Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: November 28, 2018

Rand Paul’s rationale for holding back aid to Israel; Why both AIPAC and J Street are celebrating victory in the midterms

In this image from video from Senate Television, Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, speaks on the floor of the Senate, February 8, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Senate TV via AP)
In this image from video from Senate Television, Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, speaks on the floor of the Senate, February 8, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Senate TV via AP)

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DRIVING THE CONVO — Rand Paul’s rationale for holding back aid to Israel: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is expected to introduce an amendment in the coming days that would limit the amount of U.S. security assistance to Israel, Jewish Insider has learned.

In an exclusive statement issued to Jewish Insider in advance of his proposed amendment, Paul responded to critics from AIPAC and CUFI, who censured him for placing a hold on the U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018. “I’m not for foreign aid in general, if we are going to send aid to Israel it should be limited in time and scope so we aren’t doing it forever, and it should be paid for by cutting the aid to people who hate Israel and America,” he wrote. “This is a stance I’ve taken for many years.”

Paul cited comments made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a joint session of Congress in 1996 expressing his desire to see Israel achieve economic independence, presumably allowing for the gradual reduction of U.S. aid to the Jewish state. “In the next four years, we will begin the long-term process of gradually reducing the level of your generous economic assistance to Israel,” Netanyahu said at the time.

Paul calls out AIPAC: “Why are we giving twice as much money to nations that surround Israel, which forces Israel to spend more on defense? We have given billions to Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority. I’ve repeatedly introduced legislation to stop this, only to be opposed by AIPAC and others… Each time I’ve tried to stop giving aid to enemies of the US and Israel, I have been thwarted, often by groups that claim they are pro-Israel.”

In the statement, Paul speculates that the “supposedly” pro-Israel groups “fear a broader debate on whether we should be borrowing from foreign countries simply to send the money to other foreign countries.” Read Paul’s full statement here [JewishInsider]

CUFI Action Fund Chairwoman Sandra Parker responds: “The amendment Sen. Paul is reportedly expected to introduce sounds a great deal like the one he introduced in committee months ago; save Sen. Paul himself, that amendment received no support from any senator in either party. Like most Americans, we place a premium on ensuring our taxpayer dollars are used wisely. That is why CUFI led the efforts to advance the Taylor Force Act and oppose continued aid to UNRWA. Sen. Paul’s decision to hold this bill does not make America safer and does not ensure taxpayer dollars are used most efficiently – quite the opposite. Whether one is guided by liberal, conservative or libertarian values, aid to Israel is fiscally sound, in the national security interests of the United States and keeps with our country’s finest moral traditions.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) in a statement to Jewish Insider“At a time when Israel faces unprecedented threats from the Iranian regime as well as from Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists, the United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 demonstrates America’s ironclad commitment to the Jewish state’s security and survival. This legislation, which enjoys nearly unanimous bipartisan support, overwhelmingly passed the Senate on August 1, 2018, and then passed the House with amendment on September 12, 2018. While it’s regrettable that anyone would hold hostage legislation to empower the United States to stand with Israel, I am hopeful the Senate will quickly find a way to send this important bill to President Trump to become law.”

Sander Gerber, architect of the Taylor Force Act legislation, emails: “Paul’s foreign aid legislation pretends to attack the moral equivalency argument between Arab terrorism and Israel, but in fact maintains the false ‘linkeage’ argument. The extremes of both parties need to understand that supporting Israel not only promotes American values but sends a message to the world that free societies have each other’s backs.”

RJC’s Matt Brooks: “We have been working very closely over the past several weeks with Sen. Paul to try to resolve this matter. In our conversations, we have made clear that we would like to see a speedy resolution to this and move the MOU funding forward. While Sen. Paul has made clear to us that this isn’t punitive to Israel (Sen. Paul has been a long time critic of foreign aid in general and specifically aid to those hostile to  America), we are concerned that this funding is being used as a pawn in this legislative skirmish.”

“Sen. Paul’s hold is to block a unanimous consent motion to pass this bill. He’s working with Leader McConnell to get a floor vote on this – where this will pass overwhelmingly.  We are working hard to get this resolved either with the opposition to unanimous consent removed or a floor vote soon.”

ON THE HILL — Senate to vote on U.S. military role in Yemen amid anger over Saudi-led war, Khashoggi murder — by Deirdre Shesgreen: “The Senate is poised to vote as early as Wednesday on a proposal to force the Trump administration to withdraw U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen… Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis will deliver a classified briefing on Wednesday to senators on Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi’s murder… Their answers to lawmakers could determine the fate of the Yemen war resolution.”

“There’s got to be a price to pay for what has happened,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said unless the two Cabinet secretaries spell out a more forceful response to Khashoggi’s death, he may vote in favor of ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen – a step he has opposed in the past.” [USAToday• 50+ experts and former officials urge the Senate to end US role in Yemen war [Vox]

Why Both AIPAC and J Street Are Celebrating Victory in the Midterms — by Amir Tibon: “The midterm results… is exactly what AIPAC officials were talking about when they warned against relying on Republicans alone to advance pro-Israel legislation. Furthermore, the fact that Congress is divided… makes bipartisanship even more important when it comes to promoting legislation… For J Street, the most important outcome of the midterms is that the group will once again have access to one of D.C.’s centers of power.” [Haaretz]

HEARD YESTERDAY — President Trump in an interview with The Washington Post: “[The Saudis] have been a great ally. Without them, Israel would be in a lot more trouble. We need to have a counterbalance to Iran… It’s very important to have Saudi Arabia as an ally, if we’re going to stay in that part of the world. Now, are we going to stay in that part of the world? One reason to is Israel. Oil is becoming less and less of a reason because we’re producing more oil now than we’ve ever produced.”

Elliott Abrams emails us… “This is not at all a surprising statement. People have been asking for years now, since the increase in fracking and in American oil and gas supplies, whether the Middle East is still significant to the United States. The answers include the danger of terrorism from the region, the danger of nuclear proliferation in the region, and the safety of allies such as Jordan and Israel. The president is right, and this is not a new policy.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo writes… “The U.S.-Saudi Partnership Is Vital: Is it any coincidence that the people using the Khashoggi murder as a cudgel against President Trump’s Saudi Arabia policy are the same people who supported Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Iran—a regime that has killed thousands world-wide, including hundreds of Americans, and brutalizes its own people? Where was this echo chamber… when Mr. Obama gave the mullahs pallets of cash to carry out their work as the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism?” [WSJ]

DEEP DIVE — The Khashoggi killing had roots in a cutthroat Saudi family feud — by David Ignatius: “An avid courtier who helped King Salman and his son MBS consolidate power… was Saud al-Qahtani, a lawyer and former Air Force member with a penchant for hacking and social media… Saudi and U.S. investigators have concluded that Qahtani, as MBS’s commander of information-related operations, helped organize Khashoggi’s murder… Every Saudi watcher I spoke with believes that MBS is likely to survive in power… The closest thing to a “smoking gun” in the Khashoggi case is that Qahtani is said to have exchanged multiple messages with MBS in the two days surrounding the journalist’s murder. But unless those messages are disclosed, it might be impossible to prove a connection.”[WashPost]

INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE — Kushner makes White House policy power play — by Nancy Cook and Daniel Lippman: “Jared Kushner is pushing to install an ally as director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council… The front-runner to take the job is Brooke Rollins, an assistant to the president and former top aide to then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry who has worked closely with Kushner on his prison reform legislation… Kushner… has long eyed the policy council as a way to gain yet another platform inside the West Wing, said one Republican close to the White House.” [Politico]

Pence, Kushner huddle with Senate GOP on criminal justice reform — by Jordain Carney: “Vice President Mike Pence and… Jared Kushner met behind closed doors with Senate Republicans to talk criminal justice reform on Tuesday… Senators said Kushner, who has been deeply involved in the Senate talks, didn’t speak during the lunch, instead letting Pence make the administration’s case for supporting the legislation.” [TheHill]

Kushner to receive Mexico’s highest honor — by Rafael Bernal: “Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will reportedly award White House senior adviser Jared Kushner with the Order of the Aztec Eagle, Mexico’s highest honor for foreigners. Kushner will receive the prize “for his contributions to achieve the negotiation of the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA),” according to a statement by Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat. Peña Nieto will present Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, with the award on Thursday at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina.”[TheHill]

DRIVING THE DAY — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will seek her party’s backing for House Speaker in a caucus meeting today. Some holdouts include nine Democrats from the Problem Solvers Caucus, who are threatening to withhold their votes for Pelosi unless she agrees to change rules so when a bill gets “broad bipartisan support it forces it to the floor,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), a co-chair of the group. Another mini-rebellion came from a bloc of more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers who signed a letter on Nov. 19 saying they would vote for new leadership.

Centrist Group Behind Pelosi Holdouts Plotted to Make Her ‘Bogeyman’ — by Sam Stein and Lachlan Markay: “Behind the scenes, No Labels and its leader, political strategist Nancy Jacobson, have been more skeptical of Pelosi and more willing to try and marginalize her among her members… According to the emails, No Labels chief strategist Ryan Clancy appears to have tried to talk Jacobson down. A direct confrontation with Pelosi would blow back on the group’s congressional allies, he explained… In an email statement to The Daily Beast, Jacobson said she was not aware of any “internal communications” about a campaign against Pelosi… However, Jacobson did note that No Labels had “no relationship with Leader Pelosi but we do have a strong relationship with Senator Chuck Schumer who has met with our group numerous times and who many of our members support.” [DailyBeast

ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — U.S. could unveil peace plan at start of 2019: Israel’s U.N. envoy — by Michelle Nichols: “We don’t know the details of the plan but we know that it’s completed. So now the question is when will they submit it. As far as we know they speak with us about the beginning of ‘19,” Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon told reporters… “We always spoke about the fact that maybe we are going to elections in Israel and the issue was whether you present the plan in the middle of a campaign. As it looks now we are going for elections but not immediately… So basically today the president is able to come and present it without interfering in a political debate in Israel,” he said. “If you present it during an election it will be horrendous.” [Reuters]

U.S. demands Palestinians release citizen held for selling land to settlers — by Barak Ravid: “The Trump administration has demanded that the Palestinian Authority release a Palestinian — and U.S. citizen — currently being held in Ramallah. The man, Isaam Akel, was arrested two months ago by the Palestinian General Intelligence Service for allegedly selling real estate in East Jerusalem to Israeli settlers.” [Axios]

A Journalist Was Killed in Mexico. Then His Colleagues Were Hacked — by Azam Ahmed: “Javier Valdez, a prominent investigative reporter, had been shot dead only a day earlier. Then came a sudden breakthrough: According to a text message received by his colleagues, his killers had been detained… The messages were infected with a spyware known as Pegasus, which the Mexican government purchased from an Israeli cyber arms dealer called the NSO Group… The Israeli company claimed it had sold the software only to governments, and said it had measures in place to ensure that its clients followed the ethical guidelines stipulated in purchasing agreements.”[NYTimes]

** Good Wednesday 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 **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Condé Nast CEO Bob Sauerberg to Step Down[WSJ• The Miseducation of Sheryl Sandberg [VanityFair] • Israel Stocks’ Best Year in Four Unlikely to Be Repeated in 2019 [Bloomberg• Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to double size of Tel Aviv home amid UK visa problems [TheSun• Swiss VC fund Lakestar to invest in Israel [Globes• Mexichem launches Israel tech hub, building on Netafim deal[Reuters• Israel to invest billions to get rail and roads up to speed [Reuters]

STARTUP NATION — A Secret Military Unit Drives Israel’s Surge in Cutting-Edge Tech — by Mehul Srivastava: “The full name for Unit 9900 — the Terrain Analysis, Accurate Mapping, Visual Collection and Interpretation Agency — hints at how it has created a critical mass of engineers indispensable for the future of this industry. The secretive unit has only recently allowed limited discussion of its work. But with an estimated 25,000 graduates, it has created a deep pool of talent that the tech sector has snapped up.” [OZY]

This Software Company Has a $1 Billion Valuation, 700 Employees, and Zero Offices — by Jeff Bercovici: “InVision’s software lets product designers make rapid digital prototypes and seamlessly share them… [Clark] Valberg identified the need for something like InVision while running a creative agency in New York. He became frustrated by the inability to get designers and clients around the same virtual table… Valberg couldn’t afford to compete with [Google] for New York City’s limited supply of coders. So instead he targeted the best engineers in places like Saskatchewan, Wichita, and Phoenix… It worked out so well, Valberg decided to eschew physical offices entirely. InVision’s VP of product strategy works out of a roving Airstream trailer.” [Inc]

MEDIA WATCH — Can Laurene Powell Jobs Save Storytelling? — by Kara Swisher: “Over the last few years, Ms. Powell Jobs, an activist, investor and entrepreneur, has been investing in media companies through her social impact firm, Emerson Collective… I asked Peter Lattman, a former New York Times reporter and editor who is now the managing director of media at Emerson, what the firm’s goals are. “Broadly, we invest in and support super high-quality journalism,” he said. “We are looking at innovative approaches to media and storytelling.” [NYTimes• Laurene Powell Jobs’s Emerson Collective bought Pop-Up Magazine Productions [Recode]

TALK OF THE TOWN — Why Wisconsin High Schoolers Aren’t Being Punished for Mimicking a Nazi Salute — by Joe Pinsker: “Catherine Ross, a professor at George Washington University’s law school, says when considering students’ First Amendment rights, it’s important to gauge whether what they’re doing or saying could be confused with their school’s official stance on a certain issue… I asked Ross, given schools’ policies on all sorts of other matters… whether a free-speech doctrine that permits a pre-prom Nazi salute to go unpunished is misguided; she responded with a firm no. “Public schools are not only bound by the Constitution, they have an obligation to teach students that constitutional rights are real, not a sham, not something from the days of the founders but for them too.” [TheAtlantic]

Facing Attack, George Soros’s Foundation Will Shut Down in Turkey — by Sarah Mervosh: “Open Society Foundations, the philanthropic group founded by George Soros, announced Monday that it would stop its operations in Turkey… after it became the target of “baseless” accusations that made it impossible to work in the country. The Turkish government has tried to link Open Society to the Gezi Park protests of 2013… “We are deeply dismayed and disappointed that the foundation had to close,” an Open Society spokeswoman, Laura Silber, said on Monday. But, she said, “it became completely untenable.”[NYTimes]

SPORTS BLINK — At a sporting event in an Arab capital, an unexpected sound: The Israeli national anthem — by Ruth Eglash: “Judoka [Sagi Muki], who is ranked ninth worldwide, recalled being frustrated the two previous times he competed in Abu Dhabi, when team members were required to cover the Israeli flag on their uniforms with a white patch. Last year, his teammate Tal Flicker was awarded a gold medal with no Israeli flag and no “Hatikva.” This year, the Israelis competed openly, all their national symbols on display… The man Israelis credit for that moment is Austria’s Marius Vizer, president of the International Judo Federation, who had threatened to cancel the Grand Slam if Israel did not receive the same treatment as the 60 other participating countries.” [WashingtonPost]

BOHEMIAN HANUKKAH — Jewish a cappella group Six13 has released a new parody Hanukkah video with a timely twist. The scene-by-scene recreation of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” features lyrics like, “I spin a gimmel, now I’ve got a lot of gelt (Sivivon, sivivon, will you spin this clay dreidel?)” The group performed at President Obama’s last White House Hanukkah party and includes Democratic leader of the 81st Assembly District Eric Dinowitz among its members.

William Shatner reminisces about his Hanukkah traditions — by Amy Spiro: “Shatner, the legendary actor known for playing the iconic Captain Kirk in Star Trek, appears in a new PBS documentary on Hanukkah airing next week. The film, Hanukkah: A Festival of DeLights by David Anton, “traces the evolution of Hanukkah from its origin as a small holiday within Judaism… to one of major prominence in assimilated American Jewish life,” said PBS. Shatner, who grew up in a Jewish family in Montreal, reminisced about his family’s Hanukkah traditions.” [JPost]

Israeli artist beats Gaza rockets into Hanukkah lamps — by Stephen Farrell: “Israeli metal sculptor Yaron Bob… crafts artwork and religious symbols from the metal, selling his creations in Israel and abroad. In the run-up to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, he was busy crafting a monumental hanukkiyah… “The idea of turning rockets into menorahs and hanukkiyot is turning the symbol of death and destruction into a symbol of light, and hanukkiyah is the symbol of light,” Bob said.” [Reuters]

Dutch carpenter who built life-sized replica of the Ark plans to sail it to Israel – by George Martin: “Johan Huibers’ Biblical boat complete with wooden animals, was constructed six years ago at the cost of nearly $1.6million, and is currently a popular attraction in Dordrecht, south of Amsterdam. But Huibers told JTA earlier this month that he wants to take his creation to ‘God’s land’, and is seeking donations from good Samaritans to get him there… Huibers planned to take the ship to Israel soon after its completion, but wildfires in Israel torpedoed the journey.  Now he no longer has the approximately $1.3 million necessary for getting there (the ark has no motor, so Huibers needs to rent tugboats to sail it).” [DailyMail]

MAZEL TOV — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is a Zayde (grandfather) for the first time. His daughter, Jessica Schumer, gave birth to Noah Melvin Schumer-Shapiro. h/t Axios

REMEMBERING — Harold O. Levy, Progressive New York City Schools Chief, Dies at 65 — by Robert D. McFadden: “Harold O. Levy, who as the chancellor of New York City’s vast public school system from 2000 to 2002 waged war on its bureaucracy, created specialized high schools and attracted thousands of new teachers by insisting on higher starting wages, died Tuesday at his home in Manhattan… The son of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, Mr. Levy grew up in New York City, attended its public schools and became a Wall Street lawyer who immersed himself privately for years in state and city education issues.” [NYTimes

BIRTHDAYS: Winner of two Academy Awards, three Emmys and seven Grammys, Randy Newman turns 75… New Orleans attorney and associate professor of trial advocacy at Tulane University Law School, Joel Loeffelholzturns 73… David Letterman’s musical director, band leader and sidekick from 1982 to 2015, Paul Shaffer turns 69… Los Angeles-based attorney, Steven Jacob Barkin turns 66… Chief Operating Officer of American Friends of Laniado Hospital in Netanya, Israel, Judy Rapfogel turns 64… Former judge on the US Third Circuit Court of Appeals and then Homeland Security Secretary (2005-2009), he is senior of counsel at Covington & Burling, Michael Chertoff turns 65… Comedian and former host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central (1999-2015), Jon Stewart (born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz) turns 56… Tampa, Florida speech pathologist, Nancy Turkel Laskowitz turns 56… Senior United States Senator from Colorado, Michael Bennet turns 54…

Former CFO of Citigroup and then president of the Global Wealth & Investment Management division of Bank of America, now CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, Sallie Krawcheck turns 54… Editor on the Washington Post’s national desk leading coverage of political enterprise stories and investigations, Matea Gold turns 44… Principal at Chamber Hill Strategies after previous stints at the Podesta Group and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Anna Weinstein turns 46… Writer, public speaker and pro-Israel activist, he is the executive director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, David Nekrutman turns 45… Managing Partner and founder of PR firm, EDGE Partners, Jeremy Wimpfheimer turns 39… Congressman-elect (D-NY-11) from Staten Island, set to take office in January, he served in the US Army (2008-2013) and was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, Max Rose turns 32… Chief Field Building Officer at UpStart, she was previously the executive director of Bikkurim, Aliza Mazor… Jude Rabinowitz

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