Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: September 11, 2019
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Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: September 11, 2019

Experts weigh in on Bolton dismissal, Netanyahu annexation pledge; Israel’s baseball team: Now starring actual Israelis; Hollywood heavyweights use Hitler’s words to fight hate

National security adviser John Bolton in the Oval Office of the White House, June 20, 2019, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)
National security adviser John Bolton in the Oval Office of the White House, June 20, 2019, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)

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SCENE LAST NIGHT — Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer hosted his annual pre-Rosh Hashanah reception at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. Members of the Trump administration present included Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, outgoing Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, and White House assistant Avi Berkowitz. [PicPic]

Also in attendance were Reps. Max Rose (D-NY) and Elaine Luria (D-VA), former Reps. Jane Harman and Ron Klein, Halie Soifer, William Daroff, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Josh Block, Mort and Rita Klein, Steve Rabinowitz and Aaron Keyak.

Dermer reportedly praised Berkowitz’s appointment as Greenbatt’s replacement, and thanked the outgoing envoy for his “tireless efforts to advance peace between Israel and our neighbors.”

Worth noting: The attendance of several prominent Democrats comes a few weeks after Democratic leaders — including Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey — reportedly weighed issuing a statement of no confidence in Dermer after Israel reversed its decision to let freshmen Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar visit.

FIRED BY TWEET — National Security Advisor John Bolton was dismissed Tuesday by President Donald Trump, who wrote that “his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration.” Trump said he will be naming a replacement for Bolton next week.

Charles Kupperman, a former Reagan administration official and Bolton’s deputy, was named acting national security advisor. 

Narrative War: Bolton insisted on Twitter that he “offered” to resign and the president promised to discuss it in private on Tuesday before preempting him. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters that Bolton’s “priorities and policies just don’t line up with the president” on “many issues.”

Bolton’s rival Pompeo weighs in: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was his understanding that Trump asked for Bolton’s resignation last night and it was received on Tuesday morning. “The president is entitled to the staff he wants,” Pompeo declared during a White House press briefing. The Associated Press reported that tensions had risen between Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over influence in the president’s orbit. The Washington Post posited that, with Bolton out of the White House, Pompeo will “have more autonomy and freedom to operate.”

How it played: According to the New York Times’ Peter Baker, Trump never warmed to Bolton and “has long complained privately” that Bolton was too willing to get the U.S. into another war. The Times also noted that Bolton “had the strong backing of Sheldon Adelson.”

Dialing an ex: NBC News reported that Trump had reached out to Bolton’s predecessor, retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, in recent months for national security advice. In one phone call, Trump reportedly told McMaster “that he missed him.”

On The Hill: Bolton’s departure received mixed reactions on Capitol Hill, with Republican lawmakers — including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) — heaping praise on the outgoing NSC chief and many Democrats expressing concern over what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described as “disarray” at the White House.

What does this mean for the Trump-Netanyahu relationship? Bolton was considered an ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a key backer of the administration’s hard-line policy toward Iran. Bolton’s departure and Trump’s willingness to engage with the Iranian regime likely worries Netanyahu and signals a shift in strategy that could complicate Israel’s military campaign against Iran.

Remaining team on board with Rouhani meeting: Pompeo told reporters that a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the U.N. General Assembly next week is possible. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin added that while Trump leaves the door open for possible talks, the team is “completely aligned on the maximum pressure campaign” against Tehran.

Talk in Tehran: An Iranian official said Wednesday that Bolton’s departure “will not push Iran to reconsider talking with the U.S.” Rouhani once again urged the U.S. to end its policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran if it expects to renew negotiations.

Experts react — Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute: “I do think [Bolton] has been one of the president’s advisors most likely to frontally challenge the wisdom of meeting with the Iranians or the Taliban. I have no doubt that Secretaries Pompeo and Esper share those views, but John Bolton has always been willing to play hardball, and for that, it appears he’s paid a price. I can’t imagine this will impact the relationship with Israel, but can easily imagine it smooths the road to a possible meeting with Rouhani at the UNGA. That said, the biggest obstacle to a meeting between Trump and Rouhani was never John Bolton; it is the Supreme Leader.”

Emily Landau, Institute for National Security Studies: “There were indications lately that this decision was in the works. The Iran crisis is probably at least partially behind it, and may have been a major consideration, in light of Trump’s interest in meeting with Rouhani. The message is problematic not because of Bolton per se but what this means as far as US preparations for negotiating with the Iranians. The sense is that Trump is making decisions on his own and believes he can fix the problem in a single meeting with Rouhani. This is not going to work, or it could result in a terrible agreement that will leave all of the administration’s demands by the wayside. And this is just at the time when there is mounting evidence of Iran’s nuclear activities that are a breach of the NPT and the JCPOA.”

ZOA’s Mort Klein tells JI’s Jacob Kornbluh he’s pushing U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as a replacement for Bolton. According to Klein, Grenell “will be as strong as John Bolton on national security, against Iran and strong on Israel.” But he is also a “great diplomat. He knows how to talk to people without upsetting them.” Klein said he will be meeting Grenell in D.C. on Saturday.

Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) tells JI: “John Bolton’s departure indicates the incoherence and danger of Trump’s erratic foreign policy, especially with regard to Iran and other critical issues. It remains unclear — to our adversaries and allies, including Israel — what American leadership under Trump stands for.”

DRIVING THE ISRAELI ELECTION — by JI’s Jacob Kornbluh: Following hours of speculation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that his next government, if re-elected on September 17, will immediately apply Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea as part of a broader plan to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The embattled Israeli leader called on voters to grant him the mandate to capitalize on a “unique, one-off opportunity” created by the Trump administration’s green light. [Video]

Why it matters: “A polling company working for Netanyahu’s Likud party has in recent days been asking voters about potential support by Donald Trump’s administration for annexation of various areas.” [Haaretz]

Behind the scenes: According to media reports, Netanyahu was expected to declare the move immediately, but backed down after the Trump administration expressed its opposition ahead of the peace plan rollout. “Out of respect for President Trump and out of great faith in our friendship, I will wait for the release of the president’s peace plan before extending sovereignty,” Netanyahu said. “To the extent possible, I want to extend sovereignty to these communities and other areas in maximum coordination with the United States.”

Word from the White House: An administration official told JI that there “is no change in U.S. policy at this time.” The official added that the Trump peace plan will be released “after the Israeli election” and that the White House will “work to determine the best path forward to bring long-sought security, opportunity and stability to the region.” The White House confirmed that Netanyahu informed the administration ahead of time and that they didn’t object because the understanding was that it doesn’t preclude the possibility of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

REACTION  — Netanyahu’s campaign rivals quickly dismissed his “dramatic announcement” as more political spin just days away from the election. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said if Israel moves forward with the plan it will have “succeeded in burying even any chance of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.” Across the Arab world, however, the reaction was more muted, though the Arab League labeled Netanyahu’s promise as “aggression.” J Street called the move “unacceptable,” while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) both condemned it.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer tells JI: “The announcement is the 2019 version of [Netanyahu’s 2015 election day claim that] ‘the Arabs are coming in droves to vote.’ It will frighten some into believing there’s a credible threat from the east that justifies this action, and it will cause right-wing voters to cheer and vote for Likud. Any even semi-positive reaction from Washington will add another fatal blow to an already dead U.S. peace policy.”

Nimrod Novik, a fellow at the Israel Policy Forum and former advisor to Shimon Peres, tells JI that if Netanyahu’s declaration is just electioneering, “it signals panic. If there is a risk that he will make good on it, that is probably the most important reason to hope that he is not reelected.” While Novik supports Israel annexing certain portions of the West Bank in any future peace negotiations, “what works in an agreement can prove disastrous when done unilaterally.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro emails JI: “If Trump signals he would recognize Israeli unilateral annexation in the West Bank, that may excite some Israeli voters. But that party could come with a hangover. In a little over a year, a Democratic successor to Trump would certainly withdraw [such] U.S. recognition.”

Dr. Dore Gold opined that Netanyahu’s move was to put the subject  — a consensus — “back on the diplomatic table.” According to Gold, in his final Knesset address in 1995, then-Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin “declared that the future border of Israel will be in the Jordan Valley in the widest sense of that term.”

ZOA’s Klein tells JI that given Netanyahu’s past history in making pre-election promises, “we cannot have confidence that he will actually follow through on his promise” to annex Jewish communities in Area C. “His record is not great.”

Dr. Einat Wilf, a former member of Knesset, suggested that Netanyahu’s campaign promise “has been carefully crafted to appeal to the maximalist agenda of the right-wing settler movement for full annexation of much of the West Bank, while also appealing to the Israeli security-oriented political center, which considers the Jordan Valley an essential security asset of Israel.”

However, according to Wilf, “the unintended consequence of Netanyahu’s campaign promise is that it might finally open a much-needed discussion in Israel on crafting Israel’s final eastern border, even in the absence of a possibility of attaining a peace agreement with the Palestinians… The debate over the precise extent of annexation — from the left’s 4-8% to the right’s 60-100% — might define the political map for the coming years.” 

Dov Zakheim, a former Bush and Reagan administration official, explained in an interview with JI’s Jacob Kornbluh that Trump doesn’t seem to have gone out of his way to help Netanyahu in this repeat election because he is “hedging his bets. If Netanyahu wins, then he will support him. If he loses, then Bibi is a loser and Trump will dump him as quickly as he dumps anybody else.”

But Zakheim emphasized that not supporting Netanyahu doesn’t necessarily mean that Trump is dumping Israel. “It’s not so much the American Jewish vote Trump cares about. He cares about the evangelical vote, and he needs that vote regardless of what happens to Netanyahu. From Trump’s perspective, the best thing is just to keep quiet. The basic rule with our president is it’s all about what is good for Trump, and if you look at it this way, everything that he’s done makes sense. Right now it’s not good for Trump to commit to Netanyahu. So he won’t. He might, but I’d be very surprised if he does.” 

Hours after his live address, Netanyahu attended a campaign rally in Ashdod, where he was rushed off the stage by security after rockets fired from Gaza triggered an air raid siren . Netanyahu returned to the stage minutes later to continue his speech, but the video footage of his departure was quickly latched on to by his critics from both the left and the right.

SCENE IN JEDDAH — Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with a delegation of Evangelical Christian leaders, headed by American-Israeli author Joel Rosenberg, on Tuesday. [Pic]

RISING STARS — The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Aspen Institute announced a new cohort of leaders on Tuesday who will participate in the inaugural class of the Civil Society Fellowship. The 23 individuals selected span the nonprofit, media, law enforcement and private sectors. Philanthropist Marc Rowan, co-founder of Apollo Global Management, is the fellowship’s lead benefactor.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tells JI: “In this time of rising hate and extreme partisanship, the country is aching for healthy civil discourse. We are now bringing together a group of diverse individuals from around the country and across the ideological spectrum to turn their ideas into actions that will strengthen American civil society. I hope that this emerging fellowship cohort of leaders will have the opportunity to engage with one another, share insights, challenge one another’s ideas respectfully, and expand their horizons.”

PROFILE — After breaking glass ceiling in Israel, Druze woman aims for equality — by Alexandra Vardi: “[Gadeer Kamal Mreeh] became the first Druze woman to be elected to Israel’s parliament in April, but new polls were called shortly afterwards… With this election, she hopes to win a real mandate, and her 25th place on Blue and White’s electoral list gives her a strong chance to do so… Mreeh calls for diversity to be valued in Israel. ‘I’m a woman and I’m a minority member,’ said the ex-journalist and mother of two. ‘I made it. It wasn’t easy. Believe me when I tell you that you can do it.’” [AFP]

2020 BRIEFS — Bernie Sanders, stuck in second place, under pressure to upstage Elizabeth Warren… Biden aims to use the debate to question Warren’s corporate work… Wall Street executives are saying Warren’s 2020 bid has ‘got to be stopped’… Business Insider will host a GOP debate between Joe Walsh and Bill Weld in NYC on September 24th and streamed live on Facebook…

** 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: Stephen Schwarzman‘s Blackstone looks to sell Park Ave Tower for more than $800 million [RealDeal• L Brands chief Les Wexner tells investors he’s ‘embarrassed’ by Jeffrey Epstein ties [FinancialTimes] • WeWork’s IPO is in flux and its bondholders are getting nervous [Bloomberg] • David Lichtenstein’s Lightstone Group becomes third NYC developer in a week to plan new Tel Aviv bond issuance, targeting $73 million [RealDeal

MORE BRIEFS: Baxter buys Israeli company Cheetah Medical for $230 million [Globes] • Israeli startup Snyk raises $70 million in new funding to push forward its ‘fanatical focus’ on developers [BusinessInsider] • Former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper promotes Israel investments [Globes]

BOOK REVIEW — Was Michael Bloomberg New York City’s greatest mayor? — by David Greenberg: “Since he left office in 2014, Americans appear to have forgotten why [Mike Bloomberg] became a figure of historic importance in the first place. The veteran political journalist Eleanor Randolph, who until 2016 wrote about the mayor as a member of the New York Times editorial board, has come to remind us. Her new biography, The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg, is an excellent introduction not only to the man’s tenure as mayor but also to his rise as a Wall Street trader, technology innovator and media magnate (and, less remarkably, his post-mayoralty). Had he run for president this year, the book would have found a place on every political junkie’s shelf.” [NYTimes]

HOLLYWOOD — Hollywood heavyweights use Hitler’s words to fight hate — by Scott Feinberg: ”At a time when hate speech and hate crimes are surging all around the world, West L.A.’s Museum of Tolerance is warning that every display of hate must be taken seriously… That’s what happened 100 years ago — on Sept. 16, 1919 — when a 30-year-old Adolf Hitler, just out of World War I service and into a German Army propaganda unit, penned a missive that’s now the most historically significant item in the museum’s archive… To mark the document’s centenary, four entertainment moguls and supporters of the museum and its sibling, the Simon Wiesenthal Center — Paramount’s Jim Gianopulos, Quibi’s Jeffrey Katzenberg, NBCUniversal’s Ron Meyer and Netflix’s Ted Sarandos — visited the museum on an August morning to examine the letter with Rabbi Marvin Hier, SWC’s founder (and a two-time Oscar winner).” [HollywoodReporter]

Israeli TV show puts wall between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews — by Oliver Holmes: “Currently touring film festivals across the world, the six-part series ‘Autonomies’ envisions a clash between secular Jews and the deeply religious ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews. In this vision, set in the near future, civil war has cut the land into two countries. The coastal State of Israel is nonreligious, with the cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv as its capital. Jerusalem is a walled, autonomous city-state, run by Haredi rabbis. At first glance dystopian, the show is in fact an artistic extrapolation of real-life rifts in Israeli society.” [TheGuardian]

SPORTS BLINK — Israel’s baseball team: Now starring actual Israelis — by Jared Diamond: “Israel now hopes to earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympics next year, with baseball returning to the program for the first time since 2008. Unlike the WBC, the Olympic Charter requires all athletes to be a national of the country they represent — a problem, since only about 1,000 people play baseball in Israel. So Israel found a solution: Over the past year, more than a dozen Jewish-American professional ballplayers have obtained Israeli citizenship under the nation’s Law of Return… With their help, Israel is one of 12 teams currently playing in the European championship, with the top five advancing to the Olympic qualifiers in Italy.” [WSJ]

TALK OF THE NATION — Man who said he would ‘slaughter’ Jews wanted by FBI after not reporting to prison — by Kevin Grasha: “Izmir Ali Koch, 34, was sentenced in July for beating the man outside the Mirage Mediterranean Restaurant in Symmes Township. But U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott allowed Koch, who was convicted of a federal hate crime charge, to self-surrender a month later at a federal prison in West Virginia. On the designated date, Aug. 16, Koch didn’t show up to begin serving his 2½-year sentence. The FBI says Koch has ties to Rostov, Russia and frequently travels to Istanbul, Turkey.” [TheInquirer

TALK OF THE TOWN — Expansion of Vatican-owned East Jerusalem hotel stalled over ‘antisemitism’ claims — by Nir Hasson: “Plans to build an extension onto an East Jerusalem hotel owned by the Vatican have stalled following opposition from a Jerusalem city councilman, who claims that the hotel management is antisemitic. Elisha Peleg, the Likud-affiliated councilman, made it clear he was not referring to the Vatican itself, but said that the hotel management does not recognize Israel and refuses to fly the Israeli flag.” [Haaretz

Holocaust survivor’s son asks judge to block auction of dad’s relic — by Priscilla DeGregory: “The son of a Holocaust survivor claims a struggling unaccredited Jewish museum is auctioning off a World War II artifact that he inherited from his late dad without his permission, according to a new lawsuit. Rabbi Hyman Rubin says he discovered the 8-foot-tall Krumbach Torah Ark — which was gifted to his Auschwitz survivor father Rabbi Menachem Mendal Rubin from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after the war — was illegally put up for auction at Guernsey’s last week [by the Living Torah Museum in Brooklyn], according to his Manhattan Supreme Court suit filed late Monday.” [NYPost]

REMEMBERING — Robert Frank dies; pivotal documentary photographer was 94 — by Philip Gefter: “Robert Frank, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, whose visually raw and personally expressive style was pivotal in changing the course of documentary photography, died on Monday in Inverness, on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia… Robert Louis Frank was born in Zurich on Nov. 9, 1924, the younger son of well-to-do Jewish parents… Safe in neutral Switzerland from the Nazi threat looming across Europe, Robert Frank studied and apprenticed with graphic designers and photographers in Zurich, Basel and Geneva.” [NYTimes]

BIRTHDAYS: Owner of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and founder of Appaloosa Management, David Tepper turns 62… Three-time winner of an Academy Award as a lyricist and songwriter, Alan Bergman turns 94… De Pere, Wisconsin resident, Janis Kohlenberg turns 80… French physicist who was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics, Serge Haroche turns 75… Pediatric nephrologist practicing at the Children’s National Medical Center, Dr. Jonathan Heiliczer turns 69… Member of the New Jersey General Assembly since 2006, Gary Schaer turns 68… Co-executive producer of an 8-hour documentary series on climate change for National Geographic Channel, Jon Meyersohn turns 63… Agoura Hills, California resident, Marian Rubinstein turns 62…

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge, Ellen Ceisler turns 62… Manager of the UK hedge fund, Brevan Howard Asset Management, and the former director of the Conservative Friends of Israel, Alan Howard turns 56… London-based, British-French financier and author, he is the CEO and founding partner of Stanhope Capital, Daniel Pinto turns 53… CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Mark Dubowitz turns 51… Israeli investigative journalist Raviv Drucker turns 49… Executive director at JP Morgan Chase, Daniel E. Berger turns 46… Member of the Illinois Legislature, Yehiel Mark Kalish turns 44… Jessica S. Setless turns 32… Life editor at The ForwardAvital Chizhik-Goldschmidt turns 28… Udi Ben Zeev

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