Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran, on April 25. Photo by Leader.ir/Handout via Reuters

Daily Kickoff: Iran’s Khamenei calls Soros a ‘rich American Zionist’ | Sam Altman for CA Gov? | Bibi to appear on Harvey Levin’s show | Guten Gefilte!


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FIRST LOOK – In an interview with Susan Glasser on The Global Politico podcast, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed Trump’s visit to Israel on his first trip overseas: “To go to a place like Israel and see what it’s like to be a democracy in a sea of countries that would have destroyed you had it not been for your toughness and your will… And so these are early days and I think the President and many around him have not been in government. Let’s give it a little time.”

Glasser: You write in your book about that moment, that shock when you realized that Hamas, who had not been expected to win was going to win the elections, basically free and fair, more or less, elections to take over Gaza. That dealt a serious blow to your own peacemaking efforts between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It was not expected. You had pushed hard for the elections.

Rice: “Well, my undiminished faith is that elections have to happen, right? … I think one mistake we made with Hamas was we really should have said they had to disarm if they were going to participate in the elections, along the lines of what was done in Northern Ireland, for instance… So that’s one thing. Don’t let armed militias participate in elections because they have a, shall we say, unfair advantage. It would be true, for instance, of Hezbollah in Lebanon. But a more important one is that yes, if you have elections and the only organized forces are Islamists, radical Islamists, then you’re going to get a bad outcome.” [PoliticoMag]

TOP TALKER — Bibi & Lauder talk to Leibler: “Netanyahu says Lauder peace push is his biggest challenge” by Isi Leibler: “When I spoke to the prime minister, it was clear that [Ron] Lauder’s intervention with Trump angered and distressed him. He referred to Lauder as “my biggest challenge to overcome” because he has immense influence on Trump and is promoting a peace program that had been rejected by Israel but was attractive to an American president possibly easily seduced into believing that a quick peace could be achieved…  [Lauder] told me he is being flooded with letters of support including many from former critics…  He insists that if his efforts fail, we will have tried, nothing will have been lost and we will simply return to the status quo.” [JPost]

These Are the Voices Whispering in Trump’s Ear About Israel and How to Make the ‘Ultimate Deal’ — by Amir Tibon: “In addition to Lauder and Adelson, another billionaire with Trump’s ear is Thomas Barrack, a real estate investor with Lebanese roots who is a personal friend of the president and helped arrange his inauguration events. Barrack has reportedly been advising Trump on the Middle East (not specifically the Israelis and the Palestinians), and also used his vast regional network to help the Trump administration in its early days. Barrack said earlier this month that Trump’s “lack of predictability” has “gained respect” in the Middle East and around the world. “Every foreign leader has come to the table for him,” Barrack added.” [Haaretz]

DRIVING THE CONVERSATION: “U.S. Secretary of State Signals Caution on Israel Embassy Move” By Dion Nissenbaum: “In an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press with Chuck Todd,” [Rex] Tillerson said the president “is being very careful to understand how such a decision would affect the peace process… I think it’ll be informed, again, by the parties that are involved in those talks,” Mr. Tillerson said. “And most certainly Israel’s view on whether Israel views it as being helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”” [WSJ; NBCNews

“Sheldon Adelson “furious” about Tillerson’s comments” by Jonathan Swan: “Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson — a man who has no trouble getting the President on the phone — is “furious” about comments Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made today… The sources say the Las Vegas billionaire doesn’t buy the argument that the embassy move should be contingent on the peace process. He has told Trump that Palestinians are impossible negotiating partners and make demands that Israel can never meet.” [Axios] • Report: Casino Mogul Adelson to Be Questioned in Probe of Israel PM[AP

VIEW FROM JERUSALEM: “Netanyahu Responds to Tillerson: U.S. Embassy Move Would Advance Peace by Shattering Palestinian Fantasy” by Barak Ravid: “Relocating the American embassy would not harm the peace process, on the contrary,” a statement by the Prime Minister’s Bureau said. Moving the embassy, the statement said, “would advance it (the peace process) by correcting a historic injustice and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy according to which Jerusalem isn’t the capital of Israel.” A senior Israeli official said that Netanyahu expressed his desire that the embassy be moved to Jerusalem in his meetings with Trump and Tillerson during his latest visit in Washington. Netanyahu, the official noted, even brought the issue up in several phone calls with Trump since the latter took office as U.S. president in January.” [Haaretz]

Dan Shapiro: “Timing matters. Avoid the emotional 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, and don’t undercut peace initiatives at key moments… Hard to imagine those Arab states lending support to a US initiative at the exact moment when an embassy move could embarrass them… In my 8 years in the Obama Admin, it was never raised seriously with us by Israeli officials: a dozen issues had higher priority for them… The embassy move doesn’t need to wait until the end of the talks. But doing it smartly means a bit more patience.”[Twitter

Education Minister Naftali Bennett: “I call on the Prime Minister to make clear that we expect the US administration to move the embassy to Jerusalem and recognize a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. Moving the US Embassy to Israel’s capital strengthens the chances of reaching a true peace, because any agreement based on the division of Jerusalem is bound to fail.” [Twitter] • Deputy foreign minister to Trump: Don’t divide Jerusalem [JPost]

KAFE KNESSET — Bibi vs. Bennett — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov:The Likud released a special response just for Bennett, claiming he “memorizes the PMs press releases and then quotes them as if they were his demands.” The never-ending battle between Netanyahu and Bennett over the right wing constituency is expected to escalate, if Trump indeed is determined to reach a peace deal which will entail some Israeli concessions. At the moment, Bennett is focusing on Jerusalem, but if the de facto settlement freeze continues after the President’s visit, pressure from the settler base is likely to increase. While both sides are heating their engines, Netanyahu also made a point yesterday that he is not interested in early elections. In the weekly meeting of the coalition leaders, he said that this government will survive until its last day, in November 2019. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

“Russia Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital. Why Can’t the U.S.?” by Eugene Kontorovich: “If Mr. Trump nonetheless signs the waiver, he could do two things to maintain his credibility in the peace process. First, formally recognize Jerusalem—the whole city—as the capital of Israel… Second, make clear that unless the Palestinians get serious about peace within six months, his first waiver will be his last… This is Mr. Trump’s moment to show strength.” [WSJ]

SPOTTED: Amb. David Friedman and his wife Tammy have arrived in Israel, according to pictures posted on Twitter by Meron Reuben [Pic]

TRUMP ISRAEL TRIP —  National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster on Friday: “With President Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu, [Trump] will reaffirm America’s unshakeable bond to the Jewish state. With President Abbas, he will express his desire for dignity and self-determination for the Palestinians. And so to leaders and peoples alike, across the entire trip, he will demonstrate his hopes for a just and lasting peace.”

On Netanyahu-Abbas summit: “The final plans aren’t set yet… But it will obviously be up to the President and those leaders about how he wants to engage with them. But he’ll engage with both those leaders there as part of the trip.” [CSPAN]

“Top US official to Post: No plans to hold Netanyahu-Abbas peace summit during Trump trip” by Michael Wilner: “A trilateral meeting is remotely possible given the president’s penchant for acting “on the fly,” the aide acknowledged. But several officials intimately involved in planning the trip would be surprised if such a summit took place. “Let’s not get carried away,” a second senior administration official said… “People are taking Abbas’ comments about willing to meet too far.” … The administration is also weighing to what extent Trump should publicly comment on the conflict at all: A speech is not guaranteed, although at minimum, the White House will offer descriptions of his meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas.” [JPost]

JI PREVIEW — What to Expect from Trump’s Israel Visit — by Aaron Magid: Daniel Kurtzer, former US Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, told Jewish Insider, “What Trump is trying to do is contrast his close closeness to Israel with that of Obama. Obama didn’t go for the first four years and Trump is going in the first four months.” … The visit to Israel is part of a long term US strategic investment towards the process, noted Michael Koplow, policy director of the Israel Policy Forum. “Someone in the White House has learned the lesson from the last administration where it was clearly a mistake not to go to Israel early on. (They) realize that if you are going to get the Israelis to make concessions, it’s probably a good idea to actually go to Israel and show the Israelis some love.”

The White House’s showering of love towards Israel is concerning many in Jerusalem, explains Daniel Shapiro, former US Ambassador to Israel from 2011-2017. “When it comes to President Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, both sides are nervous about what this trip, and events beyond it, could produce. Trump is unpredictable, and his team is inexperienced in Middle East negotiations,” he told Jewish Insider… With Trump’s unpredictable nature and the threats of a Twitter war launched against Jerusalem and Ramallah, Kurtzner emphasized the willingness of both sides to please Trump. “They (Netanyahu and Abbas) are going to try and put on the best face they can: neither one wants the responsibility of failure to be on their doorstep.” [JewishInsider]

“Will Trump launch Mideast shuttle diplomacy?” by Uri Savir: “A senior PLO official close to Abbas told Al-Monitor that despite the positive impressions of his meeting with Trump, Abbas came back to Ramallah with more questions than answers… According to the PLO official, it was Abbas who raised the 2002 Arab initiative in the Oval Office, and he received no negative reactions, neither from the president nor from his advisers… He said that Trump also shared with his Palestinian guests that he will continue to resist settlement expansion.” [Al-Monitor

“White House Staffer Scrubs Mention Of “Palestine” From Facebook Post” by John Hudson: “When asked if this explicit mention to Palestine was intentional, White House spokesperson Michael Short told BuzzFeed it was “unintentional” in an email on Friday. Later in the day, [Dan] Scavino edited his original Facebook post — scrubbing the word “Palestine” and replacing it with “Palestinian Territories.” “That’s a junior mistake,” a longtime Middle East diplomat told BuzzFeed News. “The Israelis will catch him up on that for sure.”” [BuzzFeed]

IRAN DEAL: “US may waive Iran sanctions in coming days” by Laura Rozen:“Notification of the waivers might be issued as early as May 17, a day before Donald Trump is due to depart on his first foreign trip as president, sources told Al-Monitor, while cautioning that the anticipated action and timing could change. That is also a couple of days before Iran holds presidential elections May 19.” [AlMonitor

TRUMP TUMULT — “White House ‘systems failed’ with Comey firing, but Trump pushed the buttons” by Philip Rucker: “Much of the internal blame has fallen to the communications operation, with Kushner and other top officials questioning why the small army of press staffers led by Spicer and Dubke took so long to forcefully defend the president’s decision and agree to a set of talking points that could withstand scrutiny… Inside the West Wing, it became a running joke among some staffers that the answer to every question would be “Rosenstein,” referring to the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, who wrote a memo outlining a case for Comey’s ouster.” [WashPost]

“Jared and Ivanka stay out of the spotlight amid Comey fallout” by Betsy Klein: “On more than one occasion, the power couple has been seemingly absent when the going gets tough… In April, when leaks of infighting within the administration were on top of the news cycle, they were celebrating Passover at the Four Seasons Whistler in Canada, according to reports. And this week was no exception. Though the President’s daughter and son-in-law remained in Washington and working at the White House, they stayed under the radar and away from the cameras following news of Comey’s departure.” [CNN]

2018 WATCH: “Sam Altman for governor? Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown says it’s a possibility” by Tess Townsend: “Y Combinator President Sam Altman might run for governor of California — or so says Willie Brown, who spent decades in the California State Assembly and served two terms as the mayor of San Francisco. Brown slipped a few comments on Altman’s apparent interest in holding office into his Sunday column for the San Francisco Chronicle. Altman is considering running as soon as 2018, Brown said… The investor and startup founder has a history of political engagement. He’s been a loud critic of President Donald Trump and funds a voter engagement nonprofit.” [Recode]

TEHRAN WATCH: Khamenei warns against election unrest, George Soros” by Rohollah Faghihi: “The issue of security and calm is very important for the country,” [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei said in a May 10 speech to graduates of the Imam Hussein military academy… Khamenei also had a few words to say about George Soros, the billionaire investor who has spent millions of dollars around the world to advance political causes. “That rich American Zionist who said that he toppled Georgia with $10 million started to think he could do the same to Iran in 2009,” Khamenei said. “If anyone wants to rise up against the security of the nation, they will encounter a firm reaction.” [Al-Monitor; NYT] • Wondering how Soros feels to be labeled a ‘Zionist’ by Khamenei … or perhaps this is Khamenei’s way of thanking Soros for his support of the Iran deal in 2015…

“Demonization of Soros recalls old anti-Semitic conspiracies” by Vanessa Gera: “The demonization of the American-Hungarian billionaire and Holocaust survivor has spread across Central Europe, with the 86-year-old increasingly accused by nationalists of using his money to force his liberal values, including support for refugees, on their societies. This groundswell began in late 2015, as large numbers of migrants and refugees were arriving in Europe. A far-right nationalist at an anti-refugee rally in Poland set fire to an effigy of an Orthodox Jew as a crowd chanted slogans against Islam and the European Union. The man said the Jewish figure represented Soros.” [AP]

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Kushner Real Estate Project Still Seeking First Chinese Investor[Bloomberg] • Inside the universe of Kushner Companies [TRD] • Delek completes Ithaca acquisition for $590m [Globes] • Blackstone lends David Bistricer’s Clipper Realty $74M for BK rental [TRD] • Israel’s high-tech sector is thriving, and now China wants in on the action [CNBC] • Iran’s Mining Projects on Hold as Investors Fear New Sanctions [Bloomberg]

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Condo Tower to Rise Where Muslim Community Center Was Proposed” by Ronda Kaysen: “One-bedrooms at 45 Park Place start at $1.92 million; two-bedrooms at $3.725 million; three-bedrooms at $4.595 million; and four-bedrooms at $10.5 million. The second duplex penthouse will be listed for about $39 million. Michel Abboud, a founding partner of SOMA Architects, designed the tower; Piero Lissoni designed the interiors… [Sharif] MEl-Gamal does not see the outcome of his project as a defeat, but instead as proof of his grit. “Real estate in New York is a blood sport,” he said.” [NYTimes]

“Fire Damages New York’s Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue” by Niraj Chokshi: “A fire broke out Sunday at an abandoned Lower East Side synagogue that once housed the city’s oldest Jewish Orthodox congregation. It took the Fire Department about two hours to bring the fire, which started around 7 p.m., under control, a spokesman said. No injuries were reported. The cause of the fire was under investigation. The fire occurred at 60 Norfolk Street, the spokesman said, which is the home of Beth Hamedrash Hagodol, a city landmark built in 1850.” [NYT; Pic]

“Sheryl Sandberg Speaks Out On Judaism — And Grieving” by Jane Eisner: “Sandberg apparently doesn’t pray regularly — she didn’t realize until afterward (her husband’s death) that “Oseh Shalom” is the last line of the Kaddish and the Amidah… But she eagerly embraced the Jewish rituals that shape and structure death and mourning. “Judaism said we should bury soon as possible, so we buried as soon as possible,” she said. “It says we should shovel dirt on the grave, so we shoveled dirt on the grave. I had done that before, for my grandparents. I had been to funerals, I had been to graves, so I found it all incredibly comforting. It gives us a connection to something bigger than ourselves.“ The seven-day period of shiva… was also helpful. “Having your house fill up with the people you love is comforting,” she recalled. So was the constant repetition of the mourner’s prayer: “Jews have been saying it for a long time. Long before I said it for Dave, Dave said it for his father. And before that, for centuries.”” [Forward] • Sheryl Sandberg and Elizabeth Alexander on Love, Loss and What Comes Next [NYTimes

“Elie Wiesel’s Only Son Steps Up to His Father’s Legacy” by Rick Lyman: “Throughout his young life, [Elisha] Wiesel’s father made only one demand — that he marry in the Jewish faith, which he did. But as his father neared death, he made one more request, that his son say kaddish for him. “I was what we call a three-day-a-year Jew,” Mr. Wiesel said. “But I decided that I really wanted to do it, and I wanted to do it correctly.” So, he began to go to synagogue every day, sometimes twice a day. “There was also this moment I remember when I watched my father hold my son during his circumcision,” Mr. Wiesel said. “It was a real sense of connection. My father was terrified of being the end of the line.”” [NYTimes

MEDIA WATCH — “New York Times publisher sends personal appeal to those who canceled over Bret Stephens” by Hadas Gold: “The Times’s Opinion pages remain an independent and unblinking forum for debate from a wide range of viewpoints among open-minded, informed writers and readers. I don’t think, in these polarizing and partisan times, there’s anything quite like it in American journalism,” [the email sent by NYT publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. read]… A New York Times spokesperson… said less than 6 percent of people who canceled their subscriptions to The Times since Stephens’ hire was announced in April cited the hire or the new column as the reason for the cancellation.” [Politico]

“Associated Press Rebuts Charge That It Aided Nazi Regime” by Daniel Victor: “The review acknowledged some missteps, including the news agency’s lack of protest when its photos were used for Nazi propaganda and its employment of German photographers with active political affiliations. But the news organization… said it “took steps to retain its independence and provide factual, unbiased information to the world despite intense pressures from Nazi Germany.”” [NYTimes

“Trump Arranged Meeting Between Harvey Levin and Israeli Prime Minister, All For Reality TV” by Taryn Hillin and Ryan Naumann: “Our sources tell us that Levin asked Trump to call Netanyahu during their infamous Oval Office meeting (a story we broke) and ask if the Prime Minister would be on Levin’s pseudo reality show “Objectified.” … We’re told Trump obliged, placed the call.. and… the Prime Minister agreed… Levin is catching a flight to Israel this week (he was noticeably absent from TMZ Live on Thursday). We’re told he’ll meet with Netanyahu and tape the show in the next few days.” [Entity

— “The Prime Minister’s Office strongly denied the Entity report. Senior officials at the Israeli embassy in Washington also denied the report and said that Trump had no role in organizing Levin’s interview with Netanyahu. Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said in recent weeks that Levin had approached the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, as well as Netanyahu’s foreign media spokesman, David Keyes, seeking an interview with the prime minister for the program. Netanyahu and his advisers considered the request and decided to consent, the officials said.” [Haaretz]

“For Palestinian Hikers In West Bank, A Chance To Enjoy Nature And Escape Tensions” by Daniel Estrin: “Life in the West Bank is tense. That is why four Palestinians started the Shat’ha club about 11 years ago. They wanted to get some fresh air after the violence of the Second Intifada…  “Nature … gives me a lot of power. I found it a very important thing in my life,” says Juwana Rafidi, the hiking organizer for the day… The Shat’ha group has a strict rule for its Palestinian hikers: No Israeli food products — whether they be Hebrew-labeled packs of crackers or Israeli-grown apples — are allowed on the trek.” [NPR

“Noga Erez: ‘I get told by people not to talk about what is happening in Israel'” by Kate Hutchinson: “If you take culture away from places then it doesn’t do good to anyone, it makes that place even worse, because art and culture are the opposition to the political situation,” she says. If anything, she continues, the liberal left needs what positive reinforcement it can get… “It’s so diverse and split,” she says when asked whether young Israelis differ from previous generations about the conflict. “There is a conflict inside Israel about those things because it’s so complicated.” According to Erez, “there is a lot of empathy for the other side,” but she laments how, when it comes to the Netanyahu administration, “the word ‘peace’ is not brought up any more. ‘Hope’ is something that people are cynical about because people have lost hope.” [Guardian]

LongRead: “Seeing with Your Tongue: Sensory-substitution devices help blind and deaf people, but that’s just the beginning” by Nicola Twilley: “In 2007, the Israeli neurobiologist Ella Striem-Amit embarked on doctoral research investigating whether people who are born blind could ever learn to perceive visual information in the way that sighted people do. She joined the lab of Amir Amedi, a neurologist at Hebrew University, in Jerusalem, and they set about training a small group of congenitally blind subjects to use the vOICe. The vOICe translates a camera feed into electronically produced notes according to reasonably simple principles: brightness is mapped to volume, and elevation to pitch… Striem-Amit discovered that teaching people to see using the vOICe required more than simply helping them master the technology. “Congenitally blind people don’t know how vision works,” she explained. “They don’t know principles of occlusion”—that one object can block another—“or that things appear larger when they’re closer.” Yet, after seventy hours of training, her subjects were able to grasp these concepts and to identify shapes, objects, and even faces.” [NewYorker]

DESSERT: “Brut Wine Bar pop-up brings taste of Israel to Tokyo” by Melinda Joe: “The project is the brainchild of LIK Hospitality, launched by Israeli-born expats Ori Kushnir and Sivan Lahat [who] run a startup that develops financial models and trading technologies for companies… Inspired by the serial pop-up restaurant “The Table By” in Madrid, which featured a rotating line-up of Spanish chefs, Kushnir and Lahat teamed up with hospitality expert Aya Ikeda to create a similar project that would help connect chefs looking to open restaurants in Tokyo with potential investors.” [JapanTimes]

“Guten Gefilte! Jewish Delicacies Beguile the German Capital” by Lindsay Gellman: “Gefilte fish can be sexy,” [Jeffrey] Yoskowitz assured the 150 people who gathered in late March in Kreuzberg, in the western part of Berlin, to taste some of the delicacies that had all but disappeared from the city’s shops and restaurants after World War II… “It can’t just be nostalgia; it can’t just be your bubbe’s cooking,” Mr. Yoskowitz said, using the Yiddish word for grandmother. “This is a living food tradition.” [NYTimes

BIRTHDAYS: Canadian molecular biologist and pioneer in human genetics, Louis Siminovitch turns 97… Chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group, she was the first woman to serve as US Secretary of State (1997-2001), Madeleine Albright turns 80… Chairman and CEO of The Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States, a human rights organization in NYC, Rachel Oestreicher Bernheim turns 74… CEO of Emigrant Bank, real estate developer, financier and philanthropist, has co-chaired the annual campaign for the UJA/Federation of New York, Howard Philip Milstein turns 66… Actor David Krumholtz turns 39… Noam Finger turns 39… Actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, known for her role as Tony Soprano’s daughter, Meadow, turns 36… Rochelle Wilner… Ofir Richman

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