Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: September 12, 2019

Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff: September 12, 2019

Jason Greenblatt teases that he may stay on at White House; Trump’s longtime lobbyist has some iffy Middle East connections; US pressuring Israel to rethink investment from China

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (unseen) meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's Middle East peace envoy, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 14, 2017. (Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (unseen) meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's Middle East peace envoy, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 14, 2017. (Flash90)

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LATE CHECK-OUT — Jason Greenblatt teases that he may stay on at White House — by JI’s Jacob Kornbluh: In a White House known for sudden personnel changes and decisions, outgoing-Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt revealed on Wednesday that he might continue as the administration’s point person on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“Although I have announced my departure, I am trying to stay until the plan is launched,” Greenblatt said at an event hosted by Friends of the European Leadership Network (ELNET) at the Harmonie Club in New York City. Greenblatt, according to a recording obtained by Jewish Insider, added that, “If the plan is launched soon, I will stay. And if the plan is launched and we get traction, I hope to stay longer — and I have my family’s support for it.”

Ultimate deal timing: Greenblatt said that the Trump administration has yet to decide whether to release the plan before the formation of a new Israeli government. “I think there’s a good possibility that we will put it out after the election,” he said. “But I think we have to wait and see what happens with the election and what happens in the weeks following the election — in terms of what the coalition-building looks like. So no decision has been made yet.” [JewishInsider]

DEM DEBATE PREVIEW — by JI’s Ben Jacobs in Houston, Texas: The criteria imposed by the Democratic National Committee have thinned the herd for the third debate. A number of candidates with serious resumes — including a purple-state senator, a red-state governor and the mayor of the largest city in the nation — will not be on stage. But, finally, all of the top-tier candidates will be together in one room.

What will be different: Three-term Senator Amy Klobuchar and former HUD secretary Julian Castro will be at the far edges of the debate, in stage positions previously held by the likes of John Delaney and John Hickenlooper.

What is likely to remain the same: The attention and attacks are expected to remain focused on frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden. Although Biden has been bloodied in past debates — most notably when Kamala Harris attacked his past opposition to busing — he has not sustained any lasting damage. The question for those seeking to take him down is whether the third debate will finally be the charm.

Where to watch tonight’s debate: The debate will air on ABC from 8 p.m. until 11 p.m. EDT. Full preview: [JewishInsider]

2020 BRIEFS — Amy Klobuchar is tired of debate questions about other candidates… Electability worries haunt Sanders… Biden camp thinks the media just doesn’t get it… Why Beto O’Rourke argues he has a new case to make to voters…

DRIVING THE CONVO — President Donald Trump is reportedly considering easing sanctions on Iran to pave the way for a public meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in New York later this month. Bloomberg reported that — during an Oval Office meeting on Monday — Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin expressed his support for such a move, while then-National Security Advisor John Bolton “forcefully” opposed such a step. On Tuesday, Trump fired Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested that a meeting with Rouhani is possible.

Big deal, if confirmed: Trump has given the impression that he is “actively considering” the French plan to grant the Iranian regime a $15 billion credit line if it returns to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, The Daily Beast reported on Wednesday. Robert Malley, a former Obama administration national security official who met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in July, told the publication that Zarif’s surprise appearance at the G-7 last month is an indication that “Trump must have signaled openness to Macron’s idea.”

Trump’s latest comment: “We will see what happens,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday when asked about sanctions relief. “I think Iran has tremendous potential. They are incredible people. We are not looking for regime change. We hope we can make a deal. And if we can’t make a deal, that’s fine too. But I think they have to make a deal. They have never been in this condition.”

Experts react — Jason Brodsky, policy director of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), tells JI: “Easing sanctions solely for a meeting with Iran’s president, who isn’t its supreme decision maker, isn’t maximum pressure. Despite the reporting, there remains a public gap between the maximum the U.S. may offer for Iran to come to the table, and the minimum Iran will accept for negotiations.”

Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) emails JI: “This is the same mistake President Obama made in 2013 when he relieved the sanctions pressure on Iran to incentivize negotiations that led to the fatally-flawed JCPOA, giving Tehran patient pathways to nuclear weapons. Why President Trump would want to pull an Obama 2.0 is troubling and puzzling.” 

Tommy Vietor, a former spokesman for the National Security Council during Obama’s tenure and founder of Crooked Media: “My basic view is that I think Trump should be willing to meet with Rouhani or any other foreign leader. The problem is that Trump is a terrible negotiator. He’s trying to buy a meeting with Rouhani by offering sanctions relief in the hope that it will lead to a negotiation and eventually a deal as strong as the JCPOA. Meanwhile, hard liners in Iran are empowered and our European allies are furious at us for ratcheting up tensions.”

Hudson Institute’s Douglas Feith tells JI: “President Trump deserves credit for the surprising effectiveness of unilateral U.S. sanctions. If Iran wants sanctions relief, it should be willing to alter its behavior substantially. If it does so, some sanctions relief can reasonably be granted.” But Feith added, “The U.S. should not have to pay Iran anything to come to the table.”

INTERVIEW — Wendy Sherman, who served as lead negotiator for the Obama administration on the JCPOAsaid in an interview with JI’s Jacob Kornbluh that she “would be shocked if Iran agreed to a meeting without some sanctions relief.” According to Sherman, if Trump is serious in offering Tehran some relief, “There are plenty of ways to do this so that everyone’s interests can be met and so that everyone’s face can be saved.”

But even if the U.S. relaunches direct negotiations with Iran, it “is a very complicated undertaking,” the former diplomat stressed. “I think what’s most important here is that the president go to a meeting with a strategy; a clear objective and a plan. Following that he will need a team that can follow up, a set of consultations that have happened with our partners and allies, and a really full idea of not only what the first step is, but what the next many steps are. The president, as we know, has gone into some of these meetings thinking that he could simply trust his own instincts and his own impulses and that has never gotten a result good for our national security.”

Sherman on the 2020 candidates pledging to return to the deal: “I think virtually all of them have said they would start by going back to the deal and I agree with that. Of course, Iran would have to come into full compliance. Likely, we would then, as in all arms control agreements, work for a follow-on agreement. The conditions have changed because of the president’s actions and Iran’s reaction to the president’s actions. The JCPOA remains the essential base but as a negotiator you have to take that into account and you have to address where we are.” [JewishInsider]

Israel on edge: Michael Koplow, policy director at the Israel Policy Forum, suggested that a meeting with Rouhani would be a significant policy loss and a political blow for Netanyahu. “I don’t think that Netanyahu can do much publicly to push back against Trump should he go down this path, since he has backed himself into a corner with two years of extolling Trump as the greatest friend Israel has had,” Koplow explained. “He’s also unlikely to risk provoking Trump’s wrath given the president’s penchant for turning on former friends and allies over what he perceives as insults or personal slights.”

What are Bibi’s options? Netanyahu’s best path forward, Koplow says, is to mobilize his remaining allies in the administration — presumably Mike Pompeo and Jared Kushner — and Republican members of Congress who may have some sway with Trump. “Ultimately, Israel may find that it is in no different a position than every other putative American ally when it comes to Trump’s transactional nature and, like all the others, will need to fend for itself,” he warned, “raising the question as to why Netanyahu and other Israeli officials ever thought that Israel would be the sole exception to Trump’s own laws of nature.”

Jonathan Greenberg, a senior fellow with the Haym Salomon Center, tells JI that Netanyahu should “appeal to ego.” Greenberg, who served as AIPAC’s Midwest political director from 2008 to 2011, suggested that the Israeli leader should make it clear to Trump that it would be beneath the dignity of the presidency to meet “with underlings. Rouhani is an underling.”

View from Jerusalem: In an interview with Channel 20 on Wednesday, Netanyahu maintained that despite potential talks and Bolton’s departure, “I have no doubts at all, that in any situation — with talks, without talks — President Trump and his administration will be very, very tough with Iran.”

Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar said at the Maariv-Jerusalem Post conference on Wednesday that despite disagreement on Iran, Trump is considered a friend of Israel, “but unlike what the antisemites say, we don’t control the U.S.” Former minister Naftali Bennett, however, said that he was “very” worried that Trump is seeking rapprochement with Iran. “Trump is obviously a big friend of Israel, but at the end of the day our interests are not identical, he has his interests, we have our interests,” said Bennett.

REPORT — Israel accused of planting mysterious spy devices near the White House — by Daniel Lippman: “The U.S. government concluded within the last two years that Israel was most likely behind the placement of cell-phone surveillance devices that were found near the White House and other sensitive locations around Washington, D.C… But unlike most other occasions when flagrant incidents of foreign spying have been discovered on American soil, the Trump administration did not rebuke the Israeli government, and there were no consequences for Israel’s behavior.” [Politico]

Israeli denial: The Israeli Embassy in Washington said Thursday that “These allegations are absolute nonsense. Israel doesn’t conduct espionage operations in the United States, period.” The Prime Minister’s Office added that the report is “a blatant lie. There is a longstanding commitment and a directive from the Israeli government not to engage in any intelligence operations in the U.S. This directive is strictly enforced without exception.”

STATE VISIT — Netanyahu is slated to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi today to discuss regional developments. This marks the 13th meeting between the two leaders and it comes just five days ahead of the Sept. 17 elections, in which Netanyahu is competing with Avigdor Lieberman for Russian-speaking voters. Their last meeting, in Moscow on April 4, was also five days before the previous Israeli election. Hours before the visit, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned Netanyahu’s recent promise to annex settlements, saying it could “sharply escalate tensions in the region.”

War on the horizon? Shortly before departing for Russia, Netanyahu said Thursday that an impending war with Gaza is likely on the way. “I do not wage war unless it is a last resort and I don’t risk the lives of our soldiers and citizens just to get applause,” he told Reshet Bet radio. “We will probably have no choice but to set out on a big campaign, a war against the terror forces in Gaza.”

SCENE IN JERUSALEM — Netanyahu met with U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie at the Knesset on Wednesday. Wilkie then took part in a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of September 11 at the 9/11 Living Memorial in Jerusalem. [Pic

Keynote address: Ambassador Nathan A. Sales, the U.S. coordinator for counterterrorism, is slated to deliver a speech today at the closing session of the International Institute for Counterterrorism’s annual World Summit in Herzliya, Israel. The State Department said Sales will “highlight the ongoing threat that al-Qaida networks and affiliates pose around the world, and what steps the United States is taking against this terrorist group.”

Sigal Mandelker, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department, attended the conference on Wednesday. “As a child of Holocaust survivors, it has been particularly meaningful to me to lead this great organization and to develop and implement strategies to keep money out of the hands of malign actors 80 years after the United States Treasury Department first worked to keep billions of dollars out of Hitler’s grasp,” she told the gathering.

RACE TO THE KNESSET — With five days until the redo Israeli election, campaigning is kicking into high gear, along with non-stop predictions, headlines and analysis. The New York Times on Thursday posited that “the country’s long-simmering secular-religious divide has become a central issue in the national election on Tuesday.” In The Times, Anshel Pfeffer opined that Avigdor Lieberman is aiming to “topple” Netanyahu, while Al-Monitor’s Akiva Eldar called Netanyahu’s Jordan Valley annexation bid a “desperate last card.” And the Financial Times editorial board on Thursday said that, as usual, Netanyahu “is deploying an arsenal of inflammatory pre-vote ploys.”

ON THE HILL — House Democrats are unlikely to move forward on any declarative action against Ambassador Ron Dermer over the Israeli government’s reversal of its decision to let Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) visit the country. “I don’t believe at this moment any further action is required,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), told The Algemeiner as Congress returned to session. Phillips, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, added that he “voiced extreme disappointment” about the decision to ban the freshman lawmakers in a meeting at the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. Another unnamed member of Congress told the publication that any action is “not happening.”

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Steven Menashi, an associate White House counsel who was nominated to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, declined to answer questions from Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) about his work on immigration issues while at the White House and the Education Department and about his past writings on human rights and ethnonationalism.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) defended Menashi in the face of “unusually vicious and personal attacks” by critics on the left. Menashi, who is Jewish, said his family was driven out of Iraq and Ukraine because of religion and that religious-based criticism of him was “hurtful.”

MEDIA WATCH — Fox News host Lou Dobbs came under fire on Thursday for using an antisemitic trope to smear billionaire financier George Soros. During an interview with right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin, Dobbs said it was disturbing “to see his tentacles reach out into various non-government organizations and nonprofits that are working with everything from the Koch Brothers to the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

TRANSITION — Patrick Hayes, chief of staff to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), was hired as senior vice president for government affairs for French-Israeli businessman Patrick Drahi’s Altice. h/t Politico Influence

DEEP DIVE — Trump’s longtime lobbyist has some very iffy Middle East connections — by Zack Kopplin and Irvin McCullough: “In June, Federal Advocates, a Washington D.C. lobbying firm with close ties to President Donald Trump and his family, hired Hassan Nasser Fawaz, a Lebanese banker, to introduce the firm’s lobbyists to potential clients who had been sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department. One problem: It isn’t legal for American companies to lobby for sanctioned individuals… Fawaz certainly has experience with sanctioned entities. A Government Accountability Project investigation for The Daily Beast shows that before he became Federal Advocates’ Senior Director of International Affairs, Fawaz had stints at sanctioned institutions which, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, were used by Hezbollah and a notorious drug trafficker.” [DailyBeast]

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: WeWork’s Adam Neumann is in the race of his life as his fortune sinks with the IPO [BloombergWSJ] • Neumann wants to wrap the roadshow and price the IPO before Rosh Hashana [BusinessInsider• Purdue Pharma and its owners, members of the Sackler family, tentatively settle thousands of opioid cases [NYTimesWSJ] • Israel’s raises $60 million, gets FDA ok for urine test [Reuters• Steve Mnuchin’s 740 Park pad just got another price cut [RealDeal] • El Ad, Peebles land $450M condo inventory loan for Tribeca’s Clock Tower conversion [RealDeal]

SPOTLIGHT — Oracle grappled for months over disclosure of CEO Hurd’s illness — by Nico Grant: “Oracle Corp. said Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd is taking a leave of absence for unspecified health-related reasons. Hurd, one of the company’s two CEOs, is struggling with an illness that has occasionally taken him in and out of the public eye for more than a year… Hurd, 62, shares the CEO title with Safra Catz, 57, a well-regarded 20-year company veteran, who previously served as finance chief and still oversees Oracle’s accounting, operations, legal and corporate development. Larry Ellison, the company’s septuagenarian co-founder, handed over the CEO reins five years ago, but has never strayed far from the helm… Catz and Ellison will assume Hurd’s responsibilities during his leave of absence.” [Bloomberg

The U.S. is pressuring Israel to rethink investment from China — by Ivan Levingston: “As recently as October, Netanyahu hailed the natural partnership between Israel and China as he hosted Vice President Wang Qishan at a meeting of the Israel-China Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation in Jerusalem. Since then, a string of U.S. officials have taken issue with the relationship, including recently ousted national security advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who threatened to limit intelligence sharing with Israel unless the country falls in line.” [Bloomberg]

YouTube star with antisemitic history makes $50K donation to ADL — by JI’s Melissa Weiss: YouTube personality PewDiePie, who has repeatedly been embroiled in controversies over antisemitism, announced Tuesday that he will be donating $50,000 to the Anti-Defamation League. The YouTuber, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, made the announcement during a video celebrating hitting a milestone 100 million subscribers. The video has already logged more than 15 million views. Kjellberg’s announcement of his donation prompted outrage from his fan base, with some suggesting that the YouTuber was blackmailed into doing so.

A spokesperson for the ADL told JI that the organization “learned about the potential donation from Felix Kjellberg when everyone else did: when he made the announcement on his channel yesterday. We have not received any communication from him beyond that.” [JewishInsider]

TALK OF THE TOWN — ‘Free Palestine’ spray-painted outside LA synagogue: “A synagogue in the Fairfax District was defaced with antisemitic graffiti early Wednesday. Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of the Baba Sale Congregation at 404 North Fairfax Avenue posted an image of the graffiti, which read ‘Free Palestine.’ The vandals apparently waited for congregants to enter the temple just before 5:30 a.m. when they spray-painted the walls outside, according to Bookstein… The graffiti… was being painted over by midday.” [CBSLosAngeles]

New York State hit with 140K public comments on bid to boost private school oversight — by Selim Algar“State education officials have been bombarded with more than 140,000 public comments opposing a plan that would boost governmental control over private and religious schools… Most of the objections were lodged by pro-yeshiva voices, who argued that excessive state intrusion would damage their fundamental mission.” [NYPost]

CAMPUS BEAT — Indie Jewish campus groups seek to craft Judaism ‘on our own terms’ — by Shira Hanau: “More than 90 students from 29 schools will gather at Brown University later this month for a conference organized by Judaism On Our Own Terms (JOOOT), a network of independent Jewish communities on college campuses that was founded earlier this year. With a network of at least 13 independent communities on such campuses as Tufts University and Smith College, the organizers say the conference will allow students to share best practices and learn from each other’s experiences building communities outside the traditional Hillel and Chabad communities typical of many college campuses.” [JewishWeek]

BIRTHDAYS: Chairman at Waxman Strategies and former 20-term Democratic Congressman from Los Angeles, Henry Waxman turns 80… University of Chicago behavioral economist and 2017 Nobel Prize laureate in Economics, Richard H. Thaler turns 74… Former Director of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Obama White House (2014-2017), he was previously Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky (2011-2014) and mayor of Louisville (1986-2011), Jerry Abramson turns 73…

President of ISRAEL21c, a former president of AIPAC who was the first woman to hold that position, Amy Rothschild Friedkin turns 73… U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, formerly a Governor of Kansas and a U.S. Senator, Sam Brownback turns 63… Miami-based chairman of American Principles Super PAC, Eytan Laor turns 60… Internet entrepreneur and a pioneer of VoIP telephony, Jeff Pulver turns 57… Attorney specializing in the recovery of looted artworks during the Holocaust and featured in the 2015 film “Woman in Gold,” E. Randol (Randy) Schoenberg turns 53…

Santa Rosa Beach, Florida resident, Sherri Jankowski turns 52… Author and military historian, he is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Max A. Boot turns 50… Deputy chief of staff for Senator Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota) and co-founder of The Haym Salomon Center, Jason Stverak turns 46… Israeli singer, songwriter and musician, Idan Raichel turns 42… Founder of the Loewy Law Firm in Austin, Texas, Adam Loewy turns 42… AIPAC’s area director for Philadelphia and South Jersey, Kelly Lauren Stein turns 33… Advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel for foreign affairs and world communities, Sara Greenberg turns 32..

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