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Jewish Insider | Daily Kickoff
September 25th, 2020
👋 Good Friday morning!

Ed note: In observance of Yom Kippur on Monday, the next Daily Kickoff will arrive on Tuesday. USA Today is out with a handy guide on how to extend proper Yom Kippur greetings.

Only a few seats remain for our virtual event on Tuesday featuring live conversations with UAE Ambassadors Yousef Al Otaiba and Lana Nusseibeh along with Haim Saban, Dina Powell McCormick and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna. Claim your spot now.

The Trump administration announced a new slate of sanctions on Iran yesterday related to a series of human rights violations.

White House senior advisor Jared Kushner addressed members of AIPAC for the first time in his White House role on Wednesday. Kushner spoke as part of the group’s “ongoing speaker series,” an AIPAC official confirmed.

The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will make history this morning as the first woman and the first Jewish person to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. 

Check out Jewish Insider’s ‘Jewish Nielsen’ report to see which webcasts people tuned into over the past week.
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icy race

Can Dan Sullivan hang on in the tightening Alaska Senate race?

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) spent a good portion of the five-week August Senate recess driving through Alaska and meeting with voters in an effort to boost his profile ahead of his November reelection battle. “I’ve been getting out with my wife,” he told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel as he drove north from Anchorage to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley on a recent September afternoon. “We’ve covered well over 1,000 miles in my truck.”

Formidable opponent: The Republican senator is well aware that he needs to work hard to defend his seat this cycle. In 2014, the first-time candidate narrowly defeated the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Mark Begich, by just three points. Now, the roles have been reversed as Sullivan prepares to go up against a formidable challenger, Al Gross, an independent allied with Democratic Party leaders who has picked up traction in the state. A recent poll found that Sullivan and Gross were tied with 43% of the vote.

Eye on the prize: Sullivan is confident he can win over voters, accusing his opponent of hoodwinking Alaskans by not adhering to any party affiliation as he campaigns for office. “He's telling people he's an independent, but then he's caught on a national fundraiser telling people that he's going to caucus with the Democrats,” Sullivan scoffed, implying that Gross was only running as an independent because it was politically expedient. “His values are to the left.”

Iran deal: Sullivan reserved his harshest criticism for Gross’s foreign policy views, particularly on Iran. Gross opposed President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement and believes the U.S. should return to the deal. “I saw my opponent said he thought it was bad that we pulled out,” Sullivan said, alluding to a June interview with JI. “I couldn't disagree more.” Sullivan said one of the primary reasons he ran for Senate in 2014 was because he strongly disapproved of former President Barack Obama’s approach to Iran. “The appeasement that was going on with regard to Iran was shocking, it was dangerous, and it was something that I thought was not only bad for America but very bad for our most important ally in the Middle East — and that’s Israel.”

Coming prepared: The first-term senator previously worked as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and as Alaska’s attorney general. Before that, the Ohio-born Republican served as an assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs in the George W. Bush administration. Sullivan, who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, is now a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. “When I got to the Senate, I didn't need to be educated on the importance of the U.S.-Israeli relationship,” he said. “I also certainly didn't need to be educated on the threat that the terrorist regime in Tehran posed to Israel and posed to the United States.”

Read the full interview here.

On the Hill

Rep. Meeks expresses ‘absolute’ opposition to sale of F-35 jets to UAE

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), one of several legislators vying to succeed Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a Zoom call hosted by Democratic Majority for Israel yesterday that he is “absolutely opposed” to the sale of F-35 jets to the United Arab Emirates. “I am absolutely opposed to that sale because we don't know what's happening in the future. I've seen it happen before,” Meeks said. “I think that it violates Israel's strategic interest and safety.” 

Seek peace: Meeks stressed that while he welcomes the Trump administration’s push for normalization deals between Israel and Arab countries, “they should not be a vehicle for the ability for some of them to purchase F-35 [jets] which would certainly jeopardize Israel's essential security.” Meeks added, “I hope that the UAE did not agree to recognize Israel thinking that that will enhance their opportunities to get these planes. I hope that they're doing it for the right reasons. Time will tell. But I'm absolutely opposed to the sale. I hope that it wasn't for the political convenience of the president. I hope that it's for really trying to get and have peace in the region.” 

Committed to Israel aid: Meeks (D-NY) also pushed back against Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA)’s suggestion that the New York Democrat was wavering in his commitment to U.S military assistance to Israel. On the DMFI call, Meeks said the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding signed between Israel and the Obama administration in 2016 “is absolute, and 100%, and I firmly believe that that money has to be utilized and will be utilized to continue for the defense of Israel.” Meeks noted that his statement was made “in the context of annexation,” and that he thinks “the United States needs to have a strong voice to push back against the talk by the prime minister in regard to annexation.” 

Read more here

Bonus: A range of Democratic lawmakers told Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod that they also have deep concerns over the sale of F-35 jets to the UAE and its impact on Israel and the region. One congressional staffer said that — barring any delay in negotiations with Israel — the Trump administration is expected to notify Congress about a planned deal with the UAE in mid-to-late October.

Check list: The Trump administration is expected to remove Sudan from a list of states that sponsor terrorism, without congressional approval, to clear the way for a normalization deal between Sudan and Israel before November. 

no show

USAGM’s Michael Pack defies congressional subpoena

Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee from both parties slammed U.S. Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack for defying a congressional subpoena to testify at a hearing on Thursday and address questions on his controversial actions in office, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.

Empty chair: Pack, who assumed the role in June, had been scheduled to testify Thursday, but backed out a week earlier, citing a conflict, which committee chair Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) accused him of manufacturing. The committee then issued a bipartisan subpoena, which Pack ignored. USAGM did not respond to questions from Jewish Insider.

GOP criticism: Ranking committee member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) said Pack had “undermined [USAGM] from the top,” particularly by impounding funds for the Open Technology Fund, which provides funding for internet freedom initiatives. McCaul claimed Pack’s actions damaged democracy-promotion goals in Hong Kong and Belarus and set back the Trump administration’s priorities. “This committee deserves the respect of a response,” McCaul said.

Charges: In Pack’s stead, the committee heard from a panel of witnesses with experience inside USAGM, several of whom have left or been forced out in the months since Pack took over the agency. They largely lambasted Pack as having harmed USAGM’s reputation, interfered with journalistic work, undermined U.S. soft power, and in some cases, endangered USAGM journalists. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) said during the hearing that “it seems to me, deliberate or otherwise, Mr. Pack is handing a gift to the Chinese, to the Russians, to the Iranians and the Venezuelans.”

Read more here.

back to school

Jewish groups urge California governor to step in amid ethnic studies controversy

Gov. Gavin Newsom — Gage Skidmore
Jewish groups in California are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to intervene in the State Board of Education’s efforts to push a controversial ethnic studies curriculum in high schools. The currently proposed curriculum, critics told Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss, includes minimal reference to antisemitism and excludes Middle Eastern Jews from its lesson options.

Round two: The current proposal is a revised version of a plan that included at least one antisemitic trope and a lesson plan including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The second version focuses more clearly on four specific groups: African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans. Two weeks after the second draft curriculum was released, the SBE announced that the curriculum had again been updated to include lessons on Pacific Islanders and Arab Americans, who were considered to be subsets of the Asian American group.

Pushback: “We're not in opposition to learning about Islamophobia and the challenges that Arab immigrants face coming to America,” said Tyler Gregory, the executive director of the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council. “That's all fair game. But what's not fair is that...they added two new groups, but cherry-picked over the number one source of hate crimes in the state of California, which is the Jewish community.”

Mizrahi experience: The omission of Mizrahi Jews was also met with criticism. “We're ethnically Middle Eastern, and we fit under the Asian-American umbrella. Our parents and grandparents immigrated to the United States from the Middle East, they experienced the same or similar forms of racialization and discrimination,” said Sarah Levin, the executive director of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa. “I think people have these ideas of Middle Eastern communities as being monolithic, like, Iranians are all one ethnic religious group, and they're not. The rest of the Middle East is very diverse.”

On the horizon: Gregory is concerned that California will be just the first state to face debate over a statewide ethnic studies curriculum. “This is the beginning of what's going to be a wave and a trend across the country,” he said. “And granted, California is one of the more liberal states and what's happening might not fly in Texas or Florida. But you will see this fight come to other states.” 

Read more here
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Webcast: On Sept. 29, join top ambassadors from the UAE for a conversation with JI readers on peace in the Middle East.

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🙏 Faith Matters: New York Times columnist David Brooks explores the intersection — or lack thereof — between his Jewish faith and his politics. “There is no neat relationship between the spiritual consciousness and the moral and prudential consciousnesses.” [NYTimes]

💻 Virtual Viduy: Abigail Pogrebin writes in Vogue about the “unexpected power” of livestreaming Rosh Hashanah services from cities across the country this year. “It is often said that one of the profound phenomena of Jewish life is its interconnectedness: the same prayers are dependably recited on the same day all over the world.” [Vogue]

🕯️ Remembering: In The New York Review of Books, Adam Shatz recounts his 20-year relationship with the late jazz critic and author Stanley Crouch. Crouch “had a lifelong fascination with Jews, ‘a people,’ he wrote… ‘who cut their teeth on their endless variety of argument, high and low, the constant disruption of warring interpretations.’” [NYRB]
Around the Web
📝 On Board: More than 100 Jewish leaders and former national security officials have signed a letter of support for Biden, accusing Trump of “fanning the flames of hatred, extremism, and antisemitism.”

🗳️ Under Pressure: A group of Atlanta Jewish community leaders are pushing Matt Lieberman, the son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), to quit his race for Senate and throw his support behind Raphael Warnock, the Democratic frontrunner in the crowded special election.  

💰 Switching Support: Billionaire Jennifer Pritzker — a cousin of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker — who donated $250,000 to Trump in 2016, has contributed to Biden’s election campaign.  

🖥️ Paying Tribute: Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is slated to appear at a virtual Peace Now memorial ceremony for former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin next month. 

👨‍💼 Opening Up: Quicken Loans co-founder Dan Gilbert, who is recovering from a stroke, discusses his business and philanthropic activities and faith with The Jewish News ahead of being honored by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

💸 Direct Deposit: Entrepreneur Mark Cuban suggests that a monthly $2,000 stimulus payment to every household would help jumpstart the U.S. economy. 

👎 Pointing Fingers: Some members of Brooklyn’s Jewish community blame silence from religious leaders and support for President Donald Trump for the lack of compliance with social distancing guidelines.

🤨 Holding Out: The small town of Swastika in upstate New York voted to keep its controversial name — that predates Nazism — despite backlash. 

🎒 Mea Culpa: In an interview with The Associated Press, Israeli coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu said allowing high schools to open earlier this month was “a failure” under his watch.  

🤝 Moving Forward: Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have agreed to hold elections within six months after more than a decade of conflict.

💵 Helping Hand: Philanthropist and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark has donated $2.5 million to support journalism students at Howard University. 

🚧 Never Forget: The first ceremonial stone in a new Dutch Holocaust memorial in Amsterdam was laid yesterday by Jacqueline van Maarsen, a childhood friend of Anne Frank. 

🎁 Back in Time: A glass time capsule dating back to 1873 was discovered in the wall of the Manchester Jewish Museum.

🖼️ Memories: A collection of 130,000 postcards illustrating life in Israel and the Palestinian territories going back to the 19th century was donated to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

👩‍⚖️ On Display: One of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s trademark white lace collars will go on display at the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv this year.
Oded Balilty/AP
Orthodox Jews in Bnei Brak practice the pre-Yom Kippur custom of Kaparot yesterday as the country enters a full COVID-19 lockdown.
Pioneering female television anchor of "Today," "The View," "20/20" and "ABC Evening News," Barbara Walters (family name Abrahams) turns 91 today...

FRIDAY: Rabbi in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda turns 82... Member of the UK's House of Lords, Baroness Vivien Helen Stern turns 79... Former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and France, Yehuda Lancry turns 73... Dvora Millstone turns 72... Israeli television host and singer, Yardena Arazi turns 69... Former member of Knesset for Yesh Atid, Ruth Calderon turns 59... Founder, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, Marc Russell Benioff turns 56... CEO of Reston, Virginia-based Information Experts, Marissa Levin turns 53... Co-creator of the award-winning HBO series "Game of Thrones," David Benioff turns 50... Son and grandson of leading British rabbis, he has led congregations in London and Moscow and is presently the senior rabbi at the Beverly Hills Synagogue, Rabbi Pinchas Eliezer "Pini" Dunner turns 50... White House correspondent for NPR, Tamara Keith turns 41... Member of the California State Assembly since 2018, Jesse Gabriel turns 39... Milwaukee-born member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, Jonathan Brostoff turns 37... Senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, Carmiel Arbit turns 37... Senior reporter at New York magazine and its culture magazine Vulture, Lila Shapiro turns 37...Media center director at the Democratic National Committee, Mitchell Israel Malasky turns 35... Law clerk at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Daniel Yadron turns 33... Yanky Rodman turns 29... Co-founder and national director of IPF Atid, Adam Basciano... Regional director at the Israel on Campus Coalition, Destiny Albritton...

SATURDAY: Vice chairman and a director of Capital International, Inc. and long-time board chair (now emeritus) of the Hudson Institute, Walter Phillips Stern turns 92... Actor best known as "The Most Interesting Man in the World" appearing in Dos Equis beer commercials, Jonathan Goldsmith turns 82... Edward Karesky turns 73... CEO of the Israel Longhorn Project, dedicated to bringing Texas Longhorn cattle to Israel, Robin Rosenblatt turns 72... Five Towns (N.Y.) resident, Barry Mandel turns 72... Former chairman and CEO of the French engineering conglomerate Alstom, Patrick Kron turns 67... Former senior political adviser to President Bill Clinton during his second term, Doug Sosnik turns 64... Teaneck resident with a Jersey City dental practice, Paul Lustiger, DDS turns 64... Historian and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Robert Kagan turns 62... Google's VP of government affairs and public policy for the U.S. and Canada, Mark Isakowitz turns 54... Head coach of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets men's basketball team, Josh Pastner turns 43... Founder of a NYC-based PR firm, Risa Beth Heller turns 41... NYC-based senior editor of global digital video programming at Bloomberg LP, Henry Seltzer turns 35... Assistant director of policy and government affairs at AIPAC, Joshua Nason turns 35... Director of development at the Alpha Epsilon Pi Foundation, Alec Deer...

SUNDAY: Former Director of the IDF's Military Intelligence Directorate, member of Knesset and Israel's ambassador to the Philippines, Major General (retired) Yehoshua Sagi turns 87... Pioneer in the commercial real estate industry, Sam Zell (born Shmuel Zielonka) turns 79... Co-founder of The Home Depot and owner of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, Arthur Blank turns 78... Of counsel, antitrust and business litigator at the Locke Lord law firm, Stephen J. Landes turns 75... Board member of the Milken Family Foundation, Ellen Sandler turns 71... Longtime Washington correspondent, Dan Raviv turns 66... Former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond (2004-2017), Jeffrey M. Lacker turns 65... President of public relations at Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, Jeffrey H. Birnbaum turns 64... Member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Frank Hornstein turns 61... Comedian and author, Marc Maron turns 57... Member of the House of Representatives since 2005, Debbie Wasserman Schultz turns 54... Publisher and editor-in-chief at Dallas Jewish Monthly, Judy Tashbook-Safern turns 54... President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Broward County (Florida), Michael Balaban turns 54... President of The Center for Peace Communications Joseph Braude turns 46... Former state treasurer of Ohio, Josh Mandel turns 43... Architect, entrepreneur and author, Marc Kushner turns 43... Executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, Rori Picker Neiss turns 35... Senior consultant at Deloitte, Alexa Wertman Brown turns 30... 

MONDAY: International Emmy award-winning Scottish television producer who also served as general director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Sir Jeremy Israel Isaacs turns 88... Swiss-born former governor of Vermont, the first Jewish woman elected to govern any state, she was also the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland in the late 90s, Madeleine May Kunin turns 87... Physician and theoretical biologist, he was a 1987 MacArthur Fellow, Stuart Kauffman turns 81... Former president of Warner Home Video, Warren Lieberfarb turns 77... French businessman, Alain Wertheimer turns 72... Real estate agent in New York's Hudson Valley, Jerry Weiss turns 66... Teaneck, N.J.-based real estate attorney, Gary E. Miller turns 64... Pediatrician and author of the book "Winning A Debate with An Israel Hater," Dr. Michael Harris turns 62... Bestselling author and magazine journalist, Ben Greenman turns 51... Regional political director of the Southern Pacific Region for AIPAC, Elliott Nahmias turns 49... Winner of four Olympic gold medals for Team USA in swimming in 2000 and 2004, Leonid "Lenny" Krayzelburg turns 45... News editor at Voice of America, Michael Lipin turns 43... Senior vice president at the Katz Watson Group, Lauren France turns 34... Marketing manager at the Anti-Defamation League, Samantha Collidge turns 33... High school math teacher in the Miami-Dade County public schools, Hadassa Levenson turns 31... Chief of staff at Tel Aviv-based iAngels, Ayelet Cohen turns 28... 
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