A ballistic missile seen at a military parade in Tehran on Sept. 22. Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Iran to continue missile program, calls Trump ‘featherbrained’


Iran has vowed to continue its missile program and called President Trump “featherbrained” in light of his recent actions toward Iran.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) issued a statement that read, “Iran’s ballistic missile program will expand and it will continue with more speed in reaction to Trump’s hostile approach towards this revolutionary organization.”

On October 13, Trump announced that he was going to decertify the Iran nuclear deal and that his Treasury Department would slap the IRGC with sanctions for involvement in terror activity, although he did not explicitly designate them as a terror organization.

The IRGC denounced the sanctions in the statement.

“Imposing cruel sanctions against the Guards and hostile approach of the rogue and brute president [Trump] shows the failure of America and the Zionist regime’s wicked policies in the region,” the statement read.

The IRGC also called Trump “featherbrained.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif recently tweeted, “Iranians–boys, girls, men, women–are ALL IRGC; standing firm with those who defend us & the region against aggression & terror.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chastised Zarif in a video, telling the Iranian foreign minister to “delete your account.”

“I’m sure that ordinary Iranian mothers and fathers wouldn’t have blown up a Jewish community center in Argentina filled with little children, because that’s what the Revolutionary Guard did,” said Netanyahu. “I’m sure that ordinary Iranians want to live in peace and don’t want their government to shoot students in the streets, hang gays in cranes, torture journalists in prison.”

Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, recently warned of Iran’s “repeated ballistic missile launches.”

“When a rogue regime starts down the path of ballistic missiles, it tells us that we will soon have another North Korea on our hands,” said Haley.

Mourners carry the bodies of their relatives Kurdish Peshmerga fighters killed during an advance by Iraqi forces on Kirkuk, during a funeral in Sulaimaniya, Iraq, October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

Kurdish Independence Movement Deserves the Support of Western Nations


On Oct. 16, Iraqi armed forces and Iran-supported Shia militias moved into the disputed town of Kirkuk, bringing the country close to civil war. 

The move was Baghdad’s decisive response to the referendum on independence that the Kurds of Iraq held on Sept. 25. The referendum produced a resounding majority for independence and a high turnout — more than 92 percent voted in favor of independence, with a 72.6 percent turnout, reflecting the stubborn determination of the Kurds to maintain and build a sovereign state.

The lines now are clearly drawn, as are the rights and wrongs of the case. 

The Kurdish-controlled part of Iraq is the most peaceful and well-ordered section of that blighted country. The Kurds have given refuge to nearly 2 million of their fellow Iraqi citizens who were fleeing the onslaught of ISIS. In turn, the armed forces of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), the Peshmerga, played the crucial role in stemming the advance of that murderous project and then turning it back, in close cooperation with U.S. air power. Many Kurdish fighters died in achieving this. 

For Americans and other Westerners, the KRG has long constituted a unique space. Outside of Israel, it is the only part of the Middle East where public sentiment is solidly and, indeed, passionately pro-American and pro-Western. It also is safe. In Baghdad, Westerners cannot walk the streets in safety. The Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil is as safe as any Western city, and safer than many. 

Over the past 25 years, the Kurds have built the KRG into a pro-Western de facto sovereign space, complete with its own armed forces, visa system, economy and parliament. Their ambitions do not end with autonomy, however. Language, outlook and history set them apart from the warring Shia and Sunni Arabs further south.

So the Kurds want independence. They want out of Iraq. The Sept. 25 vote was about kick-starting this process. The success of the referendum led to hopes for a swift negotiating process with Baghdad. 

Instead, the countries surrounding the KRG have united in a vow to prevent Kurdish sovereignty by all available means.

How did we get here?

Iraq is not a historic entity. It was carved by the British out of the carcass of the Ottoman Empire in the post-World War I period, when London and Paris were divvying up the former Ottoman territories of the Middle East. At that time, the Kurdish population lacked an organized national movement, and the Kurdish-majority territories were distributed among the new states of Iraq, Turkey and Syria (with an additional Kurdish population in Iran, outside of the former Ottoman territories). 

This decision has led to much suffering. From the 1950s on, Iraq was governed by a virulent form of Arab nationalism. The rise of the brutal Baath Party in 1963, and then the ascendancy, from within the ranks of the party, of the executioner Saddam Hussein to Iraq’s helm, meant disaster for Iraq’s Kurds. They were deprived of the right to use their language and subjected to arbitrary expulsion from their homes as Hussein and the Baathists sought to leaven the Kurdish areas with Arab newcomers to end any hope of Kurdish sovereignty.

The West should recognize its failure in Iraq and embrace Kurdish aspirations.

The apogee came in 1988 when, in an effort to end Kurdish resistance once and for all, the Iraqi dictator lunched a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing and slaughter led by his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, henceforth to be known as “Chemical Ali.” In this campaign, between 50,000 and 182,000 Kurds died. The accurate number probably will never be known. What is known for certain is that in the town of Halabja, on March 16, 1988, 5,000 Iraqi Kurds were killed in a poison gas attack. Acording to a report by Human Rights Watch, “It is apparent that a principal purpose of [the attack] was to exterminate all adult males of military service age captured in rural Iraqi Kurdistan.”

This is the bitter legacy that the Iraqi Kurds carry. 

If international affairs were dictated by moral decency, the case for Kurdish statehood would be open and shut. A people who were never consulted as to whether they wished to be joined to the Iraqi state, and who were treated with the most appalling brutality and cruelty by the regimes of that state to which they never wanted to join, and who have proven themselves the most democratic and civic-minded element of the population of that state, now wish to be afforded the liberty to create, finally, their own secure and sovereign country. 

Yet despite the clear facts of the case, the West has chosen to back the Islamist administrations in Tehran, Baghdad and Ankara in their determination to oppose the emergence of Kurdish sovereignty. After the referendum, the government in Baghdad demanded that the Kurds hand over control of all oil revenue and border crossings, as well as control of the international airport at Erbil. Baghdad took unilateral control of Kurdish airspace. (I left Kurdistan on one of the last scheduled flights out of Erbil airport that Baghdad permitted to fly).

With the assault on Kirkuk, the Iraqis have demonstrated their willingness to back up their words with iron and steel. 

Why is the West acquiescing to this?

Ostensibly, the reason has to do with the urgency to complete the war against ISIS. U.S. Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk said the Kurdish referendum was “ill-timed and ill-advised.” This, he added, was the position of the “entire international coalition.” 

But the notion that the referendum damages the war against ISIS by diverting attention from it is unsustainable. The war against ISIS in Iraq is largely won, with the final battle to drive them from their last urban holdings being waged right now. Kurdish independence will not get in the way.

So, what is the real reason for Western opposition? 

First, the U.S. and its allies spent a great deal of blood and treasure in destroying the Saddam Hussein regime and installing a system of elections and formal democracy in Iraq. They are loath to see this project fail. At the moment, Iran-supported forces are in the ascendant in Iraq. The West hopes to assist those forces opposed to the Iranians in Iraqi politics. The Kurds need to remain part of Iraq, it is believed, to act as a counterweight to Iranian influence. 

But Iranian domination of Iraq is quite complete with or without the Kurds. More important than Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the political structures in Baghdad are the Shia militiamen of the Popular Mobilization Units — 100,000 to 120,000 strong — raised when ISIS was heading for Baghdad but with no intention of disbanding, and controlled by pro-Iranian elements. This independent armed force, combined with other pro-Iranian social and political forces, will remain the principal instruments of Iranian influence in Iraq. 

There’s a deeper cause for the resistance, however: an Arab-centric view of the Middle East that dominates Western universities and the scholars and policy advisers who emerge from them, resulting in a certain lack of interest, even a condescending indifference, to the Kurds, their aspirations and their memories. 

If allowed to triumph, this view will combine failure with disgrace. Failure because Iraq is already dominated by Iran. Disgrace because the justice of the Kurdish case is self-evident.

Instead of denying the Kurds their due, the West should recognize its failure in Iraq and embrace Kurdish aspirations, and then make a strong friend and ally of the new Kurdish state. Instead of acquiescing to Iranian gains in the region, we should be enlisting the Kurds in the effort to roll them back.

But for that to happen, their legitimate demands for self-determination need to be acknowledged and supported.

The hour is late, as the gobbling up of Kirkuk by the militias and the army shows. But it’s not yet too late. The time to support Kurdish statehood has arrived. 


Jonathan Spyer is director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs at IDC Herzliya.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on July 30. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Netanyahu to Iran’s foreign minister: ‘Delete your account’


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a simple message for Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Monday: “Delete your account.”

Netanyahu was responding to a tweet from Zarif stating that “Iranians–boys, girls, men, women–are ALL IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps]; standing firm with those who defend us & the region against aggression & terror.” The Israeli prime minister pointed out the tweet’s irony given that “the regime bans them from using Twitter.”

“Apparently, I have a higher opinion of the Iranian people than their leaders,” said Netanyahu in a video.

Netanyahu proceeded to highlight some of the heinous actions committed by the IRGC and Iranian regime.

“I’m sure that ordinary Iranian mothers and fathers wouldn’t have blown up a Jewish community center in Argentina filled with little children, because that’s what the Revolutionary Guard did,” said Netanyahu, referencing the 1994 bombing of Buenos Aires’ AIMA Jewish community center. “I’m sure that ordinary Iranians want to live in peace and don’t want their government to shoot students in the streets, hang gays in cranes, torture journalists in prison.”

Netanyahu then declared that “one day the Iranian people will be free” and concluded the video by telling Zarif: “Delete your account.”

The full video can be seen below, via the Times of Israel:

On Friday, President Trump slapped the IRGC with sanctions for being complicit in terrorism, although he didn’t’ specifically label them as a terrorist organization.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 9, 2015. Photo by Alexey Kudenko/Getty Images

Iran attempted to buy illegal nuclear technology several times last year


Iran reportedly attempted to purchase illegal technology for its missile and nuclear programs numerous times in 2016, according to German intelligence.

The Jerusalem Post reports that German intelligence found that Iran tried 32 times to procure such technology in the German North Rhine-Westphalia state, most of which involved their missile program. Iran uses various “front companies in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and China” to get around restrictions, according the Post.

According to German intelligence, Iran’s missile program has developed to the point where it will “be able to threaten not only Europe.”

Prior German intelligence reports found that Iran hasn’t completely changed their nuclear activity since the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and that they are seeking “products and scientific knowhow for the field of developing weapons of mass destruction as well missile technology,” according to the Post.

The latest findings on Iran come at a time when President Trump will soon decide if the United States will re-certify the Iran deal. Should Trump go that route, Congress would have 60 days to decide if they will re-impose sanctions on Iran.

America’s European allies are urging Trump to remain in the nuclear deal, arguing that the deal is a necessary enforcement mechanism against Iran’s nuclear program. German diplomats argued to the Post that Iran’s efforts to ramp up its missile program are outside of the scope of the Iran deal and should be handled outside of the deal.

Critics of the Iran deal argue that Iran is in violation of the deal and that it paves the way for Iran to develop a nuclear arsenal. Trump has previously called the deal “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”

President Donald Trump in Indianapolis on Sept. 27. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump facing increased pressure from lawmakers to abide by Iran nuclear deal


Ben Cardin, one of a handful of Senate Democrats who opposed the Iran nuclear deal, urged the Trump administration not to pull out of it — the latest indication of congressional resistance to killing the agreement.

“If we violate a U.N. resolution, in the eyes of the international community, do we have any credibility?” Cardin asked Wednesday at a monthly meeting he holds with foreign policy reporters, referring to the Security Council resolution that undergirds the deal. “I don’t understand the strategy to set up the potential of the United States walking away from a nuclear agreement.”

Cardin, who is Jewish and the top Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, was one of four Senate Democrats who opposed the 2015 deal, which trades sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program.

He warned the administration to stick to the deal as long as Iran is abiding by it. President Donald Trump has called the agreement one of the worst he ever encountered and intimated he might kill it or at least open it up to renegotiation.

Cardin said he was speaking for many opponents of the deal.

“We thought it was the wrong decision,” he said, “but we want to see it implemented.”

Trump has said his decision on what to do with the deal will be known by next month. The president can declare Iran is not complying with the agreement under a law that Cardin co-authored that requires the president to periodically certify Iran is abiding by the pact. That would give Congress 60 days to reimpose sanctions — effectively leaving it up to lawmakers whether to withdraw from the deal. The certification is due by Oct. 15.

Cardin said kicking the ball to Congress would be an abdication of executive responsibility.

“This is not a congressional agreement, this is an agreement entered into by the president,” he said.

Trump may also unilaterally stop the deal simply by refusing to waive sanctions.

Cardin echoed warnings issued earlier this week by European ambassadors that there is little appetite among U.S. allies to end the deal.

“It’s pretty universal that our friends don’t want us to walk away from the agreement,” he said.

Cardin last week joined six other Senate Democrats in top security positions in a letter to administration officials demanding evidence that Iran is not in compliance. U.N. nuclear inspectors have repeatedly certified Iranian compliance.

The resistance to ending the deal is not confined to Democrats. The top foreign policy Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said earlier this month that he would prefer to keep the deal in place. He added that Trump should “enforce the hell out of it.”

And on Wednesday in the House, a Republican, Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, and a Democrat, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, introduced a bill that would devolve oversight of the agreement on a bipartisan commission to include 16 lawmakers — equally split between Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate — and four executive branch officials.

Connolly in a joint news release with Rooney indicated that the aim of the commission would be to protect the deal from the whims of the president.

“Congress has a role to play in effective oversight of this agreement, and we must assert that role regardless of whether the President certifies Iran’s compliance,” he said.

Trump derided the deal last week during the U.N. General Assembly as one of the worst he had ever encountered, and he was joined in that assessment by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump is also under pressure from some conservatives to kill the deal.

This week, a letter from 45 national security experts urged Trump to quash the deal, hewing to a plan drafted by John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations. Among the signers was Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Like the European ambassadors who warned against pulling out of the deal, Cardin urged Trump to use the available tools to pressure Iran to modify its behavior, outside the parameter of the nuclear agreement, including a range of sanctions targeting Iran’s missile testing and its military adventurism.

“Seeking the support of our allies to isolate Iran for its non-nuclear activity,” he said. “That should be our strategy.”

Why I support CUFI’s “Mizrahi Project”…


Last year I had the unique opportunity to cover a story about the “Mizrahi Project”, a program launched by the Christians United For Israel (CUFI) non-profit in an effort to help educate Christians and others about the plight of Jews from Arab lands and Iran and to strengthen their pro-Israel advocacy efforts. The program has since interviewed countless Jews from Islamic countries about the painful experiences in fleeing or being expelled from their homes during the 20th century and released their interviews through short videos circulated on social media sites. The organizers of the Mizrahi Project later approached me to share my own family’s painful story of fleeing Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution and here it is…

 

 

I thank CUFI for giving us Mizrahi Jews a voice and reminding the world of the horrors we endured in the Arab lands and in Iran during the last century! I chose to participate in this program because for too long the vast majority of Iranian Jews in America, (aside from a handful of passionate activists here in Los Angeles and the efforts of the “30 Years After” non-profit organization), have largely remained on the sidelines of speaking out against the evil Iranian regime. While some Iranian Jews in Los Angeles and New York have endure horrible hardships, imprisonments, torture and even lost family members at the hands of the Ayatollahs in Iran, they have remained silent about their experiences. In my opinion, their silence has been due to fear of what the regime may due to their remaining friends and family still in Iran, or just because of an indifference to any political activity, or because reliving the memories from nearly four decades ago is too painful of an experience for many of them.

In my humble opinion, now is the time for Iranian Jews in America to stand up and undertake a critical grassroots advocacy campaign to educate every other community in America–  Jewish and non-Jewish alike about the rising threat of Iran’s regime. We as Iranian Jews not only understand the Farsi language declarations of genocide repeated by Iran’s ayatollahs, but the majority of us have experienced the evils of the Iranian regime firsthand. So who better than Iranian Jews, who experienced firsthand anti-Semitism, random arrests, unceasing tortures and imprisonments at the hands of this Iranian regime, to speak out today about the evil nature of the regime? Who else but Iranian Jews, who have had family members randomly executed by the Iranian regime, to educate the public about the regime’s unmerciful thugs? Who else but Iranian Jews, who have witnessed their Christian, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, Sunni and other religious minority countrymen experience unspeakable abuse and murders at the hands of the Iranian regime’s secret police, to speak out? Who better than Iranian Jews to educate the larger American public about how Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other regime strongmen are very openly calling for the elimination of all people who do not follow their radical form of Shiite Islam? While in recent years, individual Jewish-Iranian activists in Los Angeles have indeed spoken out about the cancerous spread of the Iranian regime’s evil among its own people in Iran and the entire Middle East, much more of this type of public advocacy must be done on a larger scale by Iranian Jews in LA and New York. Additionally, while the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has attempted to put on a happy and nicer face for the Iranian regime with his fraudulent public relations campaigns, we as Iranian Jews have a duty to remove the smiling mask from Rouhani and his minions in order to expose their true nature and evil actions to the American public.

I proudly support and applaud CUFI’s efforts to educate all Americans about the plight of Jews who fled or were expelled from the Arab lands and Iran in the last century. Aside from the “Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa” (JIMENA) organization based in San Francisco, what other Jewish or non-Jewish organization has stood up and given a voice to Mizrahi Jews in the 70 years? While I have tremendous love and respect for my friends in the Ashkenazi community, they have failed to mobilize in any effective effort to stop the horrendous Iran Deal in 2015 which has emboldened the Ayatollahs in Iran with sanctions relief and a path to an eventual nuclear weapons program. I have personally been deeply disappointed with many leaders in the Ashkenazi Jewish community here in LA who have said little and done next to nothing to raise public awareness of about the growing danger of the Iranian regime with their pursuit of nuclear weapons. Instead many of them blindly followed the Obama administration’s marching orders about how “great the Iran Deal” would be for all.

Today we see the folly of the Iran Deal with the Iranian regime increasing their hegemonic reach from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea, from Syria to Yemen and even to parts of South and Central America. With their sanctions relief and billions in free cash Obama gave the Ayatollahs in 2016, the Iranian regime’s leaders have filled the coffers of their terrorist proxy Hezbollah and other terror groups with billions in petro-dollars to fund terrorism against Israel and anyone else who they claim as their enemies.

Perhaps most importantly, our voices as Iranian Jews in America must be raised even louder in advocacy against this evil Iranian regime today as it is on a daily basis calling for the annihilation of the only Jewish homeland on earth. Likewise how can we remain quiet while this Iranian regime is also calling for destruction of our adopted home America?! The Ayatollahs and Iranian Revolutionary Guard leaders are ruling Iran with an iron fist want a world that bows and is submissive to their radical Shiite Islamic theology. Those who rule Iran today have no problems bringing destruction to the world in order to achieve that objective. For nearly 2,500 years we Jews lived in Iran and endured horrific oppression at the hands of different kings and Islamic leaders in that land. Yet after 1979, our once 80,000 strong Jewish community was forced to flee our homes, abandon our business, forfeit our properties and assets in order to avoid destruction at the hands of this evil Iranian regime. Today some 5,000 to 8,000 Jews still remain in Iran either due to poverty, a lack of education or foolishly believe that the regime will not come after them.

In the end how can I or anyone else, Jew or non-Jew not speak about the evils of Iranian regime?! Artists, filmmakers, LGBT advocates, union supporters, musicians, journalists, women’s rights advocates, children’s rights advocates and just lovers of freedom worldwide can no longer stand idle and say nothing while the aggression of this Iranian regime continues? While I do not call for war or violence against the Iranian regime, I do believe we must place international economic, social and political pressure on the regime for its crimes against humanity and calls for genocide against Israel and America. We must join with those in the Christian Zionist community and other communities who cherish life and liberty against the tyranny of the Iranian regime.  We must vocally emboldened and support those voices of democracy and true freedom in Iran who wish to overthrow the chains of oppression that have been shackled to by the Iranian regime.

So to my friends at CUFI and others who stand with Israel and America, I offer you my 100 percent support and help in exposing the evils of the Iranian regime and helping to eventually bring their reign of terror to an end in the Middle East. Only together can we champion the cause for freedom, tolerance and co-existence in that part of the world.

A ballistic missile seen at a military parade in Tehran on Sept. 22. Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Iran claims successful test of missile capable of reaching Israel


Iran announced that it successfully tested a new medium-range missile capable of reaching Israel and U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf.

The announcement was made Saturday by Iran’s defense minister, Amir Hatami.

“As long as some speak in the language of threats, the strengthening of the country’s defense capabilities will continue and Iran will not seek permission from any country for producing various kinds of missile,” he said in a statement Saturday.

The missile, dubbed Khoramshahr, reportedly has a range of 1,250 miles and can carry multiple warheads.

Footage of the missile test, including from a camera mounted on the missile, was shown on Iranian state television, though it did not say when the test took place.

Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called the missile test “a provocation to the United States and its allies, including Israel,” as well as “further proof of Iran’s ambition to become a global power that threatens not only the Middle East, but all the countries of the free world.”

“Imagine what would happen if Iran would obtain nuclear weapons, which is where she is headed. We cannot let this happen,” Liberman said in the statement, which he posted on his Facebook page.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to renegotiate or to dump the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement between world powers and the Islamic Republic, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. Following Iran’s announcement of the missile test, Trump on Saturday tweeted disparagingly of the deal.

“Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel. They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!” he wrote.

Oct. 15 is the next deadline for Trump to certify that Iran is abiding by the deal, which the president must do every six months under U.S. law.

During his speech at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the altering or scrapping of the deal.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the United Nations on Sept. 20. Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Iran’s president says security for Israel is ‘not possible,’ pleads for nuclear deal


President Hassan Rouhani of Iran delivered to the United Nations an extended plea to preserve the Iran nuclear deal while saying it was “not possible” to guarantee Israel security as long as it “usurped” Palestinian lands.

Rouhani, speaking Wednesday, derided the tough talk about his country delivered a day earlier by President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the launch of this year’s General Assembly in New York. His Twitter feed posted the lines as he spoke.

“Ugly, ignorant words were spoken by the U.S. president against the Iranian nation,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that the Zionist regime not committed to any international instrument or safeguard has the audacity to preach to peaceful nations.”

Trump and Netanyahu in their speeches both cast Iran as a rogue nation and said the 2015 nuclear deal trading sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program was an “embarrassment.” Trump hinted there would a change in U.S. posture toward the deal, and Netanyahu said it should either be amended or canceled outright.

Rouhani, whose government still fends off criticism from Iranian hardliners opposed to the plan, cast it as a template for international peace deals.

“It belongs to the international community in its entirety and not only one or two countries,” he said of the deal otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “The JCPOA can be a new model for global interactions.” Iran, he said, would “not be the first” to violate the deal.

Rouhani insisted that missile testing was “only for deterrence.” Trump and Netanyahu have said that Iran’s missile advances and its military adventurism are also reasons to re-examine the Iran deal.

The Iranian leader called for peaceful coexistence, but appeared to extend his invitation to everyone but Israel.

“It is not possible for a rogue and racist regime to trample upon the most basic rights of the Palestinians, and be usurpers of this land and enjoy security,” he said.

Rouhani’s predecessors and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have said they regard the entirety of Israel as illegitimate. Rouhani has not made his views clear.

He twice mentioned ancient Iranian gestures of friendship toward the Jews as exemplars of the current regime’s alleged commitment to diversity.

“We are the same people who rescued the Jews from Babylonian servility,” he said, referring to the Jewish communities established in Persia after they wer expelled by the Babylonians from Judea in the sixth century BCE. “Historically backing the oppressed, Iran upholds the right of the Palestinian people as it did those of the Jewish people centuries ago.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations on Sept. 19. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Why Trump’s U.N. speech thrilled Netanyahu — for the moment, anyway


The number of times President Donald Trump mentioned Iran or its derivatives in his U.N. speech?

Twelve, and each time to emphasize its threat.

The number of times he mentioned the Palestinians or derivatives? That would be zero.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, paying Trump the rare leader-to-leader gesture of attending his speech and applauding throughout, was clearly pleased.

“In over 30 years in my experience with the U.N., I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech,” Netanyahu tweeted immediately after the 40-minute address on Tuesday. “President Trump spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a powerful call to confront them in order to ensure the future of humanity.”

Short term, Trump delivered big time on the Netanyahu wish list: He came closer to pledging to kill the Iran nuclear deal reviled by the Israeli leader and did not even mention peace with the Palestinians, which Netanyahu does not believe has traction at this point.

But wait, there’s more. Trump mentioned the word “sovereign” and its derivatives 21 times on Tuesday, the first day of this year’s General Assembly in New York.

Long term, Netanyahu and Israel may not be as enthused by Trump’s dream of a world in which nations make a priority of “sovereign” interests — or as the president put it, repeating a campaign phrase that unsettled many U.S. Jews, “America First.”

Trump’s overarching theme was a retreat from the robust interventionist role that to varying degrees has characterized U.S. foreign policy since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. Indeed, that undergirded the U.S.-led effort following World War II and its devastation to establish the United Nations.

“Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity and peace for themselves and for the world,” Trump said. “We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions or even systems of government.”

What that means practically is not clear, much like the rest of Trump’s foreign policy nine months into his presidency. But Israel’s security establishment has been wary of an American retreat from world affairs, especially when it comes to its war-torn neighbor Syria and the alliance between Syria’s Assad regime and Iran.

Trump’s emphasis on Syria — the thrust of much of his speech — was the routing of the Islamist terrorist threat embodied there by the Islamic State. Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah share that goal.

Secondarily, Trump said he would intervene when what he called the “criminal” Assad regime uses chemical weapons.

What Trump did not say — and what the Netanyahu government had demanded — was whether he would seek the removal from Syria of Iran and Hezbollah, which launched a war against Israel in 2006 and appears to be building a missile arsenal ahead of another war. (Trump did twice attack Hezbollah as a terrorist organization that threatens Israel.)

More broadly, Israeli Cabinet ministers — especially the defense minister, Avigdor Liberman — repeatedly expressed the concern that the Obama administration diminished the U.S. profile in the Middle East. Israel has long considered a robust U.S. profile in the region as key to its security.

On the Iran deal, Netanyahu could only be pleased at what he heard.

“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for an eventual nuclear program,” Trump said of the 2015 agreement, which trades sanctions relief for rollbacks in Iran’s nuclear program. Again calling the deal “one of the worst” he had ever encountered, the president said it was “an embarrassment to the United States and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Netanyahu said from the same podium several hours later.

He lavished plenty of praise on Trump in his speech. Referring to Trump’s visit earlier this year to the Western Wall, Neyanyahu said, “When the president touched those ancient stones, he touched our hearts forever.”

Netanyahu also said “we will act to prevent Iran” from establishing a permanent base in Syria, developing weapons to be used against Israel from Lebanon and Syria, and establishing a terrorist front against Israel on the Lebanon border.

The Israeli, who had a long meeting with Trump in the days before the General Assembly launched, suggested that his message was congruent with Trump’s.

“Today I will say things that the rulers of Iran and the people of Iran will remember always,” he said in Hebrew in a social media post two hours ahead of his speech. “I think they will also remember what President Trump says.”

Allegations of cow tongue price fixing troubles Persian Jews


A local rabbi is using his Facebook page to urge the Jewish community to boycott several local kosher supermarkets, alleging they and their suppliers are involved in a “scheme of price fixing” over the cost of kosher fish and meat, including cow tongue.

In a Sept. 14 post, Rabbi Netanel Louie, founder and director of Hebrew Discovery Center in Woodland Hills, said the recent price of kosher cow tongue “has exceeded a ridiculous $20 per pound in certain stores.” Louie also called for Los Angeles rabbis and local Jews to “boycott buying meat from all kosher markets in L.A. until prices drop.”

Most Iranian Jews consume cow tongue as a Rosh Hashanah siman, or sign to be “at the head and not the tail,” according to a passage in Deuteronomy.

Asked if he has verifiable evidence of price fixing, Louie said he knows people who can confirm it but declined to identify them.

Louie did not mention specific stores, but at least two are selling tongue at $19.99 per pound, citing low supply. At Elat Market on Pico Boulevard, a representative of the meat department, who asked not to be identified, said although he understood customer frustration, his distributors “don’t always have the supply. And when they do have it, they usually give it to clients who purchase more of it during the course of the year.”

Cow tongue has sold at lower prices at other times of the year.

A message from our very own Rabbi Louie, to the community: Dear members of the community, I am personally writing to…

Posted by Hebrew Discovery Center on Thursday, September 14, 2017

Glatt Mart, also on Pico, claims to have lowered the costs of beef and chicken to make products more affordable during the Jewish High Holy Days. Elat Market says it has done the same.

Representatives from both stores offered to make their recent invoices of tongue purchases from suppliers available to the public to demonstrate that they have not engaged in price fixing.

Meir Davidpour, a partner at Glatt Mart, called Louie’s allegations “false” and said they could be challenged “in a legal manner.”

Glatt Mart co-partner Aaron Nourollah said the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cut imports from what they claim to be “any inside parts of the animal, such as tongue, liver, and brain,” particularly from Uruguay and Costa Rica. One of Glatt Mart’s primary meat suppliers, a company that asked not to be identified, also claimed that there is a “major shortage” of cow tongue available this year.

USDA import-export representatives could not be reached for comment.

Drew Alyeshmerni Leach, 32, a resident of San Pedro who runs an educational nonprofit, said she drove three hours round-trip last week to the Pico-Robertson area to purchase Glatt kosher cow tongue for Rosh Hashanah. An Iranian married to an Ashkenazi Jew, she said she enjoys sharing Persian-Jewish customs with her husband and his family.

“When I took the tongue off the shelf, my heart sunk — the tongues were priced at $40 to $50 [whole] or even more! Performing a mitzvah shouldn’t have to be a luxury,” she said. Instead of tongue, Alyeshmerni Leach bought a package of turkey necks for $6.

“We are hosting our very first Rosh Hashanah as a married couple and I’m sad that because of the high price, I won’t be able to continue this Persian tradition with my husband as we build our new home together,” she said.

Eman Esmailzadeh, a 35-year-old entrepreneur from Westwood, said he has decided to adopt the Ashkenazi custom of displaying a fish head at his family’s Rosh Hashanah table this year.

“To my dismay, there are many that take Rabbi Louie’s claims of price fixing as another reason to bash kashrut altogether. The fact is that if you truly want to be kosher, you could keep kosher without ever buying a pound of meat,” he said. ​

Louie and representatives from Elat Market and Glatt Mart are expressing concern that the controversy will deter many Jews from adhering to kosher meat standards.

“When I took the tongue off the shelf, my heart sunk — the tongues were priced at $40 to $50 [whole] or even more! Performing a mitzvah shouldn’t have to be a luxury.”

“Such shameful actions over greed for money are examples of what perpetuate the community to wrongly criticize Judaism and in some cases even stop eating kosher,” Louie said on Facebook, adding in an interview, “It has to be very clear to the community that in no shape or form does boycotting kosher meat mean that they are encouraged or allowed to purchase nonkosher meat. All it means is do not eat meat for a short amount of time till the industry feels the pain and regulates itself.”

At Glatt Mart, Nourollah says that rather than high prices, accusations of corruption such as those by Louie are deterrents that turn people away from kosher practice.

Louie, who says he has received “99.99 percent positive feedback” for his call to boycott, is open to speaking with both markets and distributors. He would, however, like the supermarkets and distributors to agree “to an open audit of their books.”

He also is passionate about reminding Iranian Jews that enjoying cow tongue on Rosh Hashanah is only a custom and not a formal halachah, or Jewish law.

“I must inform the community that there is no halachic obligation, neither from the Torah or the Rabbis, to eat cow tongue on Rosh Hashanah,” according to his Facebook statement. Louie has encouraged Iranian Jews to display fish heads, instead. “If you can’t afford it [tongue], don’t buy it.”

Sam Yebri, a 36-year-old attorney from Westwood and board member of Builders of Jewish Education and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, also has joined the boycott.

“To me, the issue is not about allegations of price fixing, price gouging or supply-and-demand economics, and it certainly goes beyond cow’s tongue,” Yebri said. “I am hopeful that this debate reflects a tipping point for the Jewish community. The crisis of affordability of Jewish life is real and is as serious a threat to the future of American Jewry as any our people face, anti-Semitism and assimilation included.”

President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations in New York on Sept. 19. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Trump ignores Israeli-Palestinian peace in UN speech, says US cannot ‘abide’ Iran nuclear deal


President Donald Trump told the U.N. General Assembly that the United States cannot “abide” the Iran nuclear deal as it stands but notably omitted mention of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for an eventual nuclear program,” Trump said Tuesday on the first day of this year’s General Assembly in New York. Again calling the deal “one of the worst” he had ever encountered, the president said it was “an embarrassment to the United States and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”

Trump has said there will be a “dramatic” adjustment to how the United States treats the deal by next month, when according to U.S. law, the United States just recertify Iranian adherence to the deal.

The 2015 deal, negotiated by the Obama administration, trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. Critics of the deal, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who, unusually for a leader, was in attendance during Trump’s speech — say the lifting of some restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program starting within a decade pave its path to a nuclear weapon. Defenders of the agreement say that other provisions written into the deal are sufficient to prevent Iran from getting a weapon.

Trump coupled Iran and North Korea as rogue regimes threatening stability worldwide. Several times he singled out Iran for its backing of the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon and the threat posed by the group to Israel.

Netanyahu responded effusively to the 40-minute address.

“In over 30 years in my experience with the U.N., I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech,” the Israeli leader said. “President Trump spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a powerful call to confront them in order to ensure the future of humanity.”

In not mentioning his administration’s efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace, Trump departed from his predecessors. Saying an Israeli-Palestinian deal is critical to world peace is almost de rigeuer during the General Assembly, even for tiny far-flung nations that have no influence on the outcome.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during ceremonies in honor of the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the 16th anniversary of the attack at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Trickiest part of an aggressive Iran strategy? Trump


The question of Iran’s ambitions and actions is back on the table. On the ground, Iran seems to be gaining influence in Syria. In New York, the United Nations General Assembly is about to convene to discuss matters of importance that surely will include the proliferation of nuclear weapons — North Korea at the front, and Iran as the next potential crisis.

In Washington, D.C., President Donald Trump reportedly is undecided on whether to recertify the Iran deal when the time comes to do it in October. He also reportedly is considering options for a more aggressive American policy on Iran, with the aim of containing its advances in Iraq and Syria. In Jerusalem — or rather, Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting — a renewed call for recognizing Iran’s role in spreading terrorism, including terror attacks on Israelis and Jews in Argentina, is heard.

Often mixed, there are several issues at stake. Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal is one: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) still believes that Iran is in compliance with the agreement it signed. The Trump administration has its doubts, but has not provided any evidence of noncompliance. To argue that Iran ought to be censored or punished, the administration will have to present proof. Lacking such proof, it still can argue that Iran isn’t complying with the deal but will hardly find international partners as it seeks to turn such a declaration into action.

Truth is, Iran’s compliance with the deal is hardly the most important issue at stake. The deal was flawed, and hence compliance with it doesn’t significantly advance the cause of halting Iran’s violent and hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East. So the real dilemma for the Trump administration is not whether to claim that Iran is holding to the deal; it is whether to counter Iran even though it is holding to a problematic deal. Putting it more bluntly: It is up to the U.S. and partner nations to decide whether to alter the deal.

There have been calls on Trump to cancel or suspend the Iran deal. Indeed, if Trump does that, it could be a proper opening act for a better policy on Iran. But only an opening act — that is, an act that must be followed by a sustained, well-crafted, campaign aiming to achieve two objectives: to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons aspirations and to make it abandon its policy of expansion and aggression against other countries in the region.

Again, there are several questions involved in crafting such policies. The first is one of trust. Can the Trump administration, incompetent as it seems today, create and implement a “sustained, well-crafted, campaign” against anyone (but the media)? Then come the questions of essence: What should be the policies? What will be the price of implementing them? What are the chances for long-term success?

The trickiest problem with any plan aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program and aggressive foreign policy is the problem of having to square these two objectives. If the U.S. and partner nations keep the Iran deal and ensure it is implemented, they might achieve the first objective (no nuclear weapons for now) but fail on the second objective (keep Iran’s aggressiveness in check). If the U.S. and partner nations scrap the Iran deal and increase pressure on the country and its forces and proxy allies, they could achieve the second objective only to find out that Iran rushed back to expedite its nuclear program.

And of course, there are ways to achieve both objectives: The U.S. is strong enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and from spreading its wings of expansionism. But the level of necessary American commitment to achieve these goals could be very high, much higher than the commitment advertised by the “America First” president when he was campaigning for office and much higher than the commitment Americans seem willing to accept after the Middle East wars of the last decades.

And we did not yet mention the Russians, who have forces nearby. And we did not yet mention Hezbollah and its terrorist wing that can potentially strike American forces or civilians. And we did not yet mention Trump’s bid to end the Gulf crisis and its complications. Is Trump able to carve a realistic path forward that takes into account all these factors? Some of his top aides have doubts. Some of Israel’s top policy makers have doubts. The Iranians have no doubts: They do not think he is able to do it.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations NIkki Haley speaks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, U.S., March 27, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Congress divided on Haley’s Iran sanctions proposal


U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley delivered a forceful speech — followed by a Q&A session — at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on Tuesday where she put forth the case for the Trump administration to exit the nuclear agreement with Iran. If President Donald Trump refuses to certify the nuclear deal, Haley suggested that the ball could be placed in Congress’ court allowing lawmakers to reintroduce nuclear sanctions against Tehran.

Lawmakers were split — primarily along on party lines — whether this would be the appropriate next step. Representative Tom Rice (R-SC) told Jewish Insider that he would “absolutely” back legislation to reimpose nuclear sanctions. “The deal that the Obama administration struck with Iran was very one-sided and unsatisfactory to begin with and I would look forward to any opportunity to re-examine that deal,” he explained. “As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said, we can get a whole lot better deal, if we were more firm with Iran and I suspect that he is right.”

However, Democratic Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) urged a more cautious approach. “It will be a mistake if, in fact, the Iranians have continued to honor the agreement,” he noted. The Maryland lawmaker recently returned from a Congressional trip to Israel where he was informed by Israeli officials that Iran was abiding by the 2015 agreement. “My view is from everybody that I’ve talked to — including the IAEA and the Israelis — on the nuclear deal: they (Iran) are following the provisions of the agreement,” Hoyer said. Reintroducing the nuclear sanctions would highlight that the “US will not follow an agreement even though the other signatories are,” he added.

Across the aisle, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) noted that he would appreciate the opportunity to reimpose the nuclear sanctions. “I don’t think they should have been taken off in the first place. I thought it was a very bad deal,” he said. “The Obama administration said we got a pause in their nuclear weapons. Look at what they are doing. Hezbollah is funded higher than they have ever been before.”

Yet, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) was skeptical of the administration’s new policy proposal. “The last time the Trump administration came to us they said that Iran is fully in compliance about a month ago,” he emphasized. Lynch argued that Haley making the case that Tehran was violating the deal was “inconsistent” with the White House’s recent public remarks and urged further study before resuming with additional sanctions.

People walk in front of a monitor showing news of North Korea's fresh threat in Tokyo, Japan, August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Will you risk Los Angeles to deter North Korea?


Every discussion of North Korea ought to begin with a short reminder. In the last thirty years, policy towards North Korea has been a resounding failure. American policy specifically, but also the policies of other countries dissatisfied about the prospect of a rogue and incomprehensible regime armed with nuclear warheads.

It was a failure that rests on two main pillars.  There was a lack of urgency – the crisis with North Korea never reached a point that compelled the U.S. to use its much superior force, and make the necessary sacrifices, to stop this country’s rush to arm itself.  There was also the belief in the power of diplomacy – time and again American leaders and diplomats fooled themselves into thinking that North Korea is a problem they can negotiate away.

Obviously, they could not. Writing earlier this week, David Ignatius described American  objectives as follows: “Washington’s diplomatic goal, although it hasn’t been stated publicly this way, is to encourage China to interpose itself between the United States and North Korea and organize negotiations to de-nuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. threat is that if China doesn’t help the United States find such a diplomatic settlement, America will pursue its own solution – by military means if necessary”.

This of course sounds reasonable, except for the fact that this has been Washington’s  diplomatic goal for three decades, to no avail. It did not succeed with either Democratic presidents, like Clinton, who thought (or pretended to think) that his understanding with North Korea will hold,  or with Republican presidents, like Bush, who thought that mixing in a more aggressive approach would deter the leaders of North Korea. Successive administrations failed to achieve their objective, and now it might be too late. North Korea achieved its own objective, of having the ability to shoot a nuclear armed missile far enough to reach the United States. The bizarre, seemingly irrational, misunderstood, ridiculed, clownish leaders of North Korea proved more cunning and determined than the empire foe.

Defending past presidents, we should admit that North Korea was never an easy problem to solve. It is even more complicated today, as Reva Goujon of Stratfor explained in a long article about the U.S.’ looming foreign policy crisis. “In trying to forgo military action”, he wrote, “the United States will be forced to rely on China’s and Russia’s cooperation in sanctions or covert action intended to destabilize the North Korean government and thwart its nuclear ambitions. Yet even as Washington pursues this policy out of diplomatic necessity, it knows it is unlikely to bear fruit. Because as much as they dislike the idea of a nuclear North Korea on their doorstep, China and Russia do not want to face the broader repercussions of an unstable Korean Peninsula or open the door to a bigger U.S. military footprint in the region”.

There are lessons to be learned from this developing situation, and priorities to be set. The main lesson – relevant to Israel no less than it is to the US – is that diplomacy and international pressure cannot prevent determined countries from getting beyond the point of no return. What North Korea did Iran can also do. What Iran can do, other countries in the Middle East can do. The only obstacle standing between countries and nuclear weapons is their own risk assessment – how much they need the weapons, and what price they are willing to pay to get it. If, like North Korea, they come to the conclusion that their survival depends on getting the weapons, North Korea proves the world is not competent,  unified and determined enough to prevent this from happening.

What then should be done now? Prioritization is key. And telling North Korea that it will be obliterated if it launches a nuclear attack on the US is not a priority. The leaders of Korea seem wise enough to understand this on their own – and don’t seem to have any inclination to attack the U.S. Like all other countries who have nuclear weapons, they need this measure as a deterrent against attacks, not as a mean with which to initiate war.

Disarming the North is a desirable goal, but it does not seem to be feasible at this time. The current crisis is not “analogous to the Cuban missile crisis,” as one of President Trump’s advisors said, because the North, unlike the USSR, is no superpower battling against America. Thus, disarming Korea is not the most urgent goal now. A more urgent goal is to draw the red lines for which the world (that is, the U.S.) will be going to war against Korea.

On principle, these red lines are not complicated to draw:

North Korea cannot use its newly acquired capabilities to attack its neighbors, or blackmail them.

North Korea cannot become a proliferator of nuclear weapons.

In practice these red lines invite North Korean provocation, and involve risks of miscalculation. What if the U.S. topples an airplane carrying nuclear scientists from Pyongyang to Syria? Will the Koreans respond in taking down an American military base? And how will the US respond to such action? Will it go as far as risking a nuclear attack on Los Angeles to prevent Syria from getting the knowhow and material to build nuclear weapons?

I have no answer to such a question, but there is one thing I do know. The leaders of North Korea must believe that there is such possibility – that the US is willing to take huge risks to prevent Korea from crossing these two red lines. That is where the bold language and infamous temper of Donald Trump could be useful. As scary as this sounds, the leaders of Korea must believe that the leader of the U.S. is bold and aggressive enough to ignite a nuclear war. Otherwise, they will eventually call America’s  bluff as they have been doing for the last thirty years.  And they will cross yet another point of no return.

US President Donald Trump (L) and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner take part in a bilateral meeting with Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni (not seen) in Villa Taverna, the US ambassador's residence, in Rome on May 24, 2017. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Former top national security officials urge Trump to stick to Iran nuclear deal


A bipartisan group of former top national security officials urged President Donald Trump to stick to the Iran nuclear deal, saying that war with Iran is “more imaginable” today than it has been in five years.

The statement, published Tuesday on the website of the The National Interest magazine, was responding to reports that Trump may refuse to certify Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the agreement which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. The next assessment period is in October. The statement is signed by nearly 50 former senior U.S. government officials and prominent national security leaders.

“The international agreement with Iran continues to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” the statement says. “No American national security objective would be served by withdrawing from it as long as Iran is meeting the agreement’s requirements.

“To the contrary,” the letter continues, “given continuing assurance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is in compliance with the agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), such a unilateral act would have grave long term political and security consequences for the United States.”

The signers recommend a “comprehensive policy toward Iran that furthers U.S. national security interests.” Such a policy would include American leadership in the JCPOA, a follow-up agreement that would extend terms of the deal farther into the future, and an additional consultative body on major disputes.

The letter also suggests establishing a regular senior-level channel of communication between the U.S. and Iran, and  regular consultations among U.S. allies and partners in the region to share information and coordinate strategies.

The signers warn that a U.S. rejection of the JCPOA could push Iran to return to its pre-agreement nuclear enrichment program under far weaker international monitoring.

Trump last month re-certified Iran’s adherence to the 2015 deal brokered by President Barack Obama. But he did so reluctantly, at the urging of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They argued that decertification would alienate U.S. allies because Iran is indeed complying with the deal’s strictures.

However, within days of giving the go-ahead to re-certify, Trump reportedly tasked a separate team, led by his top strategist, Stephen Bannon, to come up with a reason to decertify Iran at the next 90-day assessment in October.

The signers include: Morton Abramowitz, former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research; Robert Einhorn, former assistant secretary for nonproliferation and secretary of state’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control; Morton Halperin, former director of policy planning at the State Department;  Daniel Kurtzer, former ambassador to both Israel and Egypt; Carl Levin, former U.S. senator and chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services; and Barnett Rubin, former senior adviser to the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Seated with U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster (R), U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with service members at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

You want McMaster out over Iran? That’s fine. Over Israel? Senseless


Is US National Security Advisor H.R McMaster anti Israel? Senior Israeli officials say there is no sign that he is. McMaster, one of them told me, is a general. A military man. His views on the Middle East are not always compatible with Israeli thinking – because he has other priorities, and is in charge of another country’s policy. But accusing him of being anti-Israel is not helpful, nor reasonable. He is a professional, discussions with him are cordial, disagreements with him are always businesslike – and he never gives the impression that ego or grudge are involved.

Nevertheless, McMaster is accused, among other things, of being anti-Israel. “In a volley of attacks from right-wing media, McMaster has been accused of being anti-Israel, having a short temper and collaborating with Obama-era officials”. So much so, that the president felt a need to defend his advisor: “General McMaster and I are working very well together”, Trump wrote. “He is a good man and very pro-Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country”.

That he is short-tempered is a shortcoming but is hardly unique to McMaster. If Trump does not want short-tempered people around him, he is entitled to make such a decision, but clearly that’s not why McMaster is suddenly facing problems. That he collaborates with Obama-era officials is both a plus and a minus. Even in the Obama era some officials were good at their jobs, and might still have something to contribute. That the advisor is not blind to this fact is good – and of course, carries the risk (for those who consider  it a risk) that the views of these wise officials might influence the thinking of the advisor.

So is Israel the problem? It is and it isn’t. Because in fact, there are two types of proofs by which one can  argue that McMaster is not Israel’s best buddy. The first proof concerns Israel: McMaster used the word “occupation” to describe Israel’s presence in the West Bank, he did not want Prime Minister Netanyahu to accompany Trump when the President visited the Western Wall, he would not even say that the Western Wall is in Israel (following him, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer stated that the Western Wall is “clearly in Jerusalem”, but refused to answer the question whether it was a part of Israel).

Taken together, all these pronouncements do not amount to much. Mc Master is solidly in the camp of those still in line with the traditional US policy of not declaring any change to the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. You could safely assume that he did not want the US embassy to move to Jerusalem – because it is a change that could ignite trouble. You can see that he opposes other implied changes to US policy – mainly because he sees no benefit to the US from making such change. The Arab world will react with fury, the US will gain little.

Is it the ideal position of an American official from Israel’s viewpoint? It is not. Is this anti-Israel? It is not. McMaster might be guilty of conventional thinking about Israel and Palestine. He is not guilty of hostility towards Israel. Not without more proof.

The other issue that is highlighted in attacks against the advisor is more serious. McMaster seems to be cautious on the issue of Iran. He does not support the idea of ditching the Iran nuclear deal. He fired from his staff some of the analysts that were more hawkish on Iran and preferred a more none-confrontational approach to contain its aggressive advance in the Middle East.

Is it the ideal position of an American official from Israel’s viewpoint? It is not. Is this anti-Israel? It is not. McMaster, for whatever reason (there are good arguments in support of keeping the deal – it is not a preposterous position) believes that the deal should be kept. For a horde of reasons, all related to his understanding of the American interest, he seems reluctant to clash with the Iranians. This is not something he does to spite Israel, or annoy it, or put it in danger. He is not anti-Israel – he disagrees with Israel on some issues.

So why is McMaster under attack? That’s a good question, with two possible answers. One – because of personal infighting within the White House. He fired people close to advisor Steven Bannon, the Bannonites are going after him. Two – because of policy differences. McMaster takes a traditional approach to foreign policy and thus takes the bite out of Trump’s foreign policy.  And of course, these two reasons are not mutually exclusive. Often personal grudges and turf battles are fought because of policy disagreements. If a group of advisors and analysts wants Trump to take a more confrontational approach to Iran – and another group want him to remain cautious and prudent – these two groups are likely to have a disagreement that will soon become personal as well as content based.

Israel rarely benefits from such disagreements. It rarely benefits from being identified with the most radical policy ideas. Men and women such as McMaster, the backbone of the military and of the foreign policy establishment, are not always easy to deal with. They can be brash. They can be conventional in their thinking. They often prioritize their reluctance to militarily commit the US to a cause, over the necessities of world leadership.

Still, they should not be made to believe that Israel is an obstacle to everything they stand for. They should not be accused of being anti-Israel only because they refuse to adopt its viewpoint. If anyone want McMaster ousted because of his conventional thinking about policy – that’s find. If anyone thinks he ought to be ousted for harboring negative feelings towards Israel – that’s senseless.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 9, 2015. Photo by Alexey Kudenko/Getty Images

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweets swipe at Trump over nuclear deal


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted a swipe at President Donald Trump, hours after skewering the United States during his inauguration for a second term.

“Those intend to tear up the JCPOA, surely be tearing up the scroll of their political life and the world will not forget their disloyalty,” read the tweet from Rouhani’s Twitter account posted on Saturday afternoon.

Rouhani last tweeted in June.

The JCPOA refers to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program.

Trump has said that Iran is violating the “spirit” of the agreement by engaging in activities, including testing missiles and military adventurism in the region, not covered by the agreement.

Trump last month recertified Iran’s adherence to the 2015 deal brokered by President Barack Obama. But he did so reluctantly, at the behest of his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster; his defense secretary, James Mattis; and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. They argued that decertification would alienate U.S. allies because Iran is indeed complying with the deal’s strictures.

However, within days of giving the go-ahead to recertify, Trump reportedly tasked a separate team, led by his top strategic adviser, Steve Bannon, to come up with a reason to decertify Iran the next time the 90-day assessment rolls around, in October.

Rouhani, who was reelected for a second term in May, took the oath of office on Saturday before the Iranian Parliament in Tehran and in the presence of foreign dignitaries including senior European figures, Reuters reported.

“The U.S. lack of commitment to implementation of the nuclear deal … proved it to be an unreliable partner to the world and even to its longtime allies,” Rouhani said in the ceremony broadcast live on state television.

“Those who want to tear up the nuclear deal should know that they will be ripping up their own political life,” Rouhani said, referring to Trump.

“Iran would not be the first to pull out of the nuclear deal, but it will not remain silent about the U.S. repeated violations of the accord,” he also said.

I’ve seen this woman before


Gina Nahai

The boys had dominion over the yard, using it for soccer games at every recess and lunch break and after school during pickup time, so the girls were confined to the periphery of the asphalt field and to the hallways and stairs.

We sat in groups outside and talked while we watched the games, or we walked around the borders of the yard, our shoulders grazing the wall or the fence. The headmaster, a princess of the Qajar dynasty, strode around in stilettos and pencil skirts, impeccably made up and pleasantly fragrant and forever brandishing a bullwhip. She was one of the more beautiful women of her era, independently wealthy and French educated, indignant of religion, superstition and a great many social conventions. While she kept most of us on a tight leash, she seemed to favor three of the older girls — two seniors, one junior — who stood out because of their good looks, their audacity with the teachers, their defiance of societal protocol.

Tall, lean, long legs and dark, undulating hair that fell, unrestrained, down their backs. That terrifying confidence of young, beautiful women who do not know, or believe, that they will, one day, be neither beautiful nor young. They mixed mostly with one another, wore their grey uniform skirts perilously short, pranced in Doc Martins purchased on monthslong summer trips to the United States. We knew, though we had never seen evidence of it, that they smoked cigarettes, met boys alone in trendy cafes on Pahlavi Avenue, and had the means or the temerity not to bother with what was deemed appropriate for the rest of the girls their age.

We knew, because that’s what our headmaster modeled, that they had a thousand khastegars — suitors — each, all of them descended from or belonging to royalty; that they, like our headmaster, would be too strong to be someone’s wife, too interested in changing the world to sit at home and raise children. We knew, because the alternative was inconceivable, that they would look dashing, wear their hair long and loose, and defy authority till the end of time.

The end of time arrived a few weeks ago, in the produce aisle of Glatt Mart in Pico-Robertson, on a busy, noisy, teeming-with-shoppers-anxious-to-get-home-in-time Friday morning. I don’t keep kosher and don’t observe Shabbat. I shop at this market because the customers and staff tend to be, on the whole, much less combative than at other Persian markets near me. They also tend to be mostly Orthodox, of various nationalities and usually surrounded by a few small children each.

So I didn’t think twice that day about the woman a few feet away, modestly dressed, in a short, copper-colored wig, who spoke English with her children in what sounded like a Hebrew accent. Probably French, I thought, or Russian. A little besieged, like all mothers of young children, by the demands of domestic life. Truly observant, since there was no trace of vanity in her appearance or mannerisms. I moved on until she called out.

“Gina!” she almost yelled. “You don’t remember me? Shame on you.”

You know where this story is going.

I looked and looked and looked at her. I tried to take a wild guess. The woman was handsome, genial, exceedingly likable, charmingly humble. Her children were cereal box gorgeous. I would have remembered her if we’d ever met.

To say that I was stunned, totally stupefied when she told me her name is an understatement. For a very long minute, I just glared at the two of them — the girl in the Tehran schoolyard and the woman in this Los Angeles store — and tried to find a similarity. Finally, stupidly, I heard myself say, “What happened?”

Asinine, I know. And possibly insulting, though it wasn’t meant that way. Thank God she realized this. She shrugged and let out a delightful laugh.

“You were the most …” What was the word? Glamorous? Bold? Not observant?

We didn’t have yearbooks in Iran, but if we had, she and her two friends would have been voted “least likely to be domesticated.”

She laughed again.

“Remember that?” she said.

What’s “happy”? Relative to what? Or, as the old folks wisely said in Iran, usually in relation to duty, obligation and responsibility, “Happiness has nothing to do with it.”

Her children were pulling at her skirt and sleeve. She tried to explain to them I was someone she had once gone to school with, but they wouldn’t have it. They wanted kosher cereal and kosher sushi.

“So …” I couldn’t let go. “What did happen?”

She paused for a moment.

“I changed,” she said.

No kidding. But that wasn’t enough of an explanation. She could see I was waiting.

Things changed.”

Still not enough.

I honestly can’t believe I had the chutzpah to ask this next question.

“Are you happy?”

Now, she looked stumped.

I know. I know. What’s “happy”? Relative to what? Or, as the old folks wisely said in Iran, usually in relation to duty, obligation and responsibility, “Happiness has nothing to do with it.”

Or, as our teachers reminded us almost daily, “Who says you have to be happy, anyway?”

Still, it makes you wonder — when the warriors lay down their arms, the rebels bow. 

“My children are my whole world now,” she said.

I could see this.

And what of it — becoming Orthodox — anyway? So what if that boldness, that sense of invincibility my friends and I probably projected onto that girl was replaced by this woman’s tamer, perhaps more rewarding connection to motherhood and religion? What if that wide-open, endless road I had imagined ahead of that girl — what if it had led here?

“I realize this is emet,” she said, using the Hebrew word for truth. Which explained everything, and nothing.

Are we here to change the world, or to make a safe and joyful nest within it?

Does the gained wisdom of age make us realize what’s truly significant, or does it claw away at our ambition and strength?


GINA NAHAI’s most recent novel is “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Kiev, Ukraine, on July 9. Photo by Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Rex Tillerson: US wants Iran out of Syria


A condition of U.S. cooperation with Russia in the Syria arena is the removal of Iranian forces from the country, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.

“The direct presence of Iranian military forces inside of Syria, they must leave and go home, whether those are Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces or whether those are paid militias, foreign fighters, that Iran has brought into Syria in this battle,” Tillerson said Wednesday in a wide-ranging news conference.

The other condition, Tillerson said, was that the end result should be a unified Syria with “new leadership” — the removal of the Assad regime.

Israel expressed concerns last month at the terms of a proposed cease-fire in the civil war in southern Syria in part because it left Iranian forces in place. Israel’s deadliest enemies in the region are Iran and its Lebanese ally, the Hezbollah militia, and it wants them removed from Syria as part of any endgame.

It’s not clear whether President Donald Trump was on board with Tillerson’s conditions. Particularly on Iran policy, Tillerson has advanced one position — for instance, preserving the nuclear deal with Iran — only to be contradicted by Trump within hours.

Perhaps wary because of these experiences, Tillerson declined to say whether the Trump administration would continue to back the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. Trump has said that Iran is violating the “spirit” of the agreement by engaging in activities, including testing missiles and military adventurism in the region, not covered by the agreement.

“What does that mean if we say the spirit of the agreement’s been violated?” Tillerson asked.

“Do we want to tear it up and walk away? Do we want to make the point to Iran that we expect you to get back in line with the spirit of the agreement and we’re going to stay here and hold you accountable to it?” he said. “There are a lot of – I think there are a lot of alternative means with which we use the agreement to advance our policies and the relationship with Iran. And that’s what the conversation generally is around with the president as well, is what are all those options.”

President Donald Trump holds a rally with supporters in an arena in Youngstown, Ohio, on July 25. Photo by Jonathan Ernst

With sanctions and warnings, Trump and Congress step up pressure on Iran


President Donald Trump said he would be “surprised” if the United States adjudicates Iran in compliance with the nuclear deal in three months and the U.S. House of Representatives approved new sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic, signaling increasing fragility for the 2015 agreement.

“We’ll talk about the subject in 90 days, but I would be surprised if they were in compliance,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

The United States must declare Iran in compliance every 90 days. Trump, acting on the advice of his top security advisers, agreed to do so earlier this month, but with great reluctance.

Later the same day, Trump in Youngstown, Ohio, again expressed misgivings about the deal, which trades sanctions relief for Iran in exchange for a rollback in its nuclear program. The agreement was President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement.

“If that deal doesn’t conform to what it’s supposed to conform to, it’s going to be big, big problems for them,” Trump said. “That I can tell you. Believe me.”

Trump reportedly is coming around to embracing an argument that Iran is in violation of the “spirit” of the deal even if it is complying with its narrow particulars, mandating limited uranium enrichment. Iran has continued its ballistic missile testing and maintains an interventionist role in conflicts in the Middle East, including in Iraq and Syria.

Congress also is increasing pressure on Iran to roll back non-nuclear activities that the United States considers disruptive.

A bill that the House passed overwhelmingly on Tuesday ramps up sanctions on Iran for its missile testing, human rights abuses and backing of terrorism, and tightens the president’s ability to waive the sanctions. The measure, which also includes Russia and North Korea sanctions, has yet to come to the Senate floor for a vote.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which led opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, backs the bill.

“AIPAC urges the Senate to quickly pass the legislation and the president to sign it into law,” AIPAC said in a statement.

Defenders of the nuclear deal say it was designed purely to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons power, allowing the United States and its allies to more comfortably confront it on issues like terrorism, military interventions and missile testing. Obama, like Trump, continued to sanction Iran in those areas.

Trump also targeted Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that is an ally of Iran, in remarks Tuesday at a joint news conference with the prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri.

“Hezbollah is a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people and the entire region,” the president said. “The group continues to increase its military arsenal, which threatens to start yet another conflict with Israel, constantly fighting them back.”

Trump, however, declined to say whether he would back new sanctions targeting Hezbollah under consideration in Congress.

“With the support of Iran, the organization is also fueling the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria,” he said.

Separately, the House on Wednesday unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution calling on Iran to release U.S. citizens and residents held in prison, including Robert Levinson, a Jewish former FBI agent who has been missing since 2007 when he was in Iran on what has been revealed as a rogue CIA operation.

The White House made a similar appeal earlier this week.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a news conference with the Visegrad Group Prime Ministers in Budapest, Hungary on July 19. Photo by Bernadett Szabo

Daily Kickoff: Bibi’s hot mic – ‘we’re not OK on Iran’ | Wayne Berman for WH Chief of Staff? | Prince William and Kate pay respects at Stutthof camp


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KAFE KNESSET — BIBI’S HOT MIC — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: Some journalists wait a lifetime for a “fly on the wall” moment, and reporters accompanying Bibi on his European trip got one today. Arriving at the V4 Visegrad conference venue — bringing together leaders from Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland — Israeli journalists were awaiting an official press conference. Coincidentally, we all opened the headphones that were given out for simultaneous translation only to hear Bibi and his counterparts in their closed door meeting. For about 15 minutes the reporters eavesdropped on the conversation, providing a glimpse into Bibi’s real thinking.

“I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive or if it wants to shrivel and disappear. I am not very politically correct. I know that’s a shock to some of you. It’s a joke. But the truth is the truth. Both about Europe’s security and Europe’s economic future. Both of these concerns mandate a different policy toward Israel,” Netanyahu said. Bibi urged the countries to change the trend. “The EU is the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel, that produces technology and every area, on political conditions. The only ones! Nobody does it. It’s crazy. It’s actually crazy. There is no logic here. The EU is undermining its security by undermining Israel. Europe is undermining its progress by undermining its connection with Israeli innovation by a crazy attempt to create political conditions,” he said.

Europe wasn’t the only hot topic. Netanyahu also said Israel “had a big problem,” with the Obama administration and its policies on Iran and Syria. “I think its different now. Vis-a-vis Iran, there is a stronger position. The US is more engaged in the region and conducting more bombing attacks [in Syria], which is a positive thing. I think we are OK on ISIS. We’re not OK on Iran,” he said.

After about 15 minutes, the PM’s press team realized what was happening and the broadcast was stopped, but not before the recording was distributed and all media outlets broke out with push notifications about the incident. When the official presser started, Netanyahu addressed the matter, and said in Hebrew that he “will be brief because I understand the Israeli press is already well briefed.” However, despite the obvious embarrassment, the incident is not necessarily bad for Bibi, as it proves he actually delivers the same messages both inside closed doors and outside as well.  His staunch defense of Israel will definitely earn him some points with his base, and prompted some speculation and theories that perhaps the hot mic wasn’t unintended. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset today [JewishInsider]  

HEARD YESTERDAY —  State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on reports of Netanyahu expressing skepticism about Trump’s peace efforts: “I know that we have a very good relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and this administration has talked a lot about the importance of promoting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

ON THE HILL — Jason Greenblatt: “An honor to meet with Sen. Bob Corker today to discuss Israeli/Palestinian peace. Our conversation covered many topics including Taylor Force.” [Twitter]

A WH official tells us… “Jason went to hear about the Taylor Force Act not to share the WH opinion about it.”

TOP TALKER: “Saudi King’s Son Plotted Effort to Oust His Rival” by Ben Hubbard, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt: “Before midnight, Mohammed bin Nayef was told he was going to meet the king and was led into another room, where royal court officials took away his phones and pressured him to give up his posts as crown prince and interior minister… At first, he refused. But as the night wore on, the prince, a diabetic who suffers from the effects of a 2009 assassination attempt by a suicide bomber, grew tired… One American official and one adviser to a Saudi royal said Mohammed bin Nayef opposed the embargo on Qatar, a stand that probably accelerated his ouster. Sometime before dawn, Mohammed bin Nayef agreed to resign…” [NYTimes]

“Qatar’s Critics Scale Back Demands in Diplomatic Bid” by Farnaz Fassihi: “Diplomats from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt told reporters that they had altered their demands from 13 detailed requests to six generalized ones focused on “principles.” … Qatar’s ambassador to the U.N. dismissed the new demands as a move to save face amid international pressure on the group to end the standoff.” [WSJ]

IRAN DEAL: “Iran FM accuses Trump of trying to undermine nuclear deal” by Laura Rozen: “We still do not know what they want to do,” [Mohammad Javad] Zarif said today. “They have been talking about scrapping the deal… But they seem to have come to the realization that scrapping the deal is not something that would be globally welcome. [So] they now try to make it impossible for Iran to get the benefits from the deal.” Zarif spoke to a small group of American journalists at the Central Park residence of Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations… The “JCPOA is not a deal that anyone loves,” Zarif said. “It was the only deal possible… We could not get a better deal… I assure [you], the US could not get a better deal.” … The JCPOA “was negotiated and drafted based on mutual distrust,” Zarif said. “It is not an agreement based on trust… [You] will see mistrust in every sentence and paragraph of deal. And it is mutual.” [Al-Monitor]

Zarif on new sanctions: “It violates the spirit of the deal. We will look at it and see whether it violates the letter of the deal. And we will act accordingly.”[CBSNews]

Deputy Minister Michael Oren: Trump was “clearly not ripping up the deal any time soon.” [JPost]

“4 good reasons Trump shouldn’t scrap the Iran nuclear deal or goad Iran to pull out” by Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky: “Playing around with a nuclear agreement — however imperfect — that is keeping Iran’s finger off the nuclear trigger, is both irresponsible and dangerous. If this is the course the Trump administration follows, it’s likely to find itself with the worst of both worlds: an Iran with nuclear weapons expanding its influence in the region. Perhaps in some parallel universe this could be claimed as a beautiful victory that will make America great again, but on planet Earth that just isn’t going fly.” [USAToday

“Source: Some White House staff worry Kushner security clearance in jeopardy” by Sara Murray and Jeremy Diamond: “White House officials are concerned that Kushner may not be granted a final security clearance, an administration official told CNN on Monday… As a top White House official, Kushner was granted an interim security clearance. Kushner met with the FBI on June 23 to be interviewed for his permanent security clearance… A source close to Kushner said his legal team sees no basis under which Kushner’s security clearance would be denied… Sanders, the No. 2 White House spokeswoman, affirmed Tuesday that Trump has faith in Kushner. “The President has confidence in Jared,” she said.” [CNN] • Why Jared Kushner Will Be Able to Keep His Security Clearance [NewYorker]

“Democrats target Ivanka Trump security clearance amid Kushner scrutiny” by Heidi M Przybyla: “A group of 20 House Democrats is calling on the FBI to review Ivanka Trump’s security clearance… “We are concerned that Ivanka Trump may have engaged in similar deception,” the House Democrats wrote in a letter.” [USAToday]

DRIVING THE WEEK: “Trump aides move on after health care loss” by Annie Karni and Eliana Johnson: “Ivanka Trump made an appearance at a global robotics competition celebrating girls from Afghanistan pursuing careers in STEM. Meanwhile, her husband, White House adviser Jared Kushner — who has taken little interest in the health care bill since its early, troubled days in the House, when he went skiing in Aspen with his family — was busy leading a meeting with his Office of American Innovation. In the West Wing, chief strategist Steve Bannon took a meeting with Wayne Berman, a Republican operative and board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition whose name has surfaced as a potential future chief of staff.” [Politico

“Here are the ‘three easy things’ that Chuck Schumer thinks can shore up Obamacare” by Ed O’Keefe and Sean Sullivan: “On Tuesday, Schumer said he told his Democratic colleagues during their weekly luncheon, “Sit down with Republicans. I welcome it.” But he insisted that any bipartisan deal cannot include tax cuts for wealthier Americans or cuts to the Medicaid program… And then there’s this: Schumer said he hasn’t spoke directly to Trump in months and to Vice President Pence in several weeks… “He’s tweeted at me much more than he’s talked to me lately,” Schumer said of the president.” [WashPost]

IN THE SPOTLIGHT — “Meet Donald Trump’s Lawyer: A Messianic Jew Who Loves Jesus and Hates BDS” by Allison Kaplan Sommer: “[Jay Sekulow] is representing the Gush Etzion Foundation, one of over a dozen defendants, in al-Tamimi vs. Adelson – a 2016 lawsuit brought by Palestinian activist Bassem al-Tamimi and others. The latter contend that the defendants, a group of U.S. nonprofits, philanthropists and corporations led by American casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, are guilty of war crimes against Palestinians, among other accusations. Sekulow’s co-counsel in the case is Marc Zell, co-chair of Republicans Abroad Israel… He said he had been brought into the Tamimi case by Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon because “the folks in Gush Etzion” needed a “tough” lawyer. “I like being a tough lawyer,” he declared. “And when you know the story of Gush Etzion, it brings out the toughest part of who you are.”” [Haaretz]  

2018 WATCH: “Illinois’ 2018 gubernatorial race is already nearing the $100 million mark with 16 months to go” by Stephen Wolf: “Wealthy investor J.B. Pritzker dominated the money race by self-funding $14 million even as he accepted no donations… While the Democrats have to first get past a crowded primary, [Gov. Bruce] Rauner will have built up a fully operational Death Star by the time the general election arrives. He raked in $20.6 million during the second quarter and finished June with $67.6 million cash-on-hand…  A whopping $20 million of Rauner’s haul, or all but $600,000, came from just a single source: hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin… Pritzker already spent a staggering $9.3 million in the second quarter.” [DailyKos

** Good Wednesday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: David Zaslav’s Discovery Communications and Scripps Networks in Talks to Combine [WSJ] • Struggles at Procter & Gamble Draw Scrutiny of Nelson Peltz [DealBook] • How Paul Singer plans to transform the biggest American power producer without getting burned [CNBC] • Jacob M. Safra Buys Jackie Kennedy’s Childhood Home [MansionGlobal] • Uber-style app ‘Careem’ goes off beaten track in Palestinian West Bank [Reuters] • Jonathon Triest’s Ludlow Ventures has closed its second fund with $45 million [TechCrunch] • Israel-based Cyberbit makes another move in Maryland [Technical.ly]

STARTUP NATION: “Mangrove raises $170M for its new fund to invest in Europe and Israeli startups” by Mike Butcher: “Luxembourg-based Mangrove Capital Partners, one of Europe’s leading early stage venture capital firms, has raised $170 million for its latest fund. Mangrove V will be used to invest across Europe and Israel. Mangrove put $8 million into Wix.com, and that resulted in a $550 million exit when it became the largest tech IPO to come out of Israel. Mangrove now has over $1bn under management and a team of twelve, which includes partners in Berlin and Tel Aviv.” [TechCrunch] • Israel tech firms raise $1.26 billion in 2Q 2017 [ToI]

“Prince William and Kate ‘intensely moved’ by visit to Holocaust camp” by Aubrey Allegretti: “Prince William and Kate spent more than an hour at the Stutthoff camp, just outside of Gdansk, where 65,000 people were killed by the Nazis. They toured the site, which is now a museum, meeting senior staff and signing a visitors book before being taken to a barracks and shown shoes left by Holocaust victims… Afterwards, the Royal couple met survivors of the camp, including two Britons who were returning for the first time. They listened while Zigi Shipper and Manfred Goldberg, both 87, led a prayer.” [SkyNews]

BOOK REVIEW: “The Red Cross and the Holocaust” by Samuel Moyn: “What began as an organization meant to curb the barbarity of warfare has found it difficult to live down its most grievous mistake: cozying up to the Third Reich, remaining silent about the Holocaust and later helping Nazis escape justice. In his last book, “Nazis on the Run: How Hitler’s Henchmen Fled Justice” (2011), historian Gerald Steinacher chronicled one aspect of this shameful era. His newest effort, “Humanitarians at War: The Red Cross in the Shadow of the Holocaust,” synthesizes what he and other historians have learned about the ICRC’s conduct during this troublesome period before adding new material on what the organization did next. This more comprehensive account of the ICRC’s actions equips the reader to decide whether the organization truly recovered from its wartime and postwar errors.” [WSJ

“Terror at the Temple Mount Puts the Lie to Palestinian Rage” by Eli Lake: “As Martin Kramer, a historian at Shalem College in Jerusalem, told me this week, the attack at the Temple Mount broke a taboo. “The usual Islamist claim is the danger to the mosque and the shrine is from Jews,” he said. “Here there was an actual conspiracy to smuggle weapons into this holy place and Hamas does not condemn it, they praise it. Who poses the greater danger to Al Aqsa?” It’s an excellent question. The answer is that the greater danger to one of Islam’s holiest place these days comes from the Palestinian fanatics who claim to be fighting for its reclamation.” [BloombergView

“Radiohead in Israel: As Opposition Intensifies, Opening Acts Preach Understanding” by Lior Phillips: “Radiohead not only reaffirmed their plans, but in choosing opening acts Dudu Tassa and Shye Ben Tzur for the July 19 show at Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park, are emphasizing, through art, the cross-cultural understanding and dialog so desperately needed in the area…. Tassa, who had once focused solely on Hebrew rock, now showcases the deeply rooted, potent depth of music written decades ago by Iraqi Jews, and featuring traditional Arabic instruments…” [Variety]

“Don’t tell Radiohead it can’t tour in Israel” by Jeff Blehar: “It’s depressing that Radiohead’s desire to return to a country that has a large, longstanding and vociferously supportive fan base should even be a political issue at all. But it is indicative of the trend in the modern era to politicize everything, and of people’s desire to use culture as a blunt, bludgeoning weapon against their enemies. Ultimately, what is most admirable about Radiohead refusing to buckle to the BDS pressure and media hassle is the fact that it is seeking to float above the politics of the issue entirely.” [NYPost

MEDIA WATCH: Has Trump Turned CNN into a House of Existential Dread?” by Sarah Ellison: ““We may look back in five years and find that CNN was fundamentally changed because of Trump,” one CNN employee told me. “Maybe it will turn out that Trump changed the brand” through his battle with the network… [Jeff] Zucker has made efforts to reassure journalists and on-air talent that the mission of CNN, to conduct journalism and hold the administration accountable, has never been more clear. He took a recent trip to the D.C. bureau to reiterate to staffers that there should be no chilling effect on their reporting as a result of the attacks from the administration, according to one person who was present.” [VanityFair

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Brooklyn’s OY/YO Sculpture Gets a New Home at the Williamsburg Waterfront” by Stephanie Geier: “On July 13th, it was unveiled by NYC Parks and Douglaston Development LLC at the esplanade of the North 5th Street Pier and Park. Many were eager to celebrate its return, with [Deborah] Kass herself attending the ceremony. The sculpture will be open to the public in its new home until July 2018… When facing Brooklyn, it reads “YO,” reflecting urban, Brooklyn slang and the Spanish word for “I am.” When facing Manhattan, it shows just the opposite word, “OY,” the famous Yiddish expression.” [UntappedCities

DESSERT: “Why the Young Heir of Katz’s Deli Decided to Expand for the First Time in 129 Years” by Sierra Tishgart: “That changed last month, when the newish owner, 29-year-old Jake Dell… expanded the business by opening a takeout-only stand in Brooklyn’s DeKalb Market Hall… In a back table at Katz’s, in between greeting elderly regulars and spot-checking the pastrami, Dell explained what motivated this decision… “One of the most important things for me is maintaining tradition and preserving the classics. That’s what people expect from me and from Katz’s… It’s about me preserving this tradition. You can’t re-create everything. You can’t re-create nostalgia. You can’t re-create the smut on the walls or the smell of an old neon sign, but you can bring the food closer to people. I don’t think you can replicate this place.”[GrubStreet]

“Is It O.K. to Fire a Muslim Driver for Refusing to Carry Wine?” by Kwame Anthony Appiah: “The real question is whether em­ployees can be exempted from such disputed activities without causing a business hardship. A supermarket can’t be obliged to retain a butcher whose religion forbids him to handle pork. But neither should it require the vegetable guy with the kipa to fill in at the sausage station. Where to draw the line between accommodations that are reasonable and those that are too demanding? That isn’t a question to be resolved once and for all, ethically or legally.” [NYTimes

MAZEL TOV: Aaron Keyak, co-founder of Bluelight Strategies, emails yesterday… “Late this morning, we had a baby girl! Today’s expansion of the Keyak/Goldgraber clan weighed in at a formitable 8 pounds, 3 ounces and is quite adorable. Mom and the baby are doing great. We’re feeling very excited and blessed!” [Pic]

BIRTHDAYS: Violinist, composer, conductor, and co-founder of the Juilliard String Quartet, Robert Mann turns 97… Survivor of the Holocaust by hiding in a Catholic school, earned a Ph.D. at the University of Hawaii, founder of the Newport News-based Holocaust Education Foundation, Peter Fischl turns 87… Johannesburg resident Monty Lasovsky turns 82… Interactive designer, author and artist, in 1986 he married Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late JFK, Edwin Arthur “Ed” Schlossberg turns 72… Professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam and Leiden University, he seved in the Dutch Senate (1999-2010) and then as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands (2010-2012), Uriel “Uri” Rosenthal turns 72… Entrepreneur, hotelier and real estate developer, often referred to as the creator of the boutique hotel concept, he gained fame in 1977 as co-founder of NYC’s Studio 54, Ian Schrager turns 71… Author of three books on baseball, long-time sportswriter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and ESPN writer and co-host, Jayson Starkturns 66… Born in a public housing project in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, now Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz turns 64… Ner Israel Rabbinical College’s Rabbi Ezra Neuberger turns 60… Billionaire chairman and CEO of Sears Holdings (owner of retailers Sears and Kmart), Edward Scott “Eddie” Lampert turns 55…

Pulitzer Prize winning NY Times reporter and author of “The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men,” Eric Lichtblau turns 52… Israeli actress, model and film producer, Yael Abecassis turns 50… Spokesperson to the Arab media in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office, Ofir Gendelman turns 46… Co-Chairman and CEO of of CheckAlt, an independent provider of treasury and lockbox solutions, previously CEO of Vintage Filings, a NYC-based EDGAR filing firm that he sold to PR Newswire, Shai Stern turns 43… Entrepreneur, two-time author and strategic marketing consultant, Alexis Blair Wolfer turns 33… Founder, CEO and Director at TradeRoom International, Ezra David Beren turns 32… ProPublica reporter covering the Trump administration since 2017, previously at Politico and Bloomberg, Isaac Arnsdorf turns 28… Warren Rapf Henry Emmanuel Hublet

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani takes part in a news conference near the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., on Sept. 22, 2016. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Trump administration slaps Iran with new sanctions after recertifying nuclear deal


Hours after recertifying the Iran nuclear deal President Donald Trump decried as a candidate, his administration slapped new sanctions on the country in a bid to toughen the enforcement of Iran sanctions.

“The United States remains deeply concerned about Iran’s malign activities across the Middle East which undermine regional stability, security and prosperity,” Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement Tuesday.

The statement targeted 18 entities and individuals “supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program and for supporting Iran’s military procurement or Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as well as an Iran-based transnational criminal organization and associated persons.” It listed among other transgressions Iran’s support of “terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad that threaten Israel and stability in the Middle East.”

The sanctions came a day after the Trump administration certified for the second time the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, though Trump reportedly resisted. The United States must certify Iranian compliance with the deal every 90 days. During his campaign, Trump called the sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal the worst he had ever seen.

Trump’s top security advisers persuaded him to recertify, noting that inspectors have confirmed that Iran is sticking to the terms of the deal even as it continues clashing with the United States and its allies in other spheres, and violates U.N. Security Council resolutions related to missile testing. Administration officials said in announcing the recertification that they would seek to better enforce the deal.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee hailed the new sanctions.

“Today’s sanctions against entities supporting #Iran’s military and missile program are an important step forward,” the lobby said on its Twitter feed.

AIPAC also urged Congress to pass expanded sanctions targeting Iran’s missile capability.

 

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

Senate passes bill to impose new sanctions on Iran


The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran.

The measure adding sanctions on Iran due to its ballistic missile program, support for terrorism and human rights breaches passed Thursday in a 98-2 vote. It complies with the Iran nuclear agreement reached in 2015, which put restrictions on the country’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., introduced the bill, which now must pass in the House of Representatives and be signed by President Donald Trump before being enacted. Only Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted against it.

A day earlier, the Senate voted to adopt an amendment to the bill that would expand sanctions against Russia, CBS News reported.

The American Jewish Committee praised the bill’s passage.

“In the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal, AJC has continued to raise concerns about Iran’s threatening behavior with our own and other governments,” Jason Isaacson, the group’s associate executive director for policy, said in a statement.

“Iran’s ballistic missile program, the regime’s support for international terrorism, and its blatant and egregious human rights violations should not be ignored. This bill demonstrates to the Iranian regime that they will not be tolerated.”

Christians United for Israel also lauded the measure, calling it a “good first step.”

“While the Iran nuclear agreement was sold to the American people with the promise that Tehran would moderate its behavior, the Islamic Republic continues to work to consolidate power and export bloodshed,” CUFI said in a statement. “Iran’s support for terror, ballistic missile program and human rights record demand U.S. action.”

Iranian-made Emad missile is displayed during a ceremony marking the 37th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, in Tehran on Feb. 11, 2016. Photo by Raheb Homavandi/Reuters

Senate panel passes new sanctions on Iran’s missiles


A key Senate committee approved new sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missiles program after amending clauses that critics said could scuttle the Iran nuclear deal.

On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the bill 18-3. It was backed by the committee’s two leaders, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman, and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., its top Democrat. Another sponsor was Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a leader in efforts to sanction Iran.

Backers insisted that the bill would not affect the 2015 deal struck by the Obama administration trading sanctions relief for rollbacks in Iran’s nuclear program. That deal did not include missile sanctions.

However, parts of the text were amended after Adam Szubin, the top Obama administration official handling sanctions, warned that they could be interpreted as violating the deal.

Szubin in a May 12 letter first obtained by the Huffington Post warned the committee that the legislation as then written would “provoke a terrible reaction in Iran and with our allies, as it would be seen as contrary to at least the spirit of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” the formal name for the deal.

The United States forged the deal by exerting pressure on Iran through a sanctions regime built in collaboration with allies and major powers.

Szubin, who is respected by both parties, maintained tough non-nuclear sanctions on Iran after the deal was in place.

Subsequently, language was removed that would have sanctioned individuals and entities who “pose a risk” of materially contributing to the missile program, an ambit that critics said was too broad. The language now sanctions those who have already “materially contributed” to the program.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee praised the bill’s advancement.

“This bill is directed only at actions outside the nuclear sphere — in no way does it violate the letter or spirit of the 2015 nuclear deal,” the prominent Israel lobby said in a statement. “AIPAC urges the full Senate to adopt this critical, bipartisan legislation.”

The bill’s consideration comes as Iran reportedly has built a third underground factory to manufacture ballistic missiles.

J Street in a statement praised the committee for amending the language but said the bill could still do more harm than good, noting the victory in Iranian elections this weekend of the relatively moderate incumbent president, Hassan Rouhani.

“While the elections were highly constrained, their outcome was significant,” the liberal pro-Israel group said. “They provided a new mandate of support for the president who secured the JCPOA, has criticized anti-American rhetoric and has expressed openness to further diplomatic engagement. In this context, Senators should weigh the merits of passing largely symbolic legislation to achieve objectives that might be better met through future negotiations.”

The Trump administration has ratcheted up rhetoric against the Iranian regime and said it is reviewing the terms of the nuclear deal. President Donald Trump while campaigning sharply criticized the deal, but unlike other Republican candidates stopped short of saying he would scuttle it.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, told Congress this week that he was reviewing contracts arising out of the deal that allowed U.S. aircraft manufacturers to sell their products to Iran.

“We will use everything within our power to put additional sanctions on Iran, Syria and North Korea to protect American lives,” Mnuchin said Wednesday in testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee, Reuters reported. “I can assure you that’s a big focus of mine and I discuss it with the president.”

World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder on April 23. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Daily Kickoff: Inside Lauder’s meetings with Abbas | Trump’s itinerary signals anti-Iran alliance | Katzenberg backing Bob Iger to be 1st Jewish POTUS


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SCENE LAST NIGHT — LA Edition: Cheryl and Haim Saban opened up their Beverly Park estate for an evening event to introduce their friends to the Israel Policy Forum and its partnership with Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS). The two organizations advocate for a two-state solution that is ‘consistent with Israel’s security needs.’ In introducing the evening’s program, Haim Saban joked that typically he hosts events at his home that cost between $5-25k to attend in support of a variety of causes but that ‘this one is free so everyone should make sure to really enjoy the food.’ On a more serious note, Saban explained “all of us here tonight — whether left, right, center, meshugeners, non-meshugeners — care about Israel. While there are some who say there’s no such thing as ‘Palestinians’ — call them whatever you would like but the facts are it’s pretty much equal (populations) between the Jordan river and the sea. We have to find a way to keep Israel both Jewish and democratic.”

In describing CIS, Nimrod Novik noted how rare it is for even one Israeli general to follow another one but “when 270 retired generals, who make up approximately 80%, unite around one organization, led by one general, that’s focused on one issue — the two state solution — it’s worth paying attention.”

Rabbi David Wolpe summed up the evening’s overall discussion for us by quoting the author Flann O’Brien “It is a great thing to do what is necessary before it becomes unavoidable”

ALSO SPOTTED: Israeli-American entrepreneur Avi Arad, Executive Producer of Homeland Alex Gansa, Former LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Barbara Yaroslavsky, Tribe Media’s David Suissa, Tikkun Olam Journeys’ Tova Suissa, IPF’s Executive Director David Halperin, Gen. (ret.) Amnon Reshef, IAC’s Shawn Evenhaim, RAND Corporation’s Shira Efron, Saban Family Foundation’s Amitai Raziel, film producer Mike Medavoy, Head of TV at WME Rick Rosen, Charles Perez, Ada Horwich, Don Feder, Shifra Efron.

DRIVING THE CONVERSATION — Trump’s Israel trip — White House aides, speaking on background yesterday, did not offer any specific details about Trump’s upcoming trip to Israel, after he first visits Saudi Arabia. Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, according to a senior administration official, will focus on trying to reach an understanding with Arab leaders on joint “long-term” goals to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East. In Israel, Trump will “reinforce the strong alliance that we have with the Israeli people, and then we are going to talk a little bit about the peace process with the Palestinians and how we plan to go forward… We will approach it with a lot of humility. The President is very involved in [discussing] a lot of ideas.” [JewishInsider]

Initial itinerary… “A senior Israeli official said Trump was due to land in Israel on May 22 at 11 A.M. He will be received at an official ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport by President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu… Trump will then proceed to Jerusalem for a series of meetings with Rivlin and Netanyahu… The Foreign Ministry and the Shin Bet security service are preparing for the possibility that the U.S. president will visit the Western Wall and Masada. It is still not clear whether Trump will give a speech during his visit. On May 23, Trump will visit Bethlehem, meet Abbas and apparently will also visit the Church of the Nativity. From there, he will head back to Ben-Gurion airport, taking off at about 1 P.M.” [Haaretz

We’re Hearing… Sheldon Adelson will likely be in Israel during Trump’s visit. For the folks who can, might be time to book your Air Adelson tickets…

“Why Does Trump Want to Address Israel at Masada?” by Sigal Samuel: “Six years ago, he inquired about whether he could hold the Miss Universe Pageant at Masada, according to Eran Sidis, the spokesman for the Knesset Speaker… Trump also loves an underdog… Now he’s about to embark on a high-profile mission to solve what may be the world’s most notoriously unsolvable conflict… In this scenario, too, he is an underdog… But he’s a confident underdog, one who believes he can and will make a historic deal. So why not throw some spectacle into the mix? Masada has been a centerpiece of the Zionist national myth for decades.” [TheAtlantic]

“Trump’s selective world tour” by Frida Ghitis: “The stops in Israel and Saudi Arabia will… please his base at home and will strengthen his hand as he seeks to score a historic victory he says we wants, helping to broker a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. The very fact that Trump will visit Israel on his first trip carries symbolic value. Israelis and many of the Jewish State’s supporters in the US had trouble forgiving Obama for failing to visit the country during his first term. Obama came within short distances of Israel, visiting nearby Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the first months of his administration, but pointedly did not go to Israel.” [CNN]

“Trump Joins Saudi Arabia, Arab Leaders for Potential Anti-Iran Alliance” by Kimberly Dozier: “The trip indicates that Trump is re-aligning the White House with Saudi Arabia’s and Israel’s anti-Iran position, while the Obama administration had sought to stay more neutral in order to deliver the Iranian nuclear deal. It’s also a signal that Trump is returning to the Bush-era reliance on Sunni Arab strongmen to quell a roiling Middle East, and it’s an in-your-face rejection of critics who called him anti-Islamic.” [DailyBeast] • Angry at Criticism by Saudi Prince, Iran Accuses Him of ‘Unveiled Threat’ [NYTimes]

“Trump goes soft on Saudi” by Michael Crowley: “Trump’s Israel visit promises to be more reflective of establishment thinking than of his past rhetoric. He is not expected, for instance, to press his campaign vow to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem… “He’s approached this like a stunningly conventional president,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former chief of staff to the special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Obama’s State Department. “That’s been a pleasant surprise.” Some Netanyahu supporters in Washington and Israel, skeptical that an acceptable peace deal with the Palestinians is feasible, find Trump overly eager to break the historic impasse… Hard-liners close to Netanyahu are especially anxious about reports that Trump is taking advice on Israel from an old friend, New York businessman Ronald Lauder, who has played a behind-the-scenes role in past peace talks, has ties to Palestinian officials, and who believes Trump can broker a deal.” [Politico; NYTimes]

KAFE KNESSET — Lauder lore — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: In the past two weeks, since Jewish Insider first revealed Ronald Lauder as a top White House whisperer, Israeli officials and politicians have been whispering about him as well. In addition to a public meeting with Egyptian President Sisi, Kafe Knesset has learned that Lauder met with Abbas twice in the past month, a few weeks ago in a European capital and earlier this week in DC, a day before Abbas’ White House meeting this week.  “Lauder has emerged as a significant unofficial envoy to the President, and is increasing his involvement with the Israeli Palestinian issue, and he is convinced he can help the President secure a deal,” one well informed source told Kafe Knesset. “He thinks peace is possible and is embracing the Palestinians who feel they have found their man and he believes he can bring them to the table,” he added. Another well informed source said that during the Trump-Abbas meeting this Wednesday, the President praised Lauder, adding that “Lauder is determined to move forward, and is convinced that the Palestinians want a deal.” Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

HAPPENING ON SUNDAY — The Jerusalem Post will be holding its 6th annual conference at the Marriott Marquis in NY. Speakers include top Israeli ministers, Israel’s Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog, White House aide Sebastian Gorka, Senators Tom Cotton and Deb Fischer; Congresswoman Grace Meng, Ambassador Danny Danon, Ron Lauder, and Alan Dershowitz, among others. Larry King will receive the Jerusalem Post Lifetime Achievement Award and talk about his career and Jewish identity.

ON THE HILL — Reaction to Trump’s upcoming trip to Israel — by Aaron Magid: “I guess when he can’t get any of his domestic programs done, it’s good to go overseas. Certainly, we have heard nothing about infrastructure,” Rep. Donald Norcross(D-NJ) told Jewish Insider. “For somebody who during the campaign who was almost solely focused on Making America Great Again and bringing jobs home, he seems to be spending a lot of time focused abroad and not dealing with infrastructure which is jobs.”

Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) added, “I’m glad that he would pick those countries and any positive outreach that he does. I’m very skeptical. He doesn’t have a good comprehension on foreign affairs and doesn’t do his homework.” [JewishInsider]

SCENE LAST NIGHT IN NYC — Jake Sullivan discussed American foreign policy under Trump, as well as his experience in establishing back channel talks with Iran that led to the nuclear deal, in a conversation with Jordan Hirsch, Visiting Fellow at The Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia University, at the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life.

“I am very skeptical that the traditional approach is going to lead to success,”Sullivan said about Trump’s efforts to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. “I am deeply skeptical. It did not work when George Mitchell and Hillary Clinton tried it. It did not work when John Kerry tried it. It did not work when Condoleezza Rice tried it. I do not believe that it is right for success in this administration either. And I think Donald Trump saying that maybe it isn’t as hard as everyone made it out to, I can say from personal experience, I have my grave doubts that he is correct in that statement. I have my doubts about whether Abu Mazen (Abbas), given his current political position, given his history on this, he is not strong enough, in my view, to deliver a yes to a deal. Even a yes to a deal that gave him most of all what he needed.”

Sullivan on the Iran deal going forward: “I believe that job number one today – and I think the Israeli intelligence and military establishment would agree with this – is not to try to enter a renegotiation on the nuclear deal, which I think is on sound footing right now. Iran is in compliance, We can continue to shape their behavior around the nuclear issue. It’s to deal with the broader issue of their activities. And I think that the administration deciding that it is going to increase pressure on that – economic pressure, intelligence pressure, military cooperation with our allies – that is where their focus should be. The notion that they say we are going to open core trade-offs in this deal right now is a way to alienate our partners. As time progresses, If Iran continues to remain a state that is looking to get a nuclear weapon ultimately, we have options down the road to do something about that, not just a military option.”

Thoughts on 2020 and whether he would join another campaign: “I think it’s going to be a big field (in the Democratic primary), and there are a lot of intriguing candidates. In terms of me getting involved, I do not plan on working full time on a campaign again, unless it’s the campaign of a close friend or family member. But, of course, I will be in the fight. I will participate in some way in 2018 and in 2020 and beyond because I think it’s important not to retreat from the field.”

Sullivan’s reading list: “Core international relations texts like Man, the State, and War, Robert Gilpin’s The Political Economy of International Relations, and John Gaddis’s The Cold War: A New History. I am in the middle of a book right now about the ratification of the U.S. constitution and contingent it was… and then in terms of the daily stuff, I pretty much follow the same newspapers, foreign policy outlets that everybody does.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’m a full service celebrator” — Dan Senor on CBS This Morning when asked if he’s celebrating Cinco de Mayo today [Video]

TRUMP TEAM — “The Voice in His Ear – Jared Kushner’s access to power” by Michael Warren: “It’s a mistake to believe Kushner controls Trump, like a globalist Svengali… “I think you don’t get Kushner trying to influence Trump, you get Trump directing Kushner,” says Gingrich. “I don’t think anybody drives the Trump system except Trump.” As one senior White House official put it, “Trump is the face of Trumpism.” That’s true. But when Trump turns to the side, more often than not it’s Jared’s face he sees.” [TWS]

“In House Health Vote, Reince Priebus Sees a Much-Needed Reprieve” by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman: “Mr. Priebus has half-joked that Mr. Kushner has “all the fun” but few of the responsibilities that burden him, according to one longtime Priebus confidant… At the height of the Kushner-Bannon spat last month, Mr. Trump instructed both men to “stop it” or face the boot, and delegated to Mr. Priebus the role of evenhanded mediator. Instead, Mr. Priebus interpreted that as a license to forge an alliance with Mr. Kushner.” [NYTimes

“Omarosa Manigault: I’ve never shied away from having a good relationship with Louis Farrakhan” by Louis Nelson: “Manigault, the former reality TV star turned White House adviser to President Donald Trump, said Thursday that she has a “good relationship” with the controversial Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, and would “look forward” to a meeting with him… “I would look forward to receiving that invitation and sitting down with him.” Farrakhan has been the leader of the Nation of Islam since 1977… Farrakhan himself is “an anti-Semite who routinely accuses Jews of manipulating the U.S. government and controlling the levers of world power,” according to the SPLC.” [Politico]

INBOX: “The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was deeply disturbed by comments earlier today by former reality star and White House staffer Omarosa Manigault… “Louis Farrakhan should not be made to feel welcome by anyone in the White House,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “Such an overture would only serve to legitimize his long record of conspiratorial and hateful views toward Jews. We hope that the administration will make it clear that Farrakhan and his anti-Semitic organization will find no supporters in the White House.””

“Gorka: Reports about leaving White House ‘very fake news'” by Nikita Vladimirov: “President Trump’s deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka went after “very fake news” on Thursday… “I will be in the White House as long as the president wants me there and if he needs me to do something somewhere else, I will do whatever he needs me to do,” Gorka said on Fox News Radio’s “Kilmeade and Friends.”” [TheHill]

“Bernie Sanders just defended Israel on Al Jazeera. Here’s why that’s a big deal” by Ron Kampeas: “Asked by Takruri whether he “respected” BDS as a legitimate nonviolent protest movement, Sanders said, “No, I don’t.” The senator suggested in his reply that the tactic was counterproductive as a means of bringing the sides to peace talks.” [JTA; Video]

** Good Friday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Cordish seeks to woo Madrid with revised plan for casino project[FT] • Developer Martin Selig says it won’t take long to fill F5 Networks’ void on the waterfront [BizJournals] • Kushner Companies sells swanky Brooklyn townhouse for record sum [FoxNews] • Billionaire Trump Adviser Says He Feels Misunderstood: Stephen Schwarzman wants to know “who’s doing the P.R.” for private equity [VanityFair] Lasry’s Milwaukee Bucks will field team in new NBA e-sports league[BizJournals] • YL Ventures closes $75 million fund to bring Israeli startups to the US[TechCrunch]

“Here’s Why Israeli Fintech Startups Are Conquering The Market” by Leigh Cuen: “The fintech industry at large revolves around financial regulation in the target market. So the Israeli mentality, known for a no-nonsense approach and a penchant for redefining boundaries, makes Middle Eastern startups especially attractive to international fintech investors who want to break the mold. “Israeli entrepreneurs are fearless, that is a big factor when it comes to regulation,” Yuval Ariav, Tel Aviv investment partner at Lion Bird Venture Capital, told IBT.” [IBTimes]

“Congo Hires Israeli Firm to Lobby Trump Administration” by Thomas Wilson: “Congo agreed to pay MER Security and Communication Systems Ltd. $5.58 million between Dec. 8, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2017 for policy advice and support in lobbying senior government officials and members of Congress… MER will hire U.S.-based lobbyists, while advising the Congolese government on U.S. concerns relating to African security issues and on the appointment, travel and engagements of a Congolese special envoy to the U.S., according to the filings signed by Omer Laviv, the company’s chief executive officer.” [Bloomberg]

FIRST JEWISH POTUS? “Hollywood v. Trump: Disney CEO intrigued by 2020 bid” by Mike Allen: “Disney CEO Bob Iger is being pelted with entreaties to run for president in 2020, and is clearly intrigued by the idea, according to industry sources… A ringleader? Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former Disney Studios chairman, is said to be among those encouraging a run. The Hollywood Reporter said in March that “Iger has told friends he is considering their nudges.” The rumor in Hollywood is that Katzenberg was a key leak of the story.” [Axios]

HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND — Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Conference: “The annual meeting takes place on Saturday at the CenturyLink Center in Nebraska’s largest city. Shareholders have been streaming in from across the globe to take part in what has become several days of activities around the featured event… Meanwhile, in a borrowed storefront at 1011 Capitol Ave. just across the street from the shareholders meeting, another annual assembly will be taking place. Chabad of Nebraska, co-directed by Rabbi Mendel and Shani Katzman, will host a weekend of Shabbat activities, as they’ve done since the conference moved downtown nearly two decades ago.” [Chabad]

DESSERT: “A Culinary Renaissance in the Israeli Countryside” by Saki Knafo: “As we staggered out of the restaurant, an Israeli tour bus pulled up. Israelis—Jewish Israelis—love Arab cooking. Maybe it has something to do with a hunger for a certain kind of authenticity, a visceral connection to the land that the Jewish people only dreamed of during all those years in exile eating matzo ball soup. Whatever the reason, Ein Hawd has benefited from Habait’s popularity in at least one unexpected way. The village got connected to the electrical grid only 10 years ago, after an executive from the national power company came to the restaurant for lunch and learned that her amazing meal had been cooked on a stove powered by a generator.” [Smithsonian]

WEEKEND BIRTHDAYS — FRIDAY: Venture Capitalist at New Enterprise Associates and a member of the inaugural class of the Schwarzman Scholars program, Andrew Adams Schoen turns 27… Conservative radio talk show host, author, commentator and language-learning enthusiast, a 2014 inductee into the National Radio Hall of Fame, Barry Farber turns 87… Journalist, columnist, author, writer of the “Letter from America” column for The International Herald Tribune, previously a foreign correspondent and a book critic at The New York Times, Richard Bernstein turns 73… Best-selling author of 18 novels featuring fictional Manhattan prosecutor Alexandra Cooper, written by the former head of the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office (1976-2002), Linda Fairstein turns 70… Judge on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals since 2000 (Chief Judge since 2007), previously chair of the Maryland Democratic Party and president of the Jewish Community Council of Washington, Peter B. Krauser turns 70… Member of the Knesset, almost continuously since 1988, for the Haredi parties of Degel HaTorah and United Torah Judaism, Moshe Gafni turns 65… Member of the Knesset since 1996 for the Shas party, Minister of Religious Services since 2015, David Azulai turns 63… Television writer and producer, known for The Simpsons, Josh Weinstein turns 51… Television news correspondent, print journalist, stage and film actress, entrepreneur and pro-Israel activist, Lara Berman turns 37… Former Israeli national soccer team captain, Yossi Benayoun turns 37… Executive Director for North America of the Avi Chai Foundation since 1994, a graduate of Yeshiva College and Yale Law School, Yossi Prager… South African-born President of American Jewish World Service, Robert Bank

SATURDAY: Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford U, previously a Columbia U law professor (1969-1979), a US District Cout judge (1979-1985) and the State Department legal adviser (1985-1990), Abraham David Sofaer turns 79… Media executive and philanthropist, he was a long-time executive of Time Inc. (later Time Warner) who negotiated the merger between AOL and Time Warner in 2000, Gerald M. “Jerry” Levin turns 78… Born in Buenos Aires, later emigrated to Chile and then the US, novelist, playwright, essayist, academic and human rights activist, professor of Latin American studies at Duke University, Vladimiro Ariel Dorfman turns 75… Professor of law and philosophy at the University of Chicago, Martha Nussbaum turns 70… Former Deputy Attorney General of the US (1994-1997), who despite life-long ties to the Democratic Party has recently become the ethics adviser for Ivanka Trump, Jamie S. Gorelick turns 67… French-born president of the Jerusalem College of Technology (2009-2013), holder of two Ph.D degrees (Nice University in France and Bar Ilan), mathematician, professor and Talmudic scholar, Noah Dana-Picard turns 63… Ruderman Professor of Jewish Studies at Northeastern University, Lori Hope Lefkovitz turns 61… President and CEO of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life (since 2013), previously Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents (2007-2011) and a US Congressman (1993-1995), Eric David Fingerhut turns 58… Attorney and partner in LA-based real estate development firm, Regent Properties, Daniel Gryczman turns 42…

SUNDAY: Billionaire who converted Chris-Craft Industries from the small boat business into a large media holding company, then sold Chris Craft to Rupert Murdoch in 2001 for $5.3 billion, Herbert J. Siegel turns 89… Ontario-based politician, psychiatrist, academic and public servant, served in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as a member and leader of the Liberal Party (1975-1982), Stuart Lyon Smith turns 79… Winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1989, professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and chemistry at Yale University, Sidney Altman turns 78… Member of the New York State Assembly since 1993, representing parts of Westchester and Putnam counties, Sandra R. “Sandy” Galef turns 77… Deputy US Secretary of State (2009-2011), Deputy National Security Advisor (1996-2000), currently a professor at Syracuse University, James Steinberg turns 64… Professional poker player and hedge fund manager, Daniel Shak turns 58… Emmy Award-winning film and television director, Adam Bernsteinturns 57… Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from the City of Alexandria since 2016 and host of a nationally syndicated progressive public policy radio program, Mark H. Levine turns 51… Democratic member of the US House of Representatives since 2010, representing parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties, Theodore Eliot “Ted” Deutchturns 51… Member of the Knesset for the Jewish Home party since 2013, Israeli Minister of Justice since 2015, Ayelet Shaked turns 41… Snapchat’s Rob Saliterman… Jane Press

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From left: Netanel Kahana, Anat Morag, Ofir Michaeli, Alex Kleiner, Mimi Kaplan, Chris Tucker, Noam Sonnenberg, Yael Nor, Omri Sagir and Shira Glasner come together at the Milken Institute Global conference. Tucker, known for the "Rush Hour" film franchise, appeared with the young adults, who are participants of a Milken Innovation Center delegation that traveled to the conference from Israel. Photo by Ryan Torok, with help from Mimi Kaplan

Celebrity converges with Israel fellows at Milken Institute Global Conference


 

George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States an founder of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, appeared in conversation with Michael Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute. Courtesy of the Milken Institute

George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States an founder of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, appeared in conversation with Michael Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute. Courtesy of the Milken Institute

Former President George W. Bush participated in a conversation with Michael Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute, at approximately 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

At the beginning of the discussion, the two discussed one of the more positive element’s of the 43rd president’s legacy, increasing foreign aid to the African continent.

“I believe all life is precious, and I believe we’re all God’s children,” Bush said, explaining his commitment to Africa.

Bush hopes to prevent the current administration from cutting foreign aid to Africa.

“My mission today is to … urge Congress not to stop the funding on a program that’s effective,” Bush said, appearing in the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton.

Actor Chris Tucker, in attendance at the Milken Institute Global Conference, expressed interest in visiting Israel.

“I haven’t been to Israel, but I want to go…So, I’m a Christian, I want to go visit the Holy Land…I was raised in church, my mama raised me in church. [I value] my spiritual side. It’s so important to stay balanced,” he said in an interview with the Journal.

Tucker goes to church “every Sunday,” unless he is on the road for work, he said. He attends a Church of God in Christ (COGIC) congregation. In the photograph above, he appears with fellows from Israel from the Milken Innovation Center.

Israel Prime Minister's Office Director General Eli Groner. Photo by Ryan Torok

Israel Prime Minister’s Office Director General Eli Groner. Photo by Ryan Torok

“I have no doubt California can stand up to its [water shortage] challenges,” Eli Groner,Israel Prime Minister’s Office Director General, said, appearing on a May 3 Milken Institute Global Conference panel titled “Start-up Nations: Creating Laboratories for Developing Economies.” “It has been done, can be done, but it takes real focus.”

Joining Groner on the panel were Jeremy Bentley, Citi Israel head of financial institutions and public sector; Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board; Richard Blum, chairman of Blum Capital, a member of the board of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein and former chair of the UC Board of Regents; Angela Homsi, director of the Angaza-Africa Impact Innovation Fund; and Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Glenn Yago, senior fellow at the Milken Institute and senior director at its Israel Center, moderated the discussion.

Seated in the audience, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said he wished supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement had been there, so they could hear representatives of Africa discuss the work they are doing partnering with Israeli businesses.

“This is reality, and BDS is ideology,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said. “It’s a shame.”

"Start-up Nations: Creating Laboratories for Developing Economies." Photo by Ryan Torok

“Start-up Nations: Creating Laboratories for Developing Economies.” Photo by Ryan Torok

On Wednesday, Michael Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute, conducted a conversation with former President George W. Bush. The two discussed immigration, the Middle East, W. Bush’s passion for painting and more.

“That’s what this whole conference is about in some way – markets,” Adam Silver, NBA commissioner, said in a May 2 panel titled “Commissioners of Sport: Agile Leadership in a Competitive World.”

In the lobby of the Hilton at 3:45 p.m. Herbert Simon (second from left), owner of the Indiana Pacers, mix and mingled with pollster and political consultant Frank Luntz (far right). Photo by Ryan Torok

In the lobby of the Hilton at 3:45 p.m. Herbert Simon (second from left), owner of the Indiana Pacers, mixed and mingled with pollster and political consultant Frank Luntz (far right). They were on their way to a panel titled “Commissioners of Sport: Agile Leadership in a Competitive World.” Photo by Ryan Torok

 

On May 1, during the Milken Institute Global Conference, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spoke of the effectiveness of policy implementing sanctions against terrorist organizations or countries sponsoring terrorism, including Iran.

“These sanctions really do work [on countries such as Syria],” he said in an interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network, appearing the first day of the three-day conference. “When you cut off the money to terrorist organizations, you have a big impact and I think you saw this in the case of Iran.

“The only reason Iran came to the table to negotiate was because of economic sanctions on them,” he said, “and that’s what created the incentive.”

Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Courtesy of the Milken Institute

Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Courtesy of the Milken Institute

 

In an interview with David Rubinstein, a billionaire financier and philanthropist who has been a supporter of Jewish life at Duke University, Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., U.S. secretary of commerce, said he is hopeful President Donald Trump will have a positive impact on the American business community.

“Every business executive I see, even ones who have specific complaints…every one of them is very encouraged by the new president,” Ross said on Monday afternoon during a Global Conference lunchtime session.

Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce. Photo courtesy of Milken Institute

Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce. Photo courtesy of Milken Institute

 

This year’s conference, held April 30-May 3, drew more than 4,000 attendees from 48 states and more than 50 countries. 75-percent of the speakers were new speakers, according to the Global Conference, which was held at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills.

Beverly Hilton, site of the Milken Institute Global Conference. Photo by Ryan Torok

Beverly Hilton, site of the Milken Institute Global Conference. Photo by Ryan Torok

 

Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, has advised the president on business matters, such as the China currency manipulation issue. On Monday, Dimon appeared in an interview with Willow Bay, dean of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

“I was not a Trump supporter, but he asked me to serve in this [the president’s business strategic advisory council]. I was criticized by a lot of people, including one of my daughters…[But] I’m a patriot. I am going to try the best I can to help my country,” Dimon said.

Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Willow Bay, dean of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. Photo courtesy of Milken Institute

Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Willow Bay, dean of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. Photo courtesy of Milken Institute

 

A dinner session on Monday featured Jon Favreau, J.J. Abrams and Apple executive Eddy Cue.

Favreau, director of “Jungle Book,” a live action reimagining of the classic animated film, said he heeds to the philosophy of making the old new again.

“[Telling] the old stories and giving it a new look, using new technologies and new settings,” is rewarding, Favreau said, appearing in a conversation titled “Multi-Hyphenates.”

“I think ‘multi-hyphenate,’ is a term for a lucky person with ADD,” Abrams, director of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” said.

Abrams spoke of moviegoing as a “communal experience,” while addressing the phenomenon of people opting to watch new releases at home.

“We are desperately working to give people something worthy of their time,” Abrams said.

Favreau, on making the film, “Chef,” said he appreciated the opportunity of becoming acquainted with real chefs.

“As a filmmaker, you have access. When you say you are directing a movie, something about the magic of the movie business, it opens up doors and you can sit and talk to the top people in each of these fields – futurists, chefs, soldiers, police officers, generals. They will talk to you and give you their perspective. It’s incredibly fulfilling. For me to get into that [when working on ‘Chef’], just chopping shallots and that mindfulness brought to the work, it was very meditating,” he said. “It was very fulfilling.”

Both Abrams and Favreau are Jewish.

From left: Jon Favreau, Eddy Cue and J.J. Abrams

From left: Jon Favreau, Eddy Cue and J.J. Abrams

 

Check back for updates.

 

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un arriving for a military parade in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. The picture was released the following day by the state’s Korean Central News Agency. Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

What the North Korea crisis tells us about the Iran nuclear deal


The Trump administration last week endorsed a narrative long promoted by critics of the Iran nuclear deal: It’s North Korea all over again.

“An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea, and take the world along with it,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday at a press availability. He was explaining why President Donald Trump had ordered a review of the Iran nuclear deal reached by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

“The United States is keen to avoid a second piece of evidence that strategic patience is a failed approach,” Tillerson said.

“Strategic patience” is a rubbery term that critics have applied loosely to presidents – Republican and Democratic – who do not strike back swiftly at evidence of nascent rogue weapons-of-mass-destruction programs, instead preferring diplomatic and economic pressure.

It has been applied to North Korea and the policy first instituted by the Clinton administration in 1994, when it signed the Agreed Framework with that country, but also to how President George W. Bush attempted to renegotiate a North Korea deal in the mid-2000s, and to the chemical weapons removal pact Obama negotiated with Russia and Syria in 2013.

The North Korea framework collapsed in the early 2000s, during the Bush administration, and in 2006, North Korea tested a nuclear device. Syria’s apparent use of sarin gas in an attack earlier this month that killed 89 civilians in rebel-held territory suggested that the 2013 removal of chemical weapons was not fully implemented.

Tillerson’s implication: Without a thorough review of the nuclear deal, Iran could also one day surprise the world with a nuclear test.

Is he right? It’s obviously too soon to say. But here are some ways the Iran deal is similar to its failed North Korea predecessor – and ways it is different.

Sanctions relief

In both the North Korea and Iran cases, some sanctions relief was up front – critics say that was a recipe for failure. With North Korea, the United States agreed to deliver 500,000 tons of oil to the cash-starved nation. (There were other goodies, but these were attached to progress in the dismantling of its nuclear capacity.)

In the Iran deal, the U.S. agreed to unfreeze American-based Iranian assets held since the 1978 revolution, amounting to $400 million, and to lift secondary sanctions targeting businesses in other countries that deal with Iran. (Bans on U.S. business with Iran mostly remain in place.)

It’s not clear yet what benefit Iran accrues from the lifting of the secondary sanctions – estimates vary wildly between $40 billion and $150 billion.

In addition, non-nuclear sanctions – relating to Iran’s backing for terrorism and its human rights abuses – remain in place.

“Tillerson is reflecting concerns that the Iran deal has many of the same inherent flaws as the Agreed Framework and may end up in the same scenario,” said Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the preeminent think tank opposing the Iran deal.

Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, which backed the Iran deal, said that unlike in the North Korea deal, the Iran agreement has “snap-back” provisions that allow the United States to reimpose the sanctions should Iran ever be in violation.

Critics of the Iran deal counter that while the United States may snap back the sanctions, many other nations that were part of the alliance that imposed international sanctions on Iran in 2011 would not. Deal defenders say the prospect of the United States reimposing sanctions on Iran, even if it does so alone, is enough to keep Iran from breaking the agreement.

Inspections

The North Korea deal required the dismantling of three nuclear reactors, one completed and two under construction.

The Iran pact requires 24/7 access to known enrichment facilities and allows inspectors to demand access – albeit with a waiting period of 24 days – at any other facility they suspect of nuclear weapons activity. Tillerson on the day he announced the review of the deal also affirmed that Iran was in compliance.

The North Korea agreement referred only in vague terms to inspections beyond the three facilities and did not explicitly count out weapons-enriched uranium, although its ban was certainly implied in the endgame — a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. (The reactors that were shut down enriched plutonium.) The North Koreans fiercely resisted inspections beyond the three facilities.

The difficulty is not in detecting whether a nation is violating the agreement – intelligence agencies and satellite surveillance have been proficient at tracking down violations. It was North Korea’s attempt to secretly enrich uranium in the early 2000s that precipitated the collapse of the deal, and the Obama administration exposed the existence of a secret uranium enrichment plant in Fordow, Iran, in 2009 based on intelligence reports.

Instead, problems could occur in attempts to inspect sites where inspectors do not have easy access.

Dubowitz said the provision allowing inspectors to demand access to suspected sites may be unenforceable: Hard-liners in the Iranian leadership have said repeatedly that access to military sites would be a no-go.

“It’s the covert sites that are the big problem,” he said. “If you’re not getting into the military sites, the deal is deeply flawed.”

Heather Hurlburt, the director of New Models of Policy Change at New America, a think tank that backed the Iran deal, said the inspections regime is much more intrusive in the Iranian case.

“It’s like comparing the security check at a Manhattan office tower with the security check at Ben Gurion,” she said, referencing the Israeli airport known for its stringent measures.

Neighbors

Iran is a diverse nation with an ancient tradition of multilateral ties with its neighbors. North Korea is a secretive Stalinist regime and has just one significant relationship – with China.

Kimball said the world powers that negotiated the Iran deal granted Iran considerable leverage: Iran does not have the self-contained system that allows Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, to retain power even as his people starve. In order to survive, he suggested, the regime must allow Iranians to trade and thrive.

“The Iranians highly, highly value the removal of nuclear sanctions and access to oil markets,” Kimball said. “There was no similar incentive for North Koreans.”

Iranians “deeply fear” losing access to the outside world, he said.

“As time goes on they will be more accustomed to this liberal environment of trade and investment,” Kimball said, “and that will make it more appealing to them to continue to comply.”

Dubowitz said it was Iran’s ambitions in the region that made it more dangerous, adding that Kim was unlikely to strike unless he felt his regime was threatened. The Iranians, Dubowitz argued, could one day use nuclear leverage to support their expansionist claims in the Middle East, including in Syria, where they are backing the Assad regime in quelling the rebellion, in Yemen, in the Persian Gulf – and against Israel.

“North Korea is an isolationist pariah nation with a Stalinist ideology that appeals to no one,” he said. “Iran sees itself as guardian of the Islamic world.”

Deadlines

The goal of the Framework Agreement was a “nuclear-free Korean peninsula” – no nukes, period. North Korea was to be allowed to get light-water reactors, which are proliferation resistant.

Iran, beginning eight years after the 2015 agreement, will be allowed in increments to reactivate centrifuges that could conceivably enrich uranium to weapons grade.

That has been a key concern of critics of the Iran deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“The JCPOA fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran,” Tillerson said in his press availability. “It only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking about Iran and North Korea at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on April 19. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking about Iran and North Korea at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on April 19. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Kimball sounded exasperated at what has become a common misperception.

“The deal obliges Iran to never pursue nuclear weapons in the future,” he said.
While it is true that the agreement allows Iran to enhance its enrichment capabilities over time, and decreases the breadth of the inspections regime, Iran remains a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As part of the deal, it signed on again to the “additional protocol” that allows International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors expanded access to sites in perpetuity. (Iran had previously shucked off the additional protocol.) The protocol has no sunset clauses.

Why can’t we be friends?

It wasn’t just bad actions by North Korea that killed the deal – it was bad faith and distrust on all sides. President Bill Clinton signed the deal in 1994, but by the time of implementation, an adversarial Republican Congress was in place and frustrated the deliveries of promised heating oil.

In both the North Korea and the Iran cases, missile development has been an obstructing factor. Neither deal touched ballistic missiles, but testing the devices, capable of delivering a nuclear weapon, has exacerbated tensions.

The United States in the late 1990s began to sanction North Korea for its ballistic missile tests, but North Korea defiantly kept testing them and said the sanctions were eroding the framework agreement.

A similar scenario is playing out now. The Obama administration last year and the Trump administration this year issued new sanctions following Iranian missile tests; Iran has said it sees the sanctions as undermining the agreement.

Trump made clear he sees the missile tests as the problem, saying this week of Iran that “they are not living up to the spirit of the agreement.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on March 28. Photo by Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Daily Kickoff: Trump admin says Iran complying with deal | Israeli Houzz eyeing $5B+ valuation | Netflix says it’s found next ‘Homeland’


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WHILE WE WERE ON PASSOVER BREAK — Betsy Rothstein of The Daily Caller wrote… “If any outlet is going to know how Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, are spending Passover, it’s a safe bet that Jewish Insider has located the White House afikomen.” [TheDC]

CNN’s Betsy Klein: “As President Donald Trump grappled with the realities of governing, leaks about infighting within his administration, and multiple international conflicts, two of his top aides, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, were far from the White House. The couple celebrated Passover at the Four Seasons Whistler in Canada, according to an article and exclusive photo in Jewish Insider.” [CNN]

“White House aides grapple with newfound celebrity” by Annie Karni and Tara Palmeri: “The Daily Mail pays photographers a daily rate to sit outside the Kalorama home of Trump’s older daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, tracking them as they come and go, sometimes in their gym clothes, two industry sources said. The fashionable First Daughter, who now is an official White House staffer, is part of the gray area of formerly famous people who are now aides, as opposed to aides who are newly famous.” [Politico]

DRIVING THE CONVERSATION: “Trump administration says Iran complying with nuclear deal” by Matthew Lee: “The Trump administration has notified Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama, and says the U.S. has extended the sanctions relief… The certification of Iran’s compliance, which must be sent to Congress every 90 days, is the first issued by the Trump administration. The deadline for this certification was midnight.” [AP

But… “Trump orders review of lifting sanctions against Iran: Tillerson” by Lesley Wroughton: “President Donald J. Trump has directed a National Security Council-led interagency review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that will evaluate whether suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the JCPOA is vital to the national security interests of the United States,” Tillerson said in the statement. “It remains a leading state sponsor of terror, through many platforms and methods.” [Reuters]

FDD’s Mark Dubowitz tells us: “It underscores the commitment of the Trump administration to ramp up pressure on Iran, including through the use of increased sanctions tied to terrorism and other malign activities.”

Israeli Consul General in NY Dani Dayan: “As PM Netanyahu said in Congress: ‘[the sunset clause] creates an even greater danger that Iran could get to the bomb by KEEPING the deal’” [Twitter

Ben Rhodes‏: “Every day, the situation in North Korea makes clear just how preferable it is to have the Iran Deal in place.” [Twitter

“Mattis in Riyadh to boost US-Saudi alliance” by AFP: “Mattis arrived in Riyadh Tuesday afternoon, wishing to “reinvigorate” ties by listening to Saudi leaders and learning “what are their priorities”, the official said.” [DailyMail]

“US Defense Secretary to Arrive in Israel Thursday” by Tzippe Barrow: “Mattis begins his meetings in Israel with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who traveled to Washington in early March to reaffirm the strong military ties between the two allies. Mattis will also meet with President Reuven Rivlin and visit Jerusalem’s Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial. On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with Mattis.” [CBNNews]

ON THE HILL — JI INTERVIEW: Congressman Anthony Brown (D-MD) discusses his political career, including the lessons he’s learn from his unsuccessful campaign for Maryland Governor, and from his military service in an interview with JI’s Aaron Magid. “My takeaway is never stop introducing yourself to the voters, but the other lesson was the same lesson my father taught me as a kid growing up is sometimes in life you are going to get knocked down and you won’t be successful in what you sought out to do,” said Brown. “But, if you believe in what you are doing: that is true whether you are running for office to serve, whether you are a doctor, lawyer, teacher or anything else. You have got to pick yourself up, brush yourself off and stay in the game. Teams that lost the Super Bowl don’t drop out of the NFL. They come back: season after season because that is the nature of life.”

Brown on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: “My basic framework is that you can’t impose a solution. I do think that there has to be a bilateral agreement reached by the Israelis and Palestinians. Our role should be to encourage, cajole, prompt and incentivize that commitment. But, this is an agreement that has to be struck between the two parties. It cannot be imposed because then it won’t be lasting.” Read the full interview here [JewishInsider]

DRIVING THE DAY: “Republicans avoid big loss by forcing runoff in Ga. House race” by Robert Costa: “[Jon] Ossoff could find it difficult to sustain the momentum he witnessed this past week in a traditionally Republican district that has been in GOP hands since 1979….[Republican Karen] Handel’s showing was due to more than name recognition from her long tenure in state politics. She also benefited from $1.3 million in support from Ending Spending, a conservative advocacy group aligned with the billionaire Ricketts family.” [WashPost

“Ossoff Just Misses Flipping the 6th” by David R. Cohen, Michael Jacobs, Patrice Worthy and Sarah Moosazadeh: “The outcome keeps alive the possibility of Georgia’s first Jewish congressman since Democrat Elliott Levitas lost a bid for a sixth term in 1984… Although little was made of it, the election took place on a Jewish holiday, the eighth day of Passover, forcing observant Jews to vote early or not at all. Secretary of State Brian Kemp reported that 55,000 ballots were cast early in the congressional election; about 5,000 of those were mailed-in absentee votes.” [ATLJewishTimes]

2ND BAR MITZVAH? Alexis Levinson: “They’ve apparently hired a bar mitzvah DJ to emcee the Jon Ossoff election night party, where they are now playing ‘Celebration’ … Ossoff’s election night party is legit a bar mitzvah with a cash bar. Ppl are dancing, smiling, hugging. #GA06.” [Twitter

Ben Jacobs: “Pretty sure Jon Ossoff is using the playlist from his bar mitzvah for his election night party.” [Twitter]

“Billionaires, companies power Trump’s record inaugural haul“ by Nancy Benac and Julie Bykowicz: “After giving $5 million, Las Vegas gaming billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife had prime seats for Trump’s swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 20 and gained access to a private lunch with the new president and lawmakers at the Capitol… Steve Wynn, now chief fundraiser for the Republican Party, gave $729,000 through his Wynn Resorts… Billionaire investor Paul Singer, for example, gave $1 million after long expressing skepticism about Trump. He’s since visited the president at the White House.” [AP]

Jake Sherman: “THE KRAFT GROUP — Robert Kraft’s company — gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration. he’s at the WH today with his Super Bowl champ patriots.” [Twitter

“Trump’s reliance on billionaire adviser blurs ethics lines” by Isaac Arnsdorf and Josh Dawsey: “Billionaire investor Steve Schwarzman’s newfound status as a trusted outside adviser for President Donald Trump has created blurred lines in which the Blackstone CEO is offering guidance on policies that could boost the fortunes of his company and his personal wealth. The starkest example was Trump’s reversal last week on labeling China a currency manipulator… While many factors likely played into Trump’s decision, including the president’s desire to encourage China to get tough on North Korea, it also followed extensive advice Schwarzman had given the president on the topic, warning Trump against such a move. Even if Schwarzman was acting in the capacity of an economic expert, those policy changes directly help Schwarzman’s bottom line as CEO of Blackstone, the private equity giant. And Blackstone has gone so far as to warn its investors about the stakes of Trump’s China policy.” [Politico

“Ivanka’s brand prospers as politics mixes with business” by Erika Kinetz and Anne D’Innocenzio: “Ivanka has so many China ties and conflicts, yet she and Jared appear deeply involved in China contacts and policy. I would never have allowed it,” said Norman Eisen, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer under President Barack Obama. “For their own sake, and the country’s, Ivanka and Jared should consider stepping away from China matters.” [AP

PROFILE: “Meet The New York City Democrat Flacking For Ivanka Trump” by Steven Perlberg: “New York City political observers say that one of [Risa] Heller’s most striking traits is her fierce loyalty, clearly evidenced by her steadfast aid to Anthony Weiner… “If I had taken her advice at critical junctures even 5% of the time, I would have been infinitely better off. It doesn’t surprise me that people like the Kushners would gravitate toward her,” Weiner told BuzzFeed News… Heller became a rising star in New York political circles in the mid 2000s, when she arrived in Schumer’s office after communications guru Stu Loeser left for Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral reelection campaign. She stood out both for her aggressiveness even by Schumer’s intense standards; as a rare woman in a long line of aggressive young men who came up under the senator; and a fashionable figure in a schlumpy world.” [BuzzFeed

“With the ‘Democratic Invasion of the White House,’ Cuban Starting to Warm Up to Trump Presidency” by Brian Schwartz and Charlie Gasparino: “[Mark] Cuban gives Trump high marks for bringing into his inner circle what he considers moderate Democrats like [Gary] Cohn, Kushner and his daughter Ivanka Trump. “By my guess, 50 percent or more of non-military leadership in the White House are, or were recently, Democrats,” Cuban told Fox Business. “It’s a good balance.”” [FoxBusiness

NEXT MODERATE MOVE? “Top Trump confidant: Trump should make a deal with Ruth Bader Ginsburg” by Allan Smith: “Chris Ruddy, a confidant of President Donald Trump, told Business Insider in a Monday interview that Trump should cut a deal with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. His proposition: Replace her on the bench with Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s choice to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacated seat in 2016… “They would remove a very liberal Democrat with a moderate, consensus Democrat, who I think Garland is,” Ruddy added. “And I think it would be a huge move and a sign for Trump that he’s willing to break through the political ice.”” [BusinessInsider

OVER THE WEEKEND — “Rex Tillerson and family tour the Holocaust Museum” by Emily Heil: “The nation’s top diplomat, dressed in the weekend business uniform of khakis and a navy blazer, spent a couple of hours touring the permanent exhibit, a spy tells us, accompanied by his wife… Tillerson’s visit came during the holy week of Passover — and just days after White House press secretary Sean Spicer apologized for remarks in which he seemed to forget about the Holocaust.” [WashPost

TRUMP TEAM: “Tillerson’s stock rises in the White House” by Annie Karni: “[Elliott] Abrams argued that while Trump’s veto of his job at State was “taken to be a slap at Tillerson – I think that was a mistake. I don’t think my situation had anything to do with the president’s view of Tillerson. They spend an awful lot of time together.”” [Politico

“Trump learning to love Bush aides” by Tara Palmeri: “Eliot A. Cohen… predicted that more Bush alumni will feel comfortable coming into the administration if it continues to shift to the conservative mainstream… “As the administration is looking a bit more normalish, there will be more people who will be willing to go in,” he said. “What would be transformative would be if Bannon quits or is fired. I think that would be an indication that it will be somewhere closer to a Republican establishment administration. That will change a lot of people’s attitudes,” Cohen added.” [Politico

COMING SOON: “Abbas ready for visit to Washington” by Daoud Kuttab: “Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said April 14 that a Palestinian delegation will visit Washington in the second half of April to plan for the visit, which he said will take place early in May. The London-based al-Hayat said April 14 that the delegation preparing for Abbas’ visit will include senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and intelligence chief Majed Faraj. The lack of a firm date has led some Palestinian media to report that the visit has been postponed, but a US White House source quickly shot down this rumor, insisting that the visit is still on.” [Al-Monitor]

— “Al-Quds said Trump’s team has prepared a draft plan demanding that the Palestinians return to negotiations with Israel without setting any conditions and halt transfer of funds to the besieged Gaza Strip.” [Wafa

KAFE KNESSET — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: The hottest show in town today was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responding to the State Comptroller’s Report on Protective Edge in the Knesset. Several bereaved parents questioned Netanyahu and said they didn’t get the satisfaction of at least knowing that the mistakes leading to their sons’ deaths won’t be repeated. One bereaved father, Ilan Sagie, said Netanyahu “stabbed me in the heart and twisted the knife,” and pleaded “Why won’t you say you will fix the failures of Protective Edge?” Leah Goldin, mother of Hadar Goldin, a soldier presumed to be dead whose body is held by Hamas, broke down in tears while speaking to Netanyahu. The premier came off as patient, but at some times stern, explaining to Goldin, for example, that he is willing to make sacrifices to bring back her son’s body – but there is a limit. Bibi clearly knew there was no way for him to come out of such an emotional situation unscathed, and looked like he was having a difficult time.

Anyone reading haredi magazine Mishpacha over the last day of Passover in Israel, got to read about how much Netanyahu enjoyed seeing Hamilton on his last trip to NYC. Not only that, but Netanyahu said he made a suggestion to Lin-Manuel Miranda on how to improve the play. As Spamalot taught us, you won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews, so Netanyahu touted Hamilton’s Jewish connection. Bibi says he read that when Alexander Hamilton was a child in the Caribbean, his tutor was a Jewish woman, who taught him to recite the Ten Commandments in Hebrew. Later in life, Hamilton expressed admiration for the Jewish people, saying they have a “unique destiny” that is “part of God’s greater plan.” That, Netanyahu said, should go into the play. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

** Good Wednesday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Billionaire vs. billionaire: Israel’s Steinmetz sues Soros [ToI; Reuters] • Michael Bloomberg to fill event void left by Clinton Global Initiative [Axios] • Jared Kushner in Talks to Sell Stake in Real Estate Technology Company [WSJ] • The PPA Group teams with Israeli investor on Houston apartment complex [Chron• SeatGeek Raises $57M to Buy Israeli Firm TopTix [Billboard] • Bustle acquires Elite Daily from Daily Mail, rebrands as Bustle Digital Group [BI]

SPOTLIGHT: “Houzz Raising Funding at Valuation Above $5 Billion” by Erin Griffith, Leena Rao: “Houzz, an online platform for home remodeling and design services, is in the market raising a large new round of venture funding that could value the company at more than $5 billion, according to several sources familiar with the situation. The talks are early, but sources say the company could raise as much as $500 million. Asked to comment, a Houzz representative wrote, “It’s not true.” Founded in 2009 by Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen, Houzz has raised $213 million in funding to date. The Palo Alto-based company’s latest round, a $165 million Series D in late 2014 led by Sequoia Capital, valued it at $2.3 billion.” [Fortune]

“Sheryl Sandberg: Option B and Life After Grief” by Belinda Luscombe: “The woman who urged the world to lean in is now under­taking a campaign to help people push on, to bounce back from horrible misfortune. Her newest book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, is a primer for those who are bereaved, to help them recover and find happiness. But it’s also a guide for the unscathed on how to help people “lean in to the suck,” as Sandberg’s rabbi puts it.” [TimeMag]

“Inside Mark Zuckerberg’s controversial decision to turn down Yahoo’s $1 billion early offer to buy Facebook” by Mike Hoefflinger: “Curious, [Andy] Grove followed up: “Where does that willpower come from?” Zuckerberg considered the question—possibly for the first time—and concluded simply, “Jewish mother.”” [BI

“Selling Mark Zuckerberg” by Nitasha Tiku: “The Facebook CEO’s likability blitz isn’t a presidential campaign, it’s a focus group for his 1.8 billion constituents — and part of a high stakes campaign to win your likes” [BuzzFeed]

“Here’s Why A Nonprofit Named For Anne Frank Keeps Attacking Trump” by Jessica Schulberg: “Keeping a low profile is not [Steve] Goldstein’s style. When he was 6 years old, he skipped school to stuff envelopes at the local Democratic headquarters for then-presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey, according to a bio he provided. He has worked on Capitol Hill for Democratic lawmakers Frank Lautenberg and Chuck Schumer… Despite his past work on Capitol Hill, Goldstein says “nothing could be farther from the truth” in response to accusations that he’s taken the Anne Frank Center in a partisan direction. The center goes out of its way to point out that it was Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt who denied Anne Frank entry to the U.S., and has defended members of the Trump family when they were unfairly attacked, Goldstein noted.” [HuffPost]

Michael Steinhardt, Birthright Founder and ‘Wall Street’s Greatest Trader’, to Light Torch on Israel’s Independence Day: “Michael Steinhardt, one of the founders of Taglit-Birthright and a man once dubbed “Wall Street’s greatest trader”, has been selected to light an official torch on Israel’s Independence Day, Israel announced on Wednesday. He will join Rabbi Marvin Hier, who took part in U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration, in lighting the torch for the Jewish diaspora.” [Haaretz

Netflix says it’s found the next ‘Homeland’ — “Netflix thinks its new series, Fauda, could rival the success of Homeland across the globe. Lior Raz — lead actor and series co-creator — speaks with CNN’s Samuel Burke in Israel about his own time in the security forces, a tragic terrorist attack that killed his girlfriend, and how Netflix has garnered a once small Israeli series global praise.” [CNN]

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Lawsuit targets neo-Nazi ‘troll storm’ against Jewish family” by Phil Drake and Seaborn Larson: “The lawsuit claims Andrew Anglin, publisher of the Daily Stormer neo-Nazi website with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month, provoked legions of his followers to send a “tsunami of threats” to Tanya Gersh and her relatives. Gersh is a Montana real-estate agent who fell out of favor with the mother of Richard B. Spencer, considered by many to be the founder of the alt-right movement… A monetary figure has not been attached to the suit although Gersh hopes to win at least $225,000 for three of the four counts asserted in the complaint.” [USAToday

MEDIA WATCH — “Bari Weiss Joins ‘New York Times’ Opinion Section” by Tablet Magazine: “Bari, who edited [Tablet] news and politics section from 2011 to 2013, moves to the Times from the Wall Street Journal, where she worked as associate book review editor and also wrote frequently about topics like political correctness and campus culture.” [Tablet• Hiring Anti-Trump Conservative Is Part Of New York Times’ Effort To Expand Opinion [HuffPost

“An Op-Ed Author Omits His Crimes, and The Times Does Too” by Liz Spayd: “Marwan Barghouti… was given five consecutive life terms after being convicted in an Israeli criminal court of premeditated murder for his role in terrorist attacks that killed five people… On Sunday, he wrote a piece for the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times to draw attention to a mass hunger strike for what he calls Israel’s arbitrary arrests and poor treatment of Palestinian prisoners…  A biographical sentence at the end of the Op-Ed simply says, “Marwan Barghouti is a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.” I asked Jim Dao, editor of the Op-Ed pages, about the decision not to include Barghouti’s crimes…  I see no reason to skimp on this, while failing to do so risks the credibility of the author and the Op-Ed pages. In this case, I’m pleased to see the editors responding to the complaints, and moving to correct the issue rather than resist it.” [NYTimes• Netanyahu slams New York Times over Barghouti op-ed byline [i24News]

SPOTLIGHT: “CNN’s Jake Tapper Is the Realest Man in “Fake News”” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner: “Tapper is on a diet… His diet consists, as basically all diets do, of pretty much just protein: protein shakes, protein snacks, protein protein. His friend Paul Rudd, who, Tapper says, got “really shredded” for Ant-Man, gave him the diet. Tapper follows it mostly, also doing cardio at the gym five times a week. “The modified Ant-Man” is what he calls it. I wonder what it says about us when Ant-Man is our superhero aspiration, but Tapper is realistic: “Paul’s a fellow 48-year-old Jew. This is achievable.” Fair.” [GQ]

BOOK REVIEW: “The Inside Story of the Clinton Campaign Disaster” by Bess Levin: “As Hillary thumbed through the pages, the [concession] speech struck her as tone-deaf. It’s too charged, she thought, too political… Jake Sullivan, her chief strategist took the lead in defending the tone. ‘Everything you said, we’re going to do in this speech. . . . But you have been saying for many months that he is temperamentally unfit and that he would be dangerous, and, if you meant it, you should say it. And you made a case that all these people’s rights and safety are in danger—if you meant that, you should say it.’ ‘It’s not my job anymore to do this,’ she said, her voice growing more forceful.” [VanityFair; Axios]  

TRANSITIONS — Fred Brown, Communications Director for the Republican Jewish Coalition, was hired by Dezenhall Resources, a crisis management and communications firm, to serve as a senior counselor. h/t Playbook

Sinclair Announces the Addition of Boris Epshteyn: Boris Epshteyn, a former White House aide and Trump campaign chief surrogate, has joined Sinclair Broadcast Group as chief political analyst and will provide analysis and insight on major political stories. [SBGI• Flashback: Kushner: We struck deal with Sinclair for straighter coverage [Politico

BIRTHDAYS: US diplomat from 1962 forward, then President of the Council on Foreign Relations (1986-1993) ultimately becoming the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (1993-1997), Peter Tarnoff turns 80… Literary theorist, legal scholar, author and public intellectual, has taught at Cardozo School of Law, Florida International University and University of Illinois at Chicago, Stanley Fish turns 79… Prominent Israeli criminal defense attorney who also served as the Attorney General of Israel (2010-2016), Yehuda Weinstein turns 73… Comedienne, actress and mental health campaigner in the UK, Ruby Wax (born Ruby Wachs in Chicago)… Overland Park, Kansas resident, Gloria Elyachar turns 57… Angel investment fund manager, who during his 12-year NFL career (1987-1998) won three Super Bowls, Harris Barton turns 53… Jerusalem-born historian, author, screenwriter, political commentator and senior lecturer at the Hebrew University, Gadi Taub turns 52… Israeli entrepreneur best known as the founder and former CEO of Better Place, an electric car company that raised $850 million yet was liquidated in a 2013 bankruptcy, Shai Agassi turns 49… French stand-up comedian and actor, Gad Elmaleh turns 46… Award-winning, film, televison and theatre actor, his official bar mitzvah was in 2015 at age 37, James Franco turns 39… Tel Aviv-born, now living in Toronto, entrepreneur, philanthropist, CEO and co-founder of Klick Health (a digital marketing firm in the medical field), Leerom Segal turns 38… Assistant Director of Campus Affairs at AJC: Global Jewish Advocacy, Seffi Kogen… Arthur Cohn… Jake Gerber

BIRTHWEEK: Editor of Commentary magazine, columnist for the New York Post, John Mordechai Podhoretz turns 56… NYTimes White House reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis… Chabad Rabbi, founder and executive director of the Aspen Chabad Jewish Community Center, Mendel Mintz turns 42… Political director for AIPAC’s Florida region, Evan Philipson turns 28… RNC’s Jonathan R. Brodo… VP and Deputy General Counsel at Scholastic Inc, Mark Seidenfeld

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

Ex-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Iran, on April 12. Photo by Tasnim News Agency/Handout via Reuters

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes surprise entry into Iran’s presidential race


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad filed to run in Iran’s upcoming presidential election, defying the wishes of the country’s supreme leader that he not seek to return to the office.

Associated Press journalists watched Wednesday as stunned election officials processed the former hardline president’s paperwork. When he was head of government from 2005 to 2013, Ahmadinejad repeatedly questioned the Holocaust, called for Israel’s destruction and expanded Iran’s nuclear program.

Following Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s recommendation in December that Ahmadinejad stay out of the race, moderate President Hassan Rouhani was seen to have a wide-open path to reelection. Ahmadinejad unexpected move could challenge that perception.

Ahmadinejad previously said he would not run and would support his former Deputy Hamid Baghaei, who also registered on Wednesday. At a press conference shortly after registering, Ahmadinejad called Khamenei’s comments “just advice,” and described his move as helping Baghaei.

“His advice does not prevent me from running,” he said. “There is extensive pressure on me from dear people of different walks of life as their small servant to come to the election.”

Ahmadinejad, who under Iranian law became eligible to run again after four years out of office, remains a divisive figure. Massive protests spurred by his disputed 2009 election were violently suppressed, with thousands of people detained and dozens killed. Two of his former vice presidents have been jailed for corruption since he left office.

During Ahmadinejad’s administration, Iran faced heavy international sanctions against for its nuclear program, which Western countries said aimed to develop weapons. Iran has claimed the program is for peaceful purposes.

Rouhani, who has yet to formally register to run for reelection, signed an agreement with world powers to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief. Registration remains open until Saturday. Iran’s Guardian Council of clerics and jurists vets all applicants and will announce an approved list of candidates by April 27.

President Donald Trump delivers an statement about missile strikes on a Syrian airbase on April 6. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

On Trump’s order, U.S. missiles target Syrian airbase


U.S. warships launched 50-60 missiles at an airbase in northern Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on civilians in President Donald Trump’s first major intervention in the Middle East.

The Tomahawk missiles hit Shayrat airfield on Thursday, north of Damascus, CNN reported, citing Pentagon sources. The Bashar Assad regime is believed to have launched the chemical attacks on Iblid province in northern Syria earlier this week which killed at least 82 civilians, including many children.

Trump ordered the attack from his Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida, where he is spending the weekend.

“It is in the vital national security interests of the United States to prevent the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” Trump said in a short statement to the media at Mar-A-Lago.

As a result of Assad’s repression and use of chemical weapons among other means, Trump said, “the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize threatening the United States and allies.” Trump has said he sees the exodus of refugees from Syria as a threat to the West because of terrorists who may be among them. He has twice sought to bar their entry into the United States; both bids were stayed by the courts.

Trump had indicated earlier that he was considering action.

“Yesterday, a chemical attack — a chemical attack that was so horrific, in Syria, against innocent people, including women, small children, and even beautiful little babies,” Trump said Wednesday during a press opportunity with Jordan’s King Abdullah, a U.S. ally whose nation borders Syria. “Their deaths was an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated.”

The Assad regime has denied responsibility and its ally, Russia, has resisted U.N. Security Council action, saying that it is premature to blame Assad for the attack. Trump, in his short statement to the press on Thursday, said there was “no dispute” Assad was behind the attack.

The missile launch represents a sharp departure from the policies of his predecessor, President Barack Obama, who resisted targeting the Assad regime while maintaining some U.S. involvement in the efforts to push back the Islamic State, the terrorist group that is among Assad’s enemies.

It is also a dramatic departure from how Trump campaigned for president, when he lacerated Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, for deepening U.S. involvement in the Middle East, and called for a pullback of U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts.

Just last week, Trump officials suggested that the United States was withdrawing from what was for years a U.S. policy of seeking Assad’s removal.

At his Wednesday press conference, Trump said he was flexible in how he approached policy. “I have that flexibility, and it’s very, very possible — and I will tell you, it’s already happened that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much,” he said.

CNN reported that Trump informed other countries prior to the attack, although it did not specify whether Israel was among those countries. Israel is concerned about any escalation north of the Golan Heights, which Israel controls; that area, in southwest Syria, is not near the targeted base.

The attack could for the first time in Trump’s presidency rattle what had been warming ties with Russia.

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