbollah Sleeper Agent Busted for Black Ops in America — by Michael Daly: “Ali Kourani… was not just another lone wolf inspired to Islamic radicalism by internet hate sites and following online instructions to build a bomb in the kitchen of his mom. As will become clear when he goes on trial Monday, this seemingly unremarkable man… is alleged to have been a longtime undercover operative for an international terrorist organization. Kourani had allegedly been recruited as part of a plan to exact revenge for the car-bomb killing of a terror mastermind whom a former CIA agent called ‘probably the most intelligent, most capable operative we’ve ever run across, including the KGB or anybody else.’ Kourani was, by his own multiple admissions, trained in explosives and small arms, along with secure communications, survival and interrogation as a member of Hezbollah’s External Security Organization (ESO), also known as the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO).” [DailyBeast]

LONG READ — A Chaplain. A Rabbi. A Professor. An Editor. A Soldier. These Are the Faces of Jewish America — by Yair Ettinger: “As an Israeli living temporarily in New York, I wanted to have in-depth discussions with Jewish leaders and activists, women and men who are on the ground, working directly with today’s diverse and vibrant Jewish community. I invited them to sit down and talk about their stories, which together form the story of Jewish America. In these talks, we discussed their views about the big issues facing today’s Jewish community and also their own personal and professional stories: A journalist helped me understand what ‘Jewish press’ means and why the current dynamic between American Jews on Twitter is so poisonous; a Reform rabbi gave me a peek into the world of rabbinate and prayers; and a U.S. Army chaplain spoke about Apache helicopters and Muslim and Christian comrades.” [Haaretz]

SCENE LAST NIGHT — The UJA Federation of New York honored Amy Entelis, the executive vice president for talent and content development for CNN Worldwide, at its 2019 Broadcast, Cable & Film Division Celebration at the St. Regis New York, Brian Stelter reported in his Reliable Sourcesnewsletter.

SPOTTED: Jeff Zucker, Allison Gollust, Poppy Harlow, Jeffrey Toobin, Bill Weir, Kate Bolduan, Dana Bash, Izzy Povich, John Avlon, Margaret Hoover, John Berman, Alisyn Camerota, Jim Murphy, Sam Feist, Abby Phillip, Barbara Levin, Eric Sherling, Bianna Golodryga, Peter Orszag, Carole Cooper, Richard Leibner, Lisa Reeves, Chris Licht, Al Roker, Deborah Roberts, Phil Kent, Brian Jacobs, Jay Sures, Michael Glantz, Nancy Duffy, Rebecca Kutler, Ken Jautz, Allie Kleva, Nima Elbagir, Ramon Escobar, Jon Adler, Rachel Adler, Lisa Greene, Robin Garfield and Matthew Hiltzik.

DESSERT — Philadelphia’s Zahav Named Best Restaurant in the U.S. ― by Josh Petri: “Philadelphia’s dominance of the food world continues. Zahav, the city’s seminal Israeli dining spot, on Monday night won the title of outstanding restaurant at the 2019 James Beard Foundation awards in Chicago… Zahav was a front-runner for this year’s title. Co-owner Michael Solomonov in 2017 won outstanding chef, and the restaurant’s pastry chef Camille Cogswell won rising star last year.” [Bloomberg]

Talenti Sorbetto is Crafted for Creamy Dairy-Free Cravings — by Alisa Fleming: “Talenti Sorbetto isn’t new, but it’s deliciously pure blends are still on trend. They use simple, whole food ingredients to create the richest, most flavor-forward dairy-free ice creams possible… Sadly their Chocolate Sorbetto has ‘retired,’ but a couple of fledgling flavors did take its place.”[GoDairyFree]

BIRTHDAYS: Investor who converted Chris-Craft Industries from the small boat business into a large media holding company which he then sold to Rupert Murdoch in 2001 for $5.3 billion, Herbert J. Siegel turns 91… Ontario-based politician, psychiatrist, academic and public servant, he served in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as a member and leader of the Liberal Party (1975-1982), Stuart Lyon Smith turns 81… Winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1989, professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology and chemistry at Yale University, Sidney Altman turns 80… Member of the New York State Assembly since 1993, representing parts of Westchester and Putnam counties, Sandra R. “Sandy” Galef turns 79… Senior member of the Mobile, Alabama law firm of Silver, Voit & Thompson, Irving Silver turns 79…

Napa, California-based media executive and interview host, Jeffrey Schechtman turns 69… Theatrical producer at Press the Button Productions in Monterey, California, Jane J. Press turns 69… Member of the Knesset almost continuously since 1999, he is a member of the Shas party, Rabbi Meshulam Nahari turns 68… Deputy US Secretary of State (2009-2011), Deputy National Security Advisor (1996-2000), currently a professor at Syracuse University, James Braidy “Jim” Steinberg turns 66… Professional poker player and hedge fund manager, Daniel Shak turns 60… CEO of Rationalwave Capital Partners, a venture capital firm investing in technology companies, Mark Rosenblatt turns 60… Emmy Award-winning film and television director, Adam Bernstein turns 59… Founder of JewBelong, an organization to introduce people to the joy, meaning, relevance and connection that Judaism has to offer, she is also the co-founder of Starch Branding, Archie Gottesman

Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from the City of Alexandria since 2016 and host of a nationally syndicated progressive public policy radio program, Mark H. Levine turns 53… Democratic member of the US House of Representatives since 2010, representing parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties, Theodore Eliot “Ted” Deutch turns 53… Director of floor legislative operations for Speaker Pelosi, Keith Stern turns 45… Former member of the Knesset for the Jewish Home party (2013-2019), her party formed in 2019 together with Naftali Bennett, failed by a small margin to achieve the required four seat minimum, Ayelet Shaked turns 43… AIPAC national board member, Yana J. Lukeman turns 42… Head of strategic accounts for North America at Stripe, Rob Saliterman turns 37… CEO of Austin-based Harris Media, he served as Chief Digital Strategist for Senator Rand Paul and assisted PM Netanyahu and the Likud in the 2014 Israeli elections, Vincent Robert Harris turns 31… Las Vegas-based fashion blogger, model and writer, Bebe Zeva turns 26…

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