Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: September 10, 2019

Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: September 10, 2019

Author Daniel Gordis says US and Israeli Jewry fundamentally different; The North Korean-Israeli shadow war; Biden campaign fundraising plea describes him as a ‘mensch’

Daniel Gordis. (Courtesy of Shalem College)
Daniel Gordis. (Courtesy of Shalem College)

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NEW BOOK — Daniel Gordis: U.S. and Israeli Jewry are fundamentally different — by JI’s Amy Spiro: For months, if not years, alarmist headlines have proclaimed growing cracks in the relationship between Israeli and American Jewry, riven deeper by each new controversy and round of rhetoric. Those ubiquitous headlines are nonsense, says scholar and author Daniel Gordis. There aren’t cracks in the relationship, there’s a gaping chasm, he argues in his latest book, We Stand Divided: The Rift Between American Jews and Israel, out on bookshelves today.

And it’s not because the Israeli government barred two congresswomen from visiting, or because American Jews vote largely for Democrats, or even any other issues and divisions over the Kotel or conversion. It’s because the two largest Jewish communities in the world are fundamentally different and always have been, Gordis, a rabbi and senior vice president at Shalem College in Jerusalem, told Jewish Insider‘s Amy Spiro during a recent interview at a Jerusalem coffee shop.

“These are all important issues,” Gordis said, referencing the failed deal to create a pluralist area at the Kotel and the controversial nation-state law passed last year. “But they’re not the real issue… the relationship is so fraught, and so frayed, and so hanging by a thread, that anything” can cause a blowup, Gordis told JI.

On the radically different communities“People who left Europe made a choice,” Gordis said. “Some people went to America, some came to Palestine. They developed radically different versions of Judaism. The things that are worrisome to American Jews, [Israeli Jews are] not worried about. We’re not worried about assimilation. We’re not worried about intermarriage. We’re not worried about people coming in and shooting up synagogues.” Israelis are worried about existential threats, and about “the world turning on us.”

On the possibilities of healing the relationship“We’ve never actually had a conversation led by the leaders on both sides — political leaders, religious leaders, educational leaders, cultural leaders — who say look, we’re really very different animals,” Gordis said. “We need to first stop and say: We’re very different. Here’s how each has been phenomenally successful. Here’s how each faces very serious threats, but they’re radically different threats.” If that basis is established, he said, “we’ll [be able to] understand each other.” And the interactions can become less about how “you’re not living up to your responsibilities,” and more about how “we’re really very different and we react differently.” [JewishInsider]

BERNIE OPENS UP ABOUT JEWISH UPBRINGING — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) highlighted his Jewish upbringing in Brooklyn and how it impacted his current views in an extensive interview with Yahoo News on Monday.

“I am very proud to be Jewish,” Sanders told reporter Hunter Walker, recalling how he and fellow students attended Hebrew school without actually understanding what they were reading. “I would tell you that I was not much of a Talmudic scholar. I think mostly we were throwing spitballs,” he recounted. “So we did speed reading. We used to have races reading Hebrew. Unbelievable, but true.” 

Oy vey, TrumpThe 78-year-old senator from Vermont, who grew up in Midwood, a Brooklyn neighborhood with a large Jewish immigrant population at the time, said his family “all spoke Yiddish.” When asked what Yiddish phrase he would use to describe Trump, Sanders said, “Oy vey. That’s about it.” Read the full interview here [YahooNews]

MEET BIDEN, THE MENSCH — The Joe Biden campaign wants potential donors to know that he’s a mensch. On Monday, the campaign sent out a fundraising plea from Rabbi Michael Beals of Congregation Beth Shalom in Delaware with the subject line “Joe Biden is a mensch.”

The email mentions how, 16 years earlier, then-Senator Biden visited a shiva house for Mrs. Greenhouse, a Delaware woman who cut Biden an $18 check for his first Senate campaign and continued to do so every six years. He sat in the back while the rabbi recited Kaddish in the laundry room of her apartment building. When the service concluded, Biden told the rabbi: “Listen, back in 1972, when I first ran for Senate, Mrs. Greenhouse gave $18 to my first campaign. Because that’s what she could afford. And every six years, when I’d run for reelection, she’d give another $18. She did it her whole life. I’m here to show my respect and gratitude.”

“Joe Biden didn’t come to that service for political gain,” Beals wrote. “He came to that service because he has character. He came to that service because he’s a mensch. And if we need anything right now when it comes to the leadership of our country — we need a mensch.” 

STATE-SIDE — Candidate accused of antisemitism unveils ad highlighting Jewish heritage — by Aiden Pink: “Valerie Plame, a former spy whose identity was leaked in one of the George W. Bush administration’s most notable scandals, released a video on Monday promoting her candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the Land of Enchantment’s third congressional district, which includes Santa Fe and the rest of the state’s north… Plame attracted controversy in 2017 after tweeting links to antisemitic articles from a Holocaust-denying website… Plame’s campaign ad notes that she is descended from Ukrainian Jewish immigrants.” [Forward

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), addressing the College Democrats of America’s summer convention in New Orleans on Sunday, rejected statements by Trump and others that her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel is antisemitic. “Even if you disagree with it, disagree with it on the policy end,” she said. “Don’t weaponize antisemitism.”

HEARD YESTERDAY — Benny Gantz, head of Israel’s Blue and White Party, said during a campaign event for Anglo voters hosted by the Tel Aviv International Salon that it was a mistake for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to let Reps. Tlaib and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) visit Israel last month “because we’re strong enough to let people see with their own eyes.” Gantz, Netanyahu’s main rival for prime minister, explained, “If you’re not a Saudi [billionaire] the best place to be an Arab in the Middle East is Israel, and the second-best is the West Bank.” He added that “anyone who cooperates with BDS is operating against Israel and it is a form of antisemitism.”

After canceling an event last week with Anglo voters due to his last-minute trip to LondonNetanyahu released a video Tuesday morning calling on his “English-speaking friends” to vote for Likud instead of “Lapid and Gantz at the head of a leftist government that will include Ahmed Tibi and Ayman Odeh as ministers.”

Netanyahu announced Tuesday morning that he will make a “dramatic announcement” at 5 p.m. local time, prompting speculation that he has cut a deal with the far-right Jewish Power Party to convince them to drop out of the race, or that he’ll be announcing that this is his last time running for prime minister.

IRAN WATCH — In a live address on Monday evening, Netanyahu revealed that Iran conducted secret nuclear weapons experiments at a site it destroyed earlier this year. The prime minister showed reporters satellite photos of the site, which he said Iran destroyed as soon as it realized Israel was aware of its existence. “Every time they hide, we reveal, and then they try to cover their tracks,” Netanyahu said, a week before Israel’s redo election.

In response, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that “The possessor of real nukes cries wolf.” Zarif said Netanyahu and his allies “just want a war, no matter innocent blood & another $7 TRILLION.”

VIEW FROM D.C. — Mere hours after Netanyahu’s statement, Trump told reporters on the South Lawn that a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani “could happen.” The president added that he has “no problem with meeting” his Iranian counterpart.

Later, at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Trump chose to stress why he withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal: “$150 billion, President Obama paid, and $1.8 billion in cash and we got taken to the cleaners. So I terminated the deal.” 

Friendly support: Fox News host Sean Hannity defended Trump’s approach on his Monday evening program, stressing that any talks with Iran “would be on the president’s terms. They won’t see a penny in cash, I promise you.”

Inbox: The Republican Jewish Coalition’s national chairman Norm Coleman released a statement focusing on Netanyahu’s announcement, saying it “further highlights the disaster of the Obama/Biden Iran nuclear deal. Any deal that depends on trusting the Iranians to keep their word was bound for failure.” Coleman added that “only President Trump can be trusted” when it comes to the safety and security of the U.S. and Israel.

REPORT — In a secret mission in 2017, the U.S. “successfully extracted” from Russia one of its highest-level covert sources, CNN’s Jim Sciutto reported on Monday. The move came after Trump revealed classified intelligence provided by Israel in an Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. However, former intelligence officials told The New York Times that “there was no public evidence that Mr. Trump directly endangered the source.” The CIA, according to reports, was concerned that too much information was coming out in the media regarding the covert source.

DEEP DIVE — The North Korean-Israeli shadow war — by Jay Solomon: “Concern is now mounting in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that the Trump administration’s current diplomatic overtures toward North Korea, which are aimed at dismantling its nuclear weapons arsenal, will fail as previous U.S.-led efforts have. Israel could then be forced to again consider taking military action to prevent Pyongyang from distributing its supply of increasingly sophisticated weapons into the Mideast, say current and former Israeli officials… North Korea and Israel, though separated by two oceans and 5,000 miles, have been engaged in low-intensity conflict and high-stakes spy games for more than five decades.” [Tablet

HAPPENING TODAY — President Trump will participate in the swearing-in ceremony for U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft in the Oval Office at 5:30 p.m. EDT.

ON THE HILL — In letters to the White House and the State Department, Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) — chairmen of the respective Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees — demanded “records relating to President Trump’s and Mr. [Rudy] Giuliani’s attempts to manipulate the Ukrainian justice system to benefit the President’s re-election campaign and target a possible political opponent.”

ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — Hussein Ibish writes… “There’s still hope for Israeli-Palestinian peace: It’s clearer than ever that the administration’s rethinking of U.S. Mideast peace policy has been a crushing failure. The question now is how to move beyond it… Israeli-Palestinian peace is still possible, despite the terrible situation the Trump administration inherited and the untold additional damage it has done. But it will require that the framework for peace be salvaged. The appalling alternative is to wait for another explosion of violence, which is otherwise unavoidable.” [Bloomberg]

PROFILE — Can an outspoken Spaniard give Europe one voice in the world? — by Steven Erlanger: “[Josep Borrell Fontelles], the Spanish foreign minister, is… likely to be approved in the coming weeks as the European Union’s next foreign policy chief, taking over from Federica Mogherini… More troubling for some is his record of criticizing Israel’s military responses in Gaza and his strong advocacy for Europe to recognize Palestine as a state. But he is also committed to a two-state solution and the ‘existence of Israel as a Jewish state and as a democracy.’ He has also shown strong sympathies toward the government of Iran. ‘Iran wants to wipe out Israel, there’s nothing new about that,’ he said, and has praised Iran’s stabilizing ‘essential role’ in Syria.” [NYTimes]

ACROSS THE POND — U.K. Parliament Speaker John Bercow announced on Monday that he will step down on October 31 after a decade in his post as speaker. “This has been, let me put it explicitly, the greatest privilege and honor of my professional life for which I will be eternally grateful,” an emotional Bercow told the House of Commons. The announcement came as the parliament was prorogued until October 14 at the behest of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

WATCH — Bercow, the first Jewish speaker of the House of Commons, gave viewers one last moment to remember in his final speech before the parliament was suspended: “You wouldn’t have the foggiest idea where to start in counseling me. I require no response from you, I require no response to you, young man… Get out, man!” [Video]

2020 BRIEFS — Bernie Sanders says he’s not worried about splitting the progressive vote with Elizabeth Warren… How Warren raised big money before she denounced big money… NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer endorses Warren… With Warren and Sanders on his heels, Joe Biden ramps up Iowa organization… Risk or safety? The dividing line between Biden and his challengers… Why Biden’s rivals are planning around his big collapse… Internal Kamala Harris document acknowledges ‘Summer Slump’…  Trump privately tells confidants that ‘socialism’ won’t be ‘so easy’ to beat in 2020… Jon Ossoff to run for U.S. Senate in Georgia… 

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: SoftBank urges WeWork to shelve IPO [FinancialTimes] • Activist investor Elliott Management discloses AT&T stake, calls for shake-up [WSJ] • L Brands investors poised to demand answers from Les Wexner after 35% hammering [Bloomberg• George Soros: Will Trump sell out the U.S. on Huawei? [WSJ]

MORE BRIEFS: Ben Lerer’s Group Nine Media raises additional $50 Million from Discovery and Axel Springer [WSJ] • Joel Gluck eyes Israeli bond offering to refi half-finished church conversion. Appraisers have questions [RealDeal] • Israeli Cyber spying firm NSO to follow human rights guidelines [Reuters] • Tshuva, Gabay sell US real estate co for $1.85b [Globes]

SPOTLIGHT — Billionaire saves Broadway producer from the brink of bankruptcy — by Marc Hershberg: “After the ambitious Hollywood and Broadway production company failed to repay over $200 million in bank loans, Larry Ellison, the founder’s affluent father, stepped in to save the business from shutting down. He convinced the banks to accept 82 cents for every dollar that Annapurna owed them, and the company will not seek a new line of credit to finance its various productions. ‘Restructuring deals with financial institutions is not uncommon, yet the process is usually handled without a spotlight on it,’ stated its founder, Megan Ellison.” [Forbes]

LONG READ — My Terezín diary — By Zuzana Justman: “What is most striking to me today about the diary I kept seventy-five years ago is what I left out. I kept the diary from December 8, 1943, until March 4, 1944 — the first winter of the two years I was imprisoned with my parents, Viktor Pick and Marie Picková, and my brother, Bobby, in the Czech concentration camp. (The camp was also known as Theresienstadt.) In addition to eight entries, it contains a few drawings, a poem about snow, and a story dealing with Terezín morality. Right after the war, I added a list of my girlfriends, marking the names of those who did not survive with a minus sign.” [NewYorker]

MEDIA WATCH — Mark Halperin ‘threatened’ MSNBC chief Phil Griffin for nixing his comeback — by Maxwell Tani: “Disgraced political pundit Mark Halperin was very unhappy when MSNBC brass nixed his attempt to repair his career through a possible collaboration with the stars of ‘Morning Joe.’ So he picked up the phone and called network chief Phil Griffin… Multiple sources tell The Daily Beast that the conversation earlier this year became acrimonious, with Halperin dishing up vague threats against his former boss.” [DailyBeast]

TALK OF THE TOWN — Blaze destroys synagogue in Minnesota city; cause unknown: “Fire officials say a blaze has gutted a historic synagogue in a Minnesota city… All that is left among the charred remains [of the Adas Israel Congregation in downtown Duluth] are the remnants of some structural walls… Officials haven’t provided information on the cause of the blaze.” A preliminary investigation found that no accelerants were detected at the site of the fire. 2020 presidential candidate and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar tweeted that she was “Thinking of our friends in the Duluth Jewish Community today.” [APNewsTribune]

ACROSS THE SEA — Israeli tourist attacked in Berlin for speaking Hebrew — by Benjamin Weinthal: “A 21-year-old Israeli tourist was attacked and punched in the face as he was speaking Hebrew in the Berlin district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, police authorities reported. The police termed the assault, as ‘Bodily injury with antisemitic background,’ in the official police notice reviewed by The Jerusalem Post.” [JPost]

The Muslim woman who photographed Bradford’s last synagogue — by Helen Pidd: “The [Bradford, U.K.] city’s synagogue, a grade II-listed building, almost shut down in 2013, unable to afford roof repairs — until the Muslim community raised funds to cover costs. A £103,000 lottery grant followed, enabling full repairs, but the number of worshippers has stuck stubbornly at just 45… All of this caught the attention of Nudrat Afza, a Muslim single mother who — despite never being able to afford her own camera — is about to exhibit a series of photographs documenting the dwindling population of Bradford’s last remaining synagogue. Afza… made friends with Rudi Leavor, the synagogue’s ‘93-and-a-quarter-year-old’ chairman, after carrying out a particularly heroic mission to transfer a fridge from a synagogue in nearby Shipley when it closed in 2013.” [TheGuardian]

PHOTO ESSAY — Israel’s settlers and the Palestinians they live among: Israel’s settler communities are hardly homogeneous. Some settlers are driven by burning ideology. Others are just looking for a cheap apartment. Some of the settlements adjacent to Israel are seen by many Israelis as just regular towns, unlike the more isolated enclaves deep inside the West Bank… Against the backdrop of desert hills, the villas of Maale Adumim provide their inhabitants with a comfortable life. Education is good and transport to the city is easy.” [Reuters]

TRANSITIONS — Alison Hirsh, political director for Local 32BJ in Manhattan, was hired as a senior advisor for strategic planning to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. According to the mayor’s office, Hirsh will help de Blasio “design his vision, policies and agenda” for his remaining two years in office.

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) announced on Monday several promotions within its Washington, D.C. headquarters. Jody Rabhan is now chief policy officer, Lindsay Morris has moved to become director of engagement and leadership, Faith Williams will be associate director of government relations and advocacy, and Maranda Jones-Anderson has joined the senior leadership team.

DESSERT — The best Israeli restaurant is in the most surprising place in America — by Tzach Yoked: “One could easily say that Yalla Vermont is the best Israeli restaurant you’ll never eat in. The place has an Israeli name, an Israeli chef and menu, and it’s adorned with pictures of Israel. It’s located in Brattleboro in southwestern Vermont, on the border with New Hampshire — a town of some 12,000 residents, none of whom is Israeli. ‘New York doesn’t interest me, nor does New Jersey,’ says Zohar Arama, 47, the owner of the year-old restaurant.” [Haaretz]

BIRTHDAYS: Holocaust survivor who has dedicated her adult life to teaching and sharing memories of the Holocaust, Tauba Biterman turns 101… Mega philanthropist Robert M. Beren turns 95… Chairman of Shamrock Holdings, Roy Disney’s private investment company, he has served in leadership roles on the boards of Walt Disney Company, Tadiran, USC, HUC-JIR and the LA Jewish Federation, Stanley Gold turns 77… Huntington Beach, California resident, Dianne Varon turns 79… Attorney focused principally on the areas of futures and derivatives law, Gerald Fishman turns 77… Coordinator of the Youth Advisory Council at Independence, Missouri’s Truman Heartland Community Foundation, Henri Goettel turns 73…

Houston attorney, publisher of the Texas Conservative Review, he has served on the boards of AIPAC and Jewish Federations of North America, Gary M. Polland turns 69… Denver attorney and politician, he served in the Colorado House of Representatives (2003-2011), Joel Judd turns 67… Founder and CEO of NYC-based hedge fund JS Capital Management LLC, he is the son of George Soros, Jonathan Soros turns 49… Television writer and producer whose work includes The “Big Bang Theory,” Eric Kaplan turns 48… Director of the Mid-Atlantic Region of Agudath Israel, Ariel Sadwin turns 44… PR strategist Josh Nass turns 28..

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