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Jewish Insider | Daily Kickoff
September 14th, 2020
👋 Good Monday morning!

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed this morning in Washington, D.C., to meet with President Donald Trump and attend the signing ceremony of the peace deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Tuesday. More below.

Vice President Mike Pence canceled his participation at a Trump campaign fundraiser in Montana following revelations that the event's hosts, Cayrn and Michael Borland, shared QAnon conspiracy theories.

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has committed to spending at least $100 million in Florida in support of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden following Trump’s announcement that he plans to invest his own money in the final weeks of the campaign. 

Former Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman penned an op-ed claiming that Trump is “bad for America and bad for the Jews.” Foxman told JI he decided to write the op-ed because “America’s democracy is in danger, and Jewish well-being depends on a healthy democracy.”

Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), current national chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition, responded to Foxman in an op-ed highlighting Trump’s record. 

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Schnitzel Express

From Vienna to Washington by way of Tel Aviv: Meet Austria's U.S. envoy

Menachem Wecker
Ambassador Martin Weiss is a familiar face in both Washington and Tel Aviv. Fresh off a posting as Austria’s top diplomat to Israel, Weiss was installed as the country’s ambassador to the U.S. early this year. And the veteran diplomat is equally comfortable sitting at a Passover seder in Washington or working out with his Tel Aviv triathlon club. Weiss sat down with Menachem Wecker for Jewish Insider to discuss his new gig and what he learned from his four years posted in Israel

Family background: To the surprise of some, Weiss is not Jewish — but Catholic. “I’m still looking for my Jewish great-great-grandmother,” he joked during a recent three-hour conversation at the Austrian ambassadorial residence in D.C. “I haven’t found her yet.” Weiss’s career path is deeply rooted in his family’s story. His maternal grandfather worked overseas for a Dutch trading company and married Weiss’s grandmother in China, where the ambassador’s mother was born. During World War II, his grandfather was close to those in the orbit of Claus von Stauffenberg, one of the leading members of a 1944 plan to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. After the plot failed, Weiss’s grandfather burned relevant papers, evading detection and potential arrest, Weiss said. 

Out of the bubble: Weiss arrived in Israel in October 2015, fresh off three years as the ambassador to Cyprus. His four years in Tel Aviv were enjoyable, he told JI, and he often tried to break out of the “diplomatic bubble” to experience the country outside of meetings and formal events. An avid biker, he recalls proudly his third-place finish in his last Israeli triathlon at Gan Shmuel, a kibbutz with such stunning views of the Mediterranean that he says he wished he’d grown up there. The triathlon club that he joined during his posting to Israel provided a refreshing change of pace that gave him the opportunity to meet “a complete Israeli society from all kinds of life.” 

Tweetplomacy: When he arrived in Israel, many advised him to avoid Twitter, a platform where the likelihood to offend is high. But Weiss wanted to be relevant, which meant responsive. “You cannot just throw out messages and never answer if someone criticizes you,” he said. When people ask, “What the hell do you actually do as an ambassador?” he refers them to Twitter. “It allows me to tell a story in a way I couldn’t have before if I only write secret cables to Vienna. Then I have an audience of 50.”

Awkward moment: In 2018, a guide at Yad Vashem told Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz that members of his coalition partner, the right-wing Freedom Party “need to be explained what the Holocaust was.” Yad Vashem later apologized to Weiss, who declined to comment publicly at the time. But two years later, Weiss reflected on the impossible position in which the guide put the chancellor. “A chancellor has to be ready for anything. Even if they throw a cake in his face, he has to be able to say something about this,” Weiss said. But, echoing Ecclesiastes, he said everything has a time and place. “You cannot have a political discussion with a foreign chancellor in front of 100 people and the media, cameras running,” he said. “What is he supposed to say? Whatever he says is wrong.”

Seeking peace: Weiss is encouraged by the recently announced peace agreement between Israel and the UAE and hopeful Israel will be able to come to similar agreements with other countries in the region. “It’s so good that now there can be a UAE ambassador in Israel. It’s historic.” He said that during his time in Israel, he would read in local papers stories suggesting that the world — and the European Union in particular — is out to get them. His experience, by contrast, has been that Europe is eager to partner with Israel. “To paint us constantly as these schmucks, these left-wing antisemites,” he said. “Our discussion is so different. This is something where I would say, ‘Just exhale.’”

Common cuisine: Weiss hopes the tourist exchanges between Austria and Israel, which proliferated pre-pandemic, will pick up where they left off, along with academic and other partnerships. Given the proximity, he suggested, Austrians and Israelis should experience more of each other’s cultures. “If you think of August in Israel, it’s hot, hot, hot. Wouldn’t it be perfect to go to the mountains in Austria?” Weiss said. “I think in both directions, there’s a lot of impetus, history and food. It’s so funny that schnitzel is the favorite food in Israel!”

Read the full profile here.

Driving the Week

Israel to sign deals with UAE, Bahrain tomorrow in DC

avi ohayon/gpo
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived this morning in Washington, D.C. ahead of the signing ceremony of the peace deals between Israel and two Gulf states, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, at the White House on Tuesday. 

Historic visit: “We now have two historic peace agreements with two Arab countries within one month,” Netanyahu told cabinet ministers on Sunday before his departure. “I am sure that we all praise this new age... I want to promise you that each and every one of you through your ministries will be a part of it, because this is going to be a different peace.” Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who is part of the Israeli delegation, told reporters before departure that Israel is working on finalizing normalization deals with other Arab countries. 

Guest list: Hungary will be the only EU country sending a minister to the signing ceremony in the White House tomorrow. Netanyahu is the only Israeli politician attending the ceremony; Alternative Prime Minister Benny Gantz (who is currently serving as acting prime minister) and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi remained in Israel. 

Gift exchange: White House senior advisor Jared Kushner revealed on Friday that he recently commissioned a Torah scroll for the King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. During last year’s “economic workshop” in Manama, the king of Bahrain told Kushner that he was very proud there is an operational synagogue in his country — built in the early 1900s to serve the local Jewish community. Kushner and his delegation discovered that the synagogue was lacking a Torah scroll. When Kushner returned to the U.S., he commissioned the writing of a Torah and paid for it out of his own pocket, an administration official informed Jewish Insider. Kushner kept the scroll at a family member’s house until he was able to return to the region. Earlier this month, during a trip to several Mideast nations, Kushner brought the Torah and handed it over to the king during their meeting in Manama, dedicating it in the king’s honor for the local synagogue to use. 

Four more years: The Trump administration reportedly assured the UAE that the U.S. won’t give Israel a green light on annexing parts of the West Bank at least until 2024. According to The Times of Israel, Kushner assured UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba that the timetable was consistent with the terms offered to the Palestinians in the Trump peace plan. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden told J Street last week that Netanyahu knows his position that he’s “going to oppose annexation as president.” 

On the Hill: Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) and nine other Democratic members of the House, sent a letter to Trump urging him to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge is maintained in any arms sales to the UAE. 

Book Shelf

Why this former Shin Bet chief was unsuccessful in Israel's political arena

Sebastian Scheiner/AP
A decade and a half ago, former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon thought his experience as an IDF commander and peace negotiator could help lead Israel to a better future — and boldly proclaimed so. But after a short-lived political career and a failed attempt to be elected prime minister, Ayalon quit politics. “Stating my ambition so bluntly was the first of many mistakes I would make in politics,” Ayalon confirms in a new book, Friendly Fire: How Israel Became Its Own Worst Enemy and the Hope for Its Future, published last week. 

Frankly speaking: “I do not regret any moment I spent in politics, even though there were moments I didn’t enjoy,” Ayalon told Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh over Zoom. “It was a great experience. And the most important lesson was that I came to believe that I'm not a good politician. I refuse to sacrifice my beliefs in order to be elected.” Ayalon said he remembers political advisors urging him to be less forthcoming with the press, but “I told them if I will not say where we are heading, why would people vote for me?” 

Serving under Bibi: In one part of the book, Ayalon describes how in 1998 Israel killed Adel and Imad Awadallah — Hamas terrorists who topped both Israeli and Palestinian wanted lists for their bomb attacks in Israel. Ayalon writes that Netanyahu wanted authorities to tell reporters that the pair accidentally blew themselves up, in order to prevent a revenge attack. “I am not going to lie to the media,” Ayalon told the prime minister. “If we start lying, no one will believe anything we say. This is a matter of credibility for the State of Israel and the Shin Bet.” Netanyahu, according to Ayalon, responded, “Credibility is not your department… You do not understand the media.” Ayalon told JI that at the time he believed Netanyahu was seeking to strike a balance between security and politics. Today, Ayalon suggests that Netanyahu no longer strikes that balance. “He will sell everything to stay in power, in order not to find himself in a prison,” he posited. “He lost every element of being a statesman.” 

Land for peace: Ayalon told JI that in some ways the new deals between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain support his original vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. “We were saying for many years that if we make concessions on the Palestinian issue, we can create a better reality in the Middle East. And now, the crown prince of the UAE said loudly in Arabic and in English that in order to stop Israeli annexation, they decided to move forward with normalization,” he explained. “So we gave up on annexation, and we got a process which will bring us towards normalization and peace.” 

Read the full interview here


Rachel Levin ponders an eternal question: Can Jews hunt?

Crossbow Productions
When freelance writer Rachel Levin told her parents that she was going hunting for a magazine piece, they were surprised their Jewish daughter would take on what seemed like such a uniquely un-Jewish assignment. “My mom was nervous,” Levin told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a phone interview from her home in San Francisco. So was Levin. “The only time I shot anything resembling a gun was in rifle class at Jewish summer camp,” she recalled.

Complicated relationship: Jews and hunting have always had something of a vexed relationship. The Jewish tradition does not generally look kindly on hunting, one reason being that kosher meat has to be slaughtered and not shot. The Jewish sage Kinky Friedman has “long believed that the most non-Jewish avocation an individual can pursue in this life is hunting,” he mused in a 2018 Tablet essay. “Why is this?” Friedman wondered. “Well, for one thing, after 40 years in the desert Jews feel uncomfortable in the great out-of-doors. For another, Jews have always been the people of the book, while guns have always been a John Wayne kind of thing.”

Breaking the mold: So Levin was breaking the mold when, not too long ago, she embarked on a reporting trip for Outside magazine to hunt mule deer in the desert of central Arizona. Not that she was doing the shooting. Levin accompanied a pair of rugged, crossbow-toting female hunters — Rihana Cary and Amanda Caldwell — who have carved out niches in a growing social media subculture. In her feature, published last week, Levin calls them “huntstagrammers, social-media influencers who are quite literally changing the face of hunting.”

Background: Levin has been a freelance writer for about a decade. Until recently, she worked as the San Francisco restaurant critic for Eater. Along with Look Big, her book on animal encounters, Levin co-authored Eat Something: A Wise Sons Cookbook for Jews Who Like Food and Food Lovers Who Like Jews, released in March. She recently completed another book, to be published next spring, on the therapeutic aspects of cooking. 

Going again? Levin didn’t characterize her hunting experience as therapeutic. But she did express a desire to do it armed rather than observing others in action. (Her subjects failed to bag a deer despite coming close more than once.) “I feel kind of incomplete and would like to try it again,” she said. “Whether I myself might become a hunter?” she added. “That seems still kind of a big leap to make.”

Read more here.
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👨‍💼 Scoop Machine: New York magazine’s Clare Malone interviews Ben Smith, the former BuzzFeed editor-in-chief turned media columnist for The New York Times, who is “spooking” traditionalists at the paper as he relentlessly pursues scoops. “If you’re not breaking news, you don’t have any credibility.” [NYMag]

😨 Fomenting Fear: The New Yorker’s Joshua Yaffa explores the efficacy of Russian disinformation campaigns, drawing on a study of successful KGB activities in the 1950s. The KGB sent officers to a village outside Moscow in order “to stoke anti-Semitism; they kicked over Jewish gravestones and painted swastikas around town... a small number of [townspeople] were triggered into anti-Semitic action.” [NewYorker]

🚖 BDB Disappoints: New York Times reporters David Goodman, Emma Fitzsimmons and Jeffery Mays detail how New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio disappointed a number of top business executives, including Hearst President and CEO Steven Swartz, by ignoring their concerns over the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. [NYTimes]

Renouncing Hate: In The Daily Beast, former neo-Nazi Frank Meeink revealed that he left the movement after getting a job with a Jewish antique furniture dealer in Cherry Hill, N.J. “He was just an amazing man. And he was a pretty stereotypical Jewish man who’d say oy vey and things like that. But he taught me about the antique business, and about life.” [DailyBeast]

🇦🇺 Down Under: In The Brisbane Times, Deborah Snow profiles Greg Hunt, the Australian health minister working around the clock to tackle COVID-19. As a teen, he lived for several months on an Israeli kibbutz, “learning the language and Jewish culture in the mornings, spending afternoons working in the metal workshop... ‘I was just intrigued by this communal lifestyle.’” [BrisbaneTimes]
Around the Web
⚔️ Eye For An Eye: A report in Politico claims that Iran is plotting to assassinate the American ambassador to South Africa in revenge for the U.S. killing of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani.  

🔒 Locked Up: The Israeli cabinet approved a three-week renewed coronavirus lockdown beginning Friday, after Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman resigned to protest the decision to impose a shutdown over the High Holy Days. 

🍽️ Foggy Bottom: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is resuming his controversial “Madison Dinners” today despite heavy criticism, although the venue for this week’s dinner was shifted because Netanyahu is staying at the Blair House.

💥 Regional Protests: A handful of Bahraini opposition groups have voiced their anger at the normalization deal with Israel. Residents of Gaza’s Sheikh Zayed Compounds, funded by the UAE, are criticizing the Israel-UAE accord.

🇷🇸 Joining the Fight: Serbia will designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, a move welcomed by the U.S. as a “significant step” in the fight against Iranian influence.

💸 Breaking Point: Palestinian families are the ones paying the price as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas doubles down on his refusal to accept tax funds collected by Israel.

⛓️ On the Ground: The Washington Post spotlights the difficulties plaguing families in Gaza “stuck in a lockdown within a lockdown.” 

🤳 Gone Viral: Oracle won a bid to buy the U.S. operations of TikTok, beating out Microsoft in a deal that touches on geopolitical tensions.

🏠 On Sale: Billionaire Ronald Perelman is placing his Hamptons estate on the market for $180 million, and is set to sell his 40% stake in Scientific Games amid the ongoing shake up of his holdings.

✈️ Round Trip: United Airlines has begun operating three weekly flights between Tel Aviv and Chicago. 

Sports Blink: Baltimore Orioles’ Dean Kremer, the first Israeli-American pitcher in the MLB, has found avid fans among the city’s Jewish community.   

🦸‍♀️ Rescheduled: The premiere date for “Wonder Woman 1984” starring Gal Gadot has been changed for the fifth time, with the film now slated for a Christmas release. 

🚨 Convicted: Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli was sentenced to nine months of community service while her mother Tzipi was sent to jail for 16 months over charges of tax evasion.

🏺 Never Again: A Holocaust memorial in Nashville was rededicated after it was desecrated by vandals in June.

🚢 History: An interactive New York Times feature traces the journey of the 1,000 Jewish refugees who arrived in Oswego, N.Y. in 1944.  
Sen. Schumer/Twitter
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld joined Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City yesterday to push for the Save Our Stages Act, proposed legislation that would create a $10 billion Small Business Administration program to assist individuals in the entertainment industry impacted by COVID-19. 
Comedian, actor and writer, Elon Gold turns 50... 

Actor, writer and director, first known for his role in the original "Star Trek" television series, Walter Koenig turns 84... Hall of Fame basketball coach, Larry Brown turns 80... CEO of MDC Holdings and chairman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Larry A. Mizel turns 78... Miami-Dade County commissioner, now running for mayor, Daniella Levine Cava turns 65... NYC-based chairman and chief investment officer of The Electrum Group, he is the world's largest private collector of Rembrandt paintings, Thomas Scott Kaplan turns 58... Strategic advisor at Wye Communications, Amy Kauffman turns 57... Founder of Vermont-based Kidrobot, a retailer of art toys, apparel and accessories, and Ello, an ad-free social network, Paul Budnitz turns 53... British secretary of state for transport, he was national president of BBYO, Grant Shapps turns 52... President of Strauss Media Strategies, during the Clinton White House he was the first-ever White House radio director, Richard Strauss turns 51...

Partner at NYC-based corporate communications firm Kekst CNC, Mark A. Semer turns 50... Public relations professional, Courtney Cohen Flantzer turns 42... Israeli-American actress, Hani Furstenberg turns 41... Artist, photographer and educator, Marisa Scheinfeld turns 40... Staff writer at The Atlantic, Russell Berman turns 37... Co-founder of the Indivisible movement, Leah Greenberg turns 34... Los Angeles-based attorney and contracts manager at Sony Pictures Entertainment, Roxana Pourshalimi turns 33... New York Times politics reporter, Matt Flegenheimer turns 32... Founder and owner of ARA Capital, a British firm with holdings in e-commerce and energy, Arkadiy Abramovich turns 27... Communications director for U.S. Senate candidate in Alaska Al Gross, Julia Savel turns 26... Senior national political reporter for Bloomberg, Jennifer Jacobs...
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