Trump Walks Back Russian Meddling Remarks


REUTERS/Leah Millis

President Trump sparked controversy on July 16 by proclaiming in a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia didn’t interfere in the 2016 United States election. Trump walked back those comments on July 17.

When asked during the July 16 press conference if he believed Putin or the intelligence community on Russia meddling, Trump responded, “My people came to me; [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

A day later, Trump told reporters, “I have full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies, always have.”

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said. “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”

The president added that he meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why it WOULDN’T be Russia” in the July 16 press conference.

Trump also told reporters that he and Putin discussed North Korea and denuclearization.

For Now, Trump Won’t Impose Russian Sanctions


U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during a roundtable on tax cuts for Florida small businesses in Hialeah, Florida, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced on April 15 that the U.S. would be implementing a new batch of sanctions against Russia for propping up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as he uses chemical weapons against his own people. However, The Washington Post is reporting that President Trump has not approved of such sanctions.

The Post report states that the sanctions are under “serious consideration” but Trump is reluctant to sign off on them unless Russia gives him “another triggering event” to do so. The White House is officially calling Haley’s statement on sanctions a mistake, however although others said it was strange that Haley would make such a mistake given that how “disciplined” she is in ensuring that her statements are in line with Trump’s thinking.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement, “We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future.”

According to CNN, the targets of such Russian sanctions would include “banks and equipment suppliers” as well as “Russian companies that sell helicopters and helicopter parts to Syria.”

Haley had said on CBS’ Face the Nation, “You will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down. Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn’t already.”

The sanctions matter comes after the U.S. led a coalition that launched airstrikes against Syria, targeting three chemical weapons facilities. Trump reportedly followed Defense Secretary James Mattis’ advice and made the strikes smaller than they potentially could have been in order to show restraint.

Haley Announces New Sanctions on Russia, Warns That More Airstrikes Against Syria Could Come


United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during the United Nations Security Council meeting on Syria at the U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made the rounds on the Sunday morning show circuit and announced two pieces of news: the U.S. will be imposing new sanctions on Russia and more airstrikes could be coming Syria’s way.

On Fox News Sunday, Haley stated that the Russian sanctions would occur on Monday.

“If you look at what Russia is doing, they continue to be involved with all the wrong actors, whether their involvement in Ukraine, whether you look at how they are supporting Venezuela, whether you look in Syria and their way of propping up Assad and working with Iran, that continues to be a problem,” Haley said.

Haley was also asked by Fox News’ Chris Wallace on what the Trump administration would do if Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad continued to use chemical weapons, noting that President Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis gave seemingly contradictory statements on the matter.

“What I can tell you is the president has made it very clear that when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, we have no tolerance for it,” Haley said. “We are going to watch out for the best interests of the American people. He made a point and hopefully Assad gets it. If Assad doesn’t get it, it’s going to hurt.”

Haley declined to say if military action in Syria is a possibility.

On Friday, a U.S.-led coalition launched airstrikes against Syria in response to Assad using chemical weapons against his own people. Three chemical weapons facilities in Syria were struck, although other chemical weapon facilities were left untouched. Trump has hailed the strikes as a blow against Assad, but the Syrian dictator is reportedly in “positive spirits” after the strikes because he doesn’t think his grip on power is being threatened.

Israel Allegedly Launched Airstrikes Against Syria After Assad Launches Chemical Attack Against His Own People


Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visit the Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province, Syria December 11, 2017. Picture taken December 11, 2017. To match Special Report RUSSIA-FLIGHTS/ Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/ via REUTERS/File Photo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

UPDATE: Iran is claiming that seven Iranian military personnel died in the airstrikes. Israel is now reportedly bracing itself for a counterattack by Iran’s proxy terror group Hezbollah.

ORIGINAL:

Israel allegedly launched airstrikes in Syria after Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people over the weekend.

Russia and Syria claimed the strikes came from two Israeli F-15 planes, which resulted in 14 dead, including four Iranian military advisers in addition to multiple officers in the Syrian Army. Israel has not directly confirmed that they were the ones who launched the strikes, but their foreign ministry issued a statement condemning Assad for his chemical weapons attack.

“The attack shows clearly that Syria continues to possess lethal chemical weapons capabilities and even to manufacture new ones,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said. “In so doing Syria is grossly violating its obligations and the decisions of the international community in this matter.”

Assad’s chemical weapons attack in Douma, a town that is close to Damascus and was held by the Syrian rebels, resulted in at least 40 people dead. According to The Times of Israel, “victims showed signs of gas poisoning including pupil dilation and foaming at the mouth” and there was also the scent of chlorine in the air.

Additionally, the Syrian American Medical Society has claimed that over “500 cases — the majority of whom are women and children — were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent.”

A local activist told NBC News, “Whole families, mothers and little children and babies, they were all dead. They tried to escape death, but here in Douma, there is death is everywhere.”

Assad and the Russian government have denied the attack, but President Trump isn’t buying their denial.

“To me there’s not much of a doubt,” Trump told reporters on April 9. “If they’re innocent why aren’t they allowing people to go in and prove [it].”

Trump is expected to announce if the U.S. is going to take any retaliatory measures against Syria for the chemical attack. Defense Secretary James Mattis wouldn’t rule out airstrikes against Syria.

According to Syrian media, Syrian and Iranian forces are already on the move out of fear of possible U.S. airstrikes.

Israel has launched numerous airstrikes against Syria over the years, mainly against Hezbollah. There is evidence to suggest that Israel’s alleged airstrikes were in part aimed at curbing Iran’s grip in Syria in addition to being a retaliation against Assad’s chemical attack.

We Need a New U.N.


Photo from Flickr.

Another week, another Israel bashing session at the United Nations.

Following the Hamas-led riots at the Israel-Gaza border on Friday that resulted in at least 16 dead, the U.N. Security Council responded by drafting a resolution calling for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to be investigated for the various Palestinian deaths. The resolution was vetoed by the United States, but the fact that the U.N. yet again put the blame on Israel instead of on the terror group Hamas, who are using civilians as human shields in an attempt to wage a war with Israel, is disgraceful.

This is par for the course for the Israel-hating U.N. On March 23, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a resolution calling for an arms embargo against Israel due to the Jewish state’s so-called “occupation” of East Jerusalem. The UNHRC has a bad habit of denouncing Israel at least once a week, the same UNHRC that consists of countries like Venezuela, China and Cuba, which aren’t exactly halcyons of human rights.

Then there are the reported anti-Semitic Facebook posts from United Nations Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA) teachers, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declaring the Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron as belonging to the Palestinians… the list goes on and on.

The statistics prove it too: CNN’s Jake Tapper pointed out in December that the U.N. General Assembly adopted 97 resolutions that singled out a specific country from 2012-15. The number that singled out Israel: 83.

“Considering the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the lack of basic human rights in North Korea, the children starving in the streets of Venezuela, the citizens of Syria targeted for murder by their own leader using the most grotesque and painful weapons, you have to ask, is Israel deserving of 86% of the world’s condemnation?” Tapper said.

I would go a bit further: what does the U.N. do well, exactly?

It certainly doesn’t do well addressing actual human rights abuses, like the ones Tapper cited. Former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has admitted that the international body “could have done much more” to stop the Rwanda genocide.

What about Russian and Chinese aggression? The U.N. tribunal’s 2016 ruling that China has no sovereign claim over the entirety of the South China sea has done nothing to stop Beijing from ramping up military exercises in the area. Similarly, the U.N. has done little to curb Vladimir Putin’s intervention into the Crimea.

Reminder: Russia and China wield veto power on the U.N. Security Council, preventing any real action to be taken on Syria, North Korea and Iran.

What about global poverty? A 2012 study conducted by New York University’s William Easterly and Mississippi State University’s Claudia Williamson concluded that the U.N.’s aid practices are toward the bottom among aid agencies worldwide. And as Chelsea Follett of HumanProgress noted, the U.N. is touting top-down, centralized government programs as the source for the decline in global poverty when in actuality it is economic freedom that has caused the dramatic decline in poverty.

The environment? A 2017 New York Times article detailed how the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund was established to help impoverished countries deal with climate changes, yet the money raised by the fund have gone toward questionable private sector projects instead of those countries. And the U.N.’s prized Paris Climate Accords’ impact on the climate would be negligible while harming the U.S. economy.

Peacekeeping? How can the U.N. be trusted in this area when their peacekeepers have been accused of sexually abusing women and girls in various countries and have been cited as the cause of the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti?

With all this mind, is the U.N. really worth the nearly $8 billion that the U.S. allocates toward the international body?

The unfortunate truth is that the U.N. is a far cry from the bastion of freedom that the Allied powers intended when they first formed the international body in 1942 to fight the Axis powers. Freedom-loving countries like the U.S. and Israel are the minority in the U.N.; so long as that is the case, no reforms will solve the structurally flawed nature of the incompetent and immoral U.N.

 

This is what I’d love to see on the Global to-do list: Creating a new world body that will do justice to the ideals of the United Nations, an organization that has dishonored its very mission.

Trump Names John Bolton As His New National Security Adviser


FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill, Maryland, U.S. February 24, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

President Trump announced on Twitter on Mar. 22 that former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton would be his new national security adviser.

Trump tweeted that Bolton would be instated on April 9:

 

 

The New York Times originally broke the news, reporting that Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and Trump had been discussing him leaving the job for awhile now but the timing was accelerated to end the speculation and to ensure that Trump had the security team he wanted before he meets with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

McMaster and Trump have been clashing for quite some time.

“General McMaster’s serious, somber style and preference for order made him an uncomfortable fit with a president whose style is looser, and who has little patience for the detail and nuance of complex national security issues,” the Times reported. “They had differed on policy, with General McMaster cautioning against ripping up the nuclear deal with Iran without a strategy for what would come next, and tangling with Mr. Trump over the strategy for American forces in Afghanistan.”

McMaster also seemed to be less of a friend to Israel and softer on radical Islam than Trump, as McMaster had reportedly viewed Israel as “an occupying power” and screamed at the Israelis for their concerns over Hezbollah.

Bolton, on the other hand, is as pro-Israel as it gets. In November, he wrote an op-ed for Fox News calling for the American embassy to be moved to Jerusalem as soon as possible and in May, Bolton told the Jerusalem Post, “I don’t think the two-state solution is viable anymore.” Bolton argued that Judea and Samaria should be divided between Israel and Jordan and the Gaza Strip should be given to Egypt. When Bolton was assistant secretary of state from 1989-1993, “he coordinated the effort to rescind the United Nations resolution from the 1970s that equated Zionism with racism,” according to Hank Berrien of the Daily Wire.

The former U.N. ambassador has also detailed a lengthy exit strategy for leaving the Iran nuclear deal, suggesting that there is an increased likelihood that Trump will pull out from the deal altogether. Bolton has also been a staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed in February titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.”

Haley Issues Warning to Russia, Iran and Syria: ‘The United States Remains Prepared to Act If We Must’


United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley addresses the U.N. Security Council on Syria during a meeting of the Council at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley issued a stark warning to Russia, Iran and Syria on Mar. 12 over the recent bombings in Syria: the United States is ready to take action if need be.

At the United Nations Security Council, Haley explained that Russia had been constantly blocking efforts to reach a ceasefire in Syria stopping Bashar al-Assad’s forces from striking the Eastern Ghouta area of Damascus. Russia eventually relented and agreed to a ceasefire, but only because they had a heavy say in each syllable of the agreement.

Haley proceeded to accuse the Russians of violating the agreement by taking advantage of a provision that allows for military strikes to take out terrorists.

“In the eyes of Russia, Iran and Assad, the neighborhoods of Eastern Ghouta are full of terrorists,” Haley said. “The hospitals are full of terrorists. The schools are full of terrorists. The Syrian and Russian regimes insist that they are targeting terrorists, but their bombs and artillery continue to fall on hospitals and schools and on innocent civilians.”

Haley then stated that the U.S. is producing a new ironclad ceasefire agreement that doesn’t feature any loopholes for the Assad regime to use against their own people. If the Security Council is unable to adopt the resolution, then the U.S. is ready to take matters into their own hands.

“Any nation that is determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhuman suffering – most especially the outlaw Syrian regime – the United States remains prepared to act if we must,” Haley said. “It is not the path we prefer, but it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take it again.”

Russia is standing by its defense that they’re simply weeding out terrorism in the area and is claiming that they are attempting to implement the current ceasefire agreement.

Israeli Forum for Regional Thinking Research Fellow Elizabeth Tsurkov explained in a Twitter thread how “horrific” the situation is in Eastern Ghouta:

The Assad regime is essentially a client-state of Russia and Iran. Russia has been controlling the Syrian civil war since 2015 in the absence of a serious U.S. presence in the region, although there are issues surfacing for the Kremlin as their forces seemed to be bogged down in Syria for the foreseeable future. Syria is a key ally for Tehran, as the country serves as a route for Iran to arm their terror proxy Hezbollah.

In April 2017, the Trump administration launched airstrikes against the Assad regime for its barbaric use of chemical weapons against its own people.

H/T: Daily Caller

The Future of Jewish Life in Russia


When considering the “Free Soviet Jewry” movement that peaked in the 1980s, it’s easy to focus on the romantic notion of liberation. After all, over a million Jews left the Soviet Union for Israel and the United States, making the movement a crown jewel of communal activist success.

But such success is hardly the complete story.

What’s missing from the narrative of liberation is the complexity of cultural nostalgia — the visceral pull of a homeland, even when that homeland has betrayed you.

In Maxim D. Shrayer’s study “With or Without You: The Prospect for Jews in Today’s Russia,” the complicated nature of what it means to live as a Jew in Russia is delicately addressed. Shrayer was born in Moscow in 1967 and, with his family, spent nine years as a refusenik before emigrating to the U.S. in 1987. Having written and translated numerous books, including two memoirs, Shrayer has become an expert in Russian-Jewish literature and culture.

This newest study details his trip to Russia in 2016 with his fifth-grade daughter, Mira. Like most good Jewish works, Shrayer’s begins with a question that compels us to ask further questions. In the prologue, Shrayer asks Oleg Dorman, a Jewish filmmaker living in Russia, a complicated question: “Why do you stay here?”

What’s missing from the narrative of liberation is the complexity of cultural nostalgia — the visceral pull of a homeland, even when that homeland has betrayed you.

Dorman says poignantly, “G-d gave me as a Jew such a place in life — to live in Russia.” It’s a startling answer to a seemingly simple question. And the idea that God chooses where people will live (and die) is a distressing notion. But it is in this fashion that Shrayer begins his book.

In Moscow, there is a Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, founded in 2012. It is a miracle that such a place should exist, given the long history of Russian anti-Semitism and the plight of Jews in Russia only decades ago, namely the Soviet Union’s efforts to “annihilate Judaism and traditional Jewish life.” Yet even the remarkable presence of such a place in Russia is unsurprisingly fraught.

Dorman tells Shrayer that when a tram stops at the museum, it is announced only as the “Museum and Center of Tolerance,” all references to Jewishness glaringly omitted. It’s hard to believe, and so Shrayer decides to see for himself, and takes the tram to the museum to discover that the announcement for the stop has indeed been cleansed of all Jewish references. It is a tram stop “already loaded with the baggage of Soviet antisemitism” in a society where the word “Jew” is “somehow indecent,” not something said out loud.

The narrative of Shrayer’s journey through Moscow is interspersed with memories of his own childhood in Russia, and the omission of the word “Jewish” from the tram stop announcement reminds him of his sixth-grade peers laughing hysterically at the mention of the word “Jew” in relation to a composer’s score known in Russia as “Two Jews: Rich and Poor.” Shrayer recounts how the word “Jew” itself was worthy of derision, and so to them the idea of two Jews was especially dirty and hilarious.

A question addressed, however, is whether the omission of the word amounts to real anti-Semitism or whether it is simply a vestige of Soviet discrimination that has lost its meaning and impact. Recent surveys of Moscow residents suggest that Jews are in ninth place as “targets of antipathy,” falling below Roma and Tajiks, as well as Americans, Ukrainians and Armenians. Shrayer agrees that overtly anti-Semitic behavior in Russia has declined considerably in the post-Soviet era, although he is not as optimistic as the study’s authors, who claim that “the dominant attitude toward Jews is that of moderate respect,” and that “negative connotations are largely gone.”

But if anti-Semitism has truly declined in Russia, where have all the anti-Semites gone? History suggests that anti-Semitism never really disappears, but only shrinks beneath the surface to bubble up in new ways. Shrayer draws an important distinction between Russia’s “professional Jew-haters” — politicians and extremists publicly espousing anti-Semitic rhetoric — and average citizens. While public denunciations of Jews are fewer, anti-Semitism’s “putrid flowers continue to bloom” particularly on social media. And so it is that “unprejudiced average Russian citizens by day” are transformed into “outspoken anti-Semites by night.”

It would seem that Russian anti-Semitism has simply put on a new face. It is surprising then that the Chabad-Lubavitch movement is so popular in Russia. Strikingly, most Chabad activists of Russia are ex-Soviets who have become ba’alei t’shuva, and are “Pushkin-quoting men and women in Hasidic attire.” In Shrayer’s words, Chabad-Lubavitch is the “guardian of Russia’s Jews” — a  complex identity indeed.

Shrayer admits that for him, a map of Moscow does not simply reflect his childhood and first love, but is also a “map of antisemitism” revealing the texture of a place that is simultaneously “more tolerant and more foreign” to him. “I’m conflicted about which of the two maps to unfold,” he writes, “which memories to suppress.”

The question of why Jews remain in Russia persists, and in search of an answer, Shrayer interviews seven people. Are they, as columnist Aleksandr Minkin suggests, “living on top of a volcano” whose eruption is imminent or is this an overreaction?

Writer Afanasy Mamedov tells Shrayer that Jewish life in Russia “depends on direct philanthropy,” lamenting that contemporary Russian Jews have no patrons of the arts, no philanthropists in the way they existed for Russian Jews in the late 1800s. “The birth of the next Kafka is unlikely here,” he says. “Everything is still rising from the old yeast.” Indeed, the mass exodus of Jews from Russia has come at a tremendous cost for the literary world.

One of the greatest 20th-century writers, Isaac Babel, left the Soviet Union in 1935. But his identity as a Russian-Jewish writer was tied intricately to living in the Soviet Union: He returned in 1939 and was executed. “If I did not live with Russian people, I would cease being a writer. I would be like a fish out of water,” he once said.

While Russian-Jewish writing flourishes outside of Russia, it often manifests as immigrant literature that is as much a product of a new and foreign home as it is of the writer’s homeland. And although it is quickly becoming its own remarkable literary genre, one can’t help but lament the limited potential for new Jewish literary greats to rise in contemporary Russia.

What, then, is the future of Jews in Russia?

Yakov Ratner, a member of the Chabad community who runs a Jewish publishing house, claims that the future of Jewish life in Russia depends on the extent to which parents are interested in a distinctly Jewish identity. Otherwise, it is only “chance [that] could carry such a child” toward Jewishness.

The interviewees all share, despite their optimism, a sense of foreboding. The Jewish population that remains in Russia is an aging one, its birthrate the lowest of any ethnic group. There are more Russian-speaking Jews living outside of Russia than within its borders. So why do they stay? It’s a question that both is and is not answered in this important study. But it also raises the question: How important is it to Diasporic Jews that Russian Jewish life continue to flourish, and what are we going to do about it?


Monica Osborne is scholar of Jewish literature and culture. She is the author of “The Midrashic Impulse and the Contemporary Literary Response to Trauma.”

Haley: We ‘Need to Take Action on our Own’ on Iran


U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley looks on after arriving to watch a training of the COBRAS, Honduras National Police Special Forces, at their base in Tegucigalpa, Honduras February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called out Russia for vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Iran for arming the Houthi rebels in Yemen and suggested that the U.S. could put matters into its own hands.

“If Russia is going to continue to cover for Iran then the US and our partners need to take action on our own,” Haley said. “If we’re not going to get action on the council then we have to take our own actions.”

According to Reuters and Algemeiner, the drafted resolution first stated that Iran violated an embargo on supplying weapons to the Houthis based on a report from U.N. experts but was later watered down to only express “particular concern” about Iran’s violations to appease Russia. And yet, Russia still vetoed the condemnation, as they were reportedly skeptical of the experts’ conclusions.

Haley’s statement comes as the Trump administration is considering nixing the Iran nuclear deal unless substantial changes are made, and Haley said that the Security Council “doesn’t help” proponents of the deal.

“That just validated a lot of what we already thought, which is Iran gets a pass for its dangerous and illegal behavior,” Haley said.

Iran claimed that the U.S. and Britain were simply scapegoating them for the carnage in Yemen. Tehran has denied accusations that they are arming the Houthis, although their denials are belied by various reports to the contrary. It’s unsurprising that Russia would provide cover to Iran given the two countries have been allies for years due to their shared hatred toward the West.

As the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) points out, Iran and the Houthis share differing beliefs in Shia Islam but they are aligned by geopolitics since “Iran seeks to challenge Saudi and U.S. dominance of the region, and the Houthis are the primary opposition to [interim President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-] Hadi’s Saudi- and U.S.-backed government in Sana’a.”

The Houthis ignited the three-year civil war in Yemen when they wrestled power from Hadi, prompting Saudi Arabia to intervene in the conflict and fight the Houthis in an attempt to curb Iran’s influence in the region and reinstate Hadi’s power. The U.S. is backing the Saudis in the conflict.

The civil war has been devastating on the civilians, as thousands have been killed and millions more are in dire need of aid.

Trump Attacks ‘Little Adam Schiff’ in Tweet. Here Are 5 Things to Know About Schiff.


Photo from Wikimedia Commons

President Trump took to Twitter on Monday to launch an attack against Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) as the House Democrats are preparing to release a memo in response to the Nunes memo:

Here was Schiff’s response:

Here are five things to know about Schiff.

1. Schiff’s district encompasses part of the Los Angeles area. According to a Journal cover story on Schiff in April 2017, Schiff’s district “extends from West Hollywood to the eastern edge of Pasadena and from Echo Park to the Angeles National Forest.” Schiff has served in Congress since 2001 and used to be a member of Glendale’s Temple Sinai.

2. Schiff is considered to be a moderate by some, others view him as a deeply partisan congressman. A 2006 profile of Schiff in The Hill described the congressman as “a moderate, a compromiser, a man who chose law school over med school because he thought it would give him greater opportunities to serve the public.” However, National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg tweeted, “I don’t think people appreciate Adam Schiff’s incredible talent to sound above the fray, non partisan and more in sorrow than in anger, while being hyper partisan. He’s better than Harry Reid was and is almost as good as Tom Daschle.”

Conservative Review has concluded that Schiff has voted with conservatives only 12% of the time during his House tenure.

3. Schiff has constantly hyped the narrative of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. For instance, Schiff told CNN in December, “The Russians offered help, the campaign accepted help. The Russians gave help and the president made full use of that help, and that is pretty damning, whether it is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of conspiracy or not.”

Schiff’s hyping of Trump-Russia collusion combined with his status as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence committee has caused him to become a frequent guest on cable news networks, particularly CNN and MSNBC, but his critics argue that Schiff has been unable to provide sufficient evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.

4. Schiff has constantly railed against the Nunes memo. Schiff argued vociferously against the memo being released, arguing that it would harm national security, although there is nothing in the memo to suggest that. Over the weekend, Schiff argued that the memo being released could result in more Oklahoma City bombings.

5. Schiff’s critics have accused him of leaking false information to the media and being a partisan hypocrite. Mollie Hemingway listed numerous examples of this at The Federalist, including an anonymously sourced Daily Beast story falsely claiming that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) snuck into the White House in the dead of night to obtain documents showing evidence of surveillance by the Obama administration – the same way Schiff had described it. Schiff has denied accusations of being a leaker.

Additionally, in 2013 Schiff argued for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reforms on Russian television, causing some to accuse him of hypocrisy for repeating a Kremlin talking point then, yet is now quick to hype Trump-Russia collusion. Others have noted that Schiff doesn’t appear to be interested in verifying the Steele dossier that is alleged to have been the basis of a FISA warrant against former Trump campaign staffer Carter Page.

Five Key Facts About the Newly Released Nunes Memo


Photo from Wikimedia Commons

For the past couple of weeks, there has been all sorts of hype around a memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, alleging abuse by the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) in the investigation of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election. The memo has finally been released; here are five things to know about it.

1. A dossier funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign seems to be a key part in surveillance against Carter Page, who worked for the Trump campaign. Per the memo, the dossier was compiled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele who was being paid by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the research firm Fusion GPS and law firm Perkins Cole to find dirt on Trump. The DOJ and FBI both knew of Steele’s connections, yet the application to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant did not mention that Steele was working at the behest  of the Clinton campaign and DNC. The memo also notes that outgoing FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe testified in December that they wouldn’t have attempted to obtain a FISA warrant against Page if not for the Steele dossier.

Additionally, the memo highlights the fact that the FBI had barely started their corroboration of the Steele dossier when the FISA application was submitted and that in June then-FBI Director James Comey described the dossier as “salacious” and “unverified” allegations, although this characterization of Comey’s comments on the dossier doesn’t seem to be entirely accurate. Others have noted that there has yet to be anything to corroborate the main allegations in the dossier.

However, USA Today points out that Page had first appeared on the FBI’s radar in 2013 for possible Russia connections. It’s unclear how much of a role that played in obtaining the FISA warrant against Page, but the memo seems to suggest that the Steele dossier played a significant role in obtaining the warrant.

The Democrats are disputing that the dossier played a major role in obtaining the warrant:

2.  Steele really, really did not want Trump to be president. According to the memo, Steele told then-Associate DOJ official Bruce Ohr in September 2016 he “was desperate” and “passionate” about ensuring that Trump would never be elected to the presidency. Ohr was recently demoted for not disclosing his meeting with people behind the Steele dossier; his wife also worked for Fusion GPS in 2016 but it is not known if she had any involvement with the dossier. The FISA application against Page, which was sought a month after Steele made his alleged comments to Ohr, did not mention Steele’s stated feelings about Trump nor did it mention any possible conflict of interest with the Ohrs and Fusion GPS.

The memo also points out that Ohr worked closely with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate possible Trump-Russia collusion.

3. Steele leaked his dossier to members of the media in order to pressure the FISA court to approve the application to spy on Page. The memo alleges that Steele leaked contents from the dossier to Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News and other media outlets in September; he also provided information about the dossier to David Corn of Mother Jones the following month. The information that Steele provided to Isikoff in his Yahoo article was used in the FISA application against Page to justify a warrant, but did not disclose that Steele had provided the information used in Isikoff’s article. Steele was eventually dismissed as an FBI source for failing to disclose his leaking to the media to the bureau.

4. The memo claims that certain members of the FBI were biased against Trump. The memo specifically singles out FBI Agent Peter Strzok, who was one of the key figures in opening the FBI investigation on Trump-Russia collusion, and his paramour, FBI Attorney Lisa Page, for sending text messages stating their desire to see Clinton elected president over Trump and that they discussed an “insurance policy” against Trump’s election with McCabe. This has all been reported elsewhere.

5. However, the Steele dossier did not trigger the investigation against Trump; George Papadopoulos was the trigger. The memo points to the FBI investigation starting in July 2016 due to Papadopoulos, who used to work for the Trump campaign, bragging about the Russians having opposition research on Clinton to an Australian diplomat.

There has been a wide variety of reactions to the Nunes memo:

The full memo can be read below:

 

The Other Russia Mystery


Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey, December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Syria is a front in need of attention. It is a front where Israel might risk war.

Two weeks ago, Israel reportedly — it did not officially comment — attacked south of Damascus. A week and a half ago, Israel (reportedly) attacked again. In both cases, there was an aura of vagueness surrounding the targets. An “Iranian base,” it was said. A “Syrian military facility.” Why were these specific targets attacked? What is it that bothers Israel about them — assuming it really was Israel that attacked?

Then, on Dec. 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly landed in Syria and declared victory over ISIS and announced the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria. “Friends, the Motherland is waiting for you,” Putin told his troops. “You are coming back home with victory!”

Why now and not two weeks ago or two weeks from now? Only Putin knows. In recent weeks, Russia backed the Syrian narrative, according to which the regime is close to winning the war, while the U.S. argued that these declarations of an impending victory are premature. So maybe Putin was just making the point by putting his money — or military forces —  where his mouth is.

Russia seems to be pleased enough with such victory. Putin is rightly satisfied.

In many ways, this debate is about semantics. Define “victory”; define “Syrian victory.”

The Donald Trump administration believes that a vast majority of the forces fighting in support of the Syrian government — the regime still under the control of the ever-doomed-to-departure President Bashar Assad — is made up of foreign forces. A victory? Maybe. But this will not be a victory of Syrian forces under Assad. It will be a victory of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, of Iraqi militias and, most of all, of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Russia seems to be pleased enough with such victory. When its leader decided to jump into the Syria swamp, his goal was to fill a vacuum created by American inaction, save his ally Assad and keep Russian interests in the country unharmed. Looking at these three objectives, Putin is rightly satisfied. He was able to demonstrate to Middle Eastern and other world regimes that Russia is an ally no less — or maybe more — reliable than the United States. He was able to guard Russia’s interests in the country (among them, military bases). He was able to save Assad, for now. In the summer of 2011, President Barack Obama first called for the Syrian president to step down. The Russians said no. The Russians had their way.

Israel was disturbed by many of these developments. Having Russia, rather than the U.S., as the main power broker in the region does not seem appealing. Having Assad becoming an Iranian proxy does not seem appealing. Having Assad win the war as an Iranian proxy does not seem appealing.

Israel warily watches as payback looms. Iran won the war for Assad, and is now expecting a reward: military presence in Syria, not too far from the Israeli border.

Israel declared such development a red line. Speaking in a video message to the Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was clear: “We will not allow a regime hellbent on the annihilation of the Jewish state to acquire nuclear weapons. We will not allow that regime to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do, for the express purpose of eradicating our state.”

So, after the attacks (allegedly by Israel) in Syria, one has to assume that the goal is in line with this message. Sabotage all the Iranians’ attempts to entrench themselves in Syria. Destroy their facilities and disrupt their plans, sending them a message of warning.

This message is aimed at Iran and its allies, but no less at Russia and the U.S. The superpowers can let the situation deteriorate by letting Israel and Iran conduct a war in Syria’s territory. They also can choose to prevent it by taking a side. The potential problem for Israel is obvious: What happens in case Russia takes Iran’s side — that is, insist that Israel cease from attacking in Syria — while the U.S. remains on the sidelines?

Israel can do what’s necessary to stop Iran from entrenching in Syria. But opposing the Russians is a lot riskier. Thus, the reduction of Russian presence on Syrian soil puts Israel in a position more convenient for free action.

On the other hand, the Russians are leaving and an even larger vacuum must be filled. Iran seems ready to try to fill it. Israel seems ready to not allow it. So, a proxy war becomes even more likely today than it did a few weeks ago.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI About Discussions With Russian Ambassador


Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn departs after a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Retired Lt. General Mike Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, is pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and is willing to testify against Trump in the Russia investigation.

Flynn faced charges of lying to the FBI that he didn’t tell Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to vote against a United Nations resolution in December declaring all Israeli settlements in Jerusalem to be illegal. He also faced charges of lying about telling Kislyak to hold off any retaliation against sanctions and that he didn’t remember Kislyak telling him that Russia would indeed “moderate its response.”

Flynn refused to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller at first due to his loyalty to Trump, but eventually acquiesced due to increasing legal bills and the feeling that Trump was leaving him out to dry.

The former national security adviser issued a statement that read, “It has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of ‘treason’ and other outrageous acts. Such false accusations are contrary to everything I have ever done and stood for. But I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right.”

The charges Flynn plead guilty to have a maximum sentence of five years in prison, however given Flynn’s cooperation with Mueller it’s unlikely that he’ll receive significant jail time.

Flynn is expected to testify that Trump told him to talk to the Russians about cooperation between the two countries on Syria and ISIS. It is also being reported that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, was the one who ordered Flynn to contact every foreign representative and lobby against the anti-Israel U.N. resolution.

Ty Cobb, Trump’s lawyer, claimed that Flynn’s plea is of no significance.

“Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn,” said Cobb. “The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”

However, the White House was reportedly “caught off guard” at the news of Flynn’s guilty plea.

“What they’re freaked out about is that there are no leaks,” a source told Politico. “[George] Papadopoulos didn’t leak. Flynn didn’t leak. They feel like they can’t trust anyone. Their own counsel didn’t know.”

In West Hollywood, Serving Up a Little Bit of Russia


Alexander and Victoria Urevich in their Kovcheg Russian bookstore. Photo by Olga Grigoryants

For more than 10 years, Alexander Urevich and his wife, Victoria, have run Kovcheg Russian Books, near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Gardner Street, selling books, magazines and newspapers to Russian-speaking immigrants.

Kovcheg, which means “ark” in Russian, carries more than 50,000 books and sells a wide range of decorative items, including Russian nesting dolls, wooden platters and toys. For years, the store has been a go-to place for film studios looking for unique posters and medals from the Soviet era.

“We know our customers by name,” said Alexander, 63. “Not just our customers but their families, children and grandchildren.”

Over the years, the store has become a popular hangout for senior citizens, who drop by to read books and talk politics. American-born children of Russian-speaking immigrants bring their offspring to practice Russian with Alexander, whom they call Uncle Sasha, using the Russian diminutive for his name.

The store has remained open despite changes in the neighborhood. West Hollywood’s Russian-speaking population shrank about 30 percent to 3,872 people from 2000 to 2010, a city study found. Although the shop is located outside West Hollywood proper, most of its customers live there, Alexander said.

The Ureviches, both Jewish natives of Russia, made aliyah, living in Petah Tikva for two years before moving to California with their three children in 2002.

The couple learned about the bookstore, which has operated at its current location for more than 35 years, from an advertisement in a Russian-language newspaper. They sold an apartment in their native Ekaterinburg, Russia, and got a $15,000 loan from Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles to buy the business.

“I didn’t care what I would do — sell sausages, furniture or books,” said Victoria, 60. “I just wanted to start our own business.”

The store became an instant success, with customers of all ages visiting from as far away as the San Fernando Valley and Marina del Rey. Some would linger for hours, reading books and chatting with the owners.

“People would come and sit here for hours, talking about their kids and grandkids,” said Alexander, who eventually eliminated seating to stop customers from staying too long. “We have no chairs now, and people still come and sit here for hours.”

“We have no chairs now, and people still come and sit here for hours.” – Alexander Urevich

But despite a steady influx of customers, sales have declined in the last four years.  Since 2007, when the couple took over the store, average book prices have soared from $5 or $7 to $10 or $15 — prices many find prohibitive.

“Our rent is high and business is slow and books are hard to sell,” said Victoria, who partly blamed the popularity of e-books. “It’s getting tough because nobody wants to buy books anymore.”

Sandwiched between a beauty salon and a caviar shop, the store greets customers with a wooden box of $1 books. Inside the store, a Soviet flag hangs on the wall next to a wooden cuckoo clock and icons of St. Maria. A glass case displays wooden jewelry, wooden kitchenware and paintings. On the shelves, Sholem Aleichem novels sit next to books about UFOs.

On a recent afternoon, Larisa Gamburg stopped by the store with her three children. Her daughter brought a handmade greeting card to Victoria and Uncle Sasha.

“Victoria and Uncle are very friendly and are always ready to help find a good book,” the 11-year-old said.

Her mother said the family visits the store at least once a month and buys books that she read growing up in her native Ukraine, including “One Thousand and One Nights” and “The Children of Captain Grant” by Jules Verne.

Gamburg said she and her children enjoy spending time with Victoria and Alexander, who help her children practice Russian.

“It’s one of a few places in the area where we can find Russian books,” she said. “I don’t know what I would do without them.”

Robert Mueller indicts three former Trump campaign staffers as part of Russia investigation


FILE PHOTO: FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Federal Bureau of Investigation oversight on Capitol Hill in Washington June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

Robert Mueller, the independent special counsel in the investigation on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, has handed down indictments to three former staffers in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The three men who have been indicted are Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates as well former foreign policy campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Manafort and Gates are facing charges of money laundering from a Ukrainian political party that has ties to the Russian government as well as failure to report that they were foreign agents. Both have currently been placed on home confinement; they are both pleading not guilty.

Kevin Downing, Manafort’s attorney, issued the following statement:

Papadopoulos plead guilty for lying to the FBI about his correspondences with the Russians. Emails show that Papadopoulos was in contact with the Russians about possibly securing a meeting with Trump to receive some opposition research on Hillary Clinton; the indictment alleges that Papadopoulos lied about those correspondences.

Papadopoulos’ attorneys issued a statement that they wouldn’t comment on the matter until the case reaches court:

Trump tweeted that the indictments didn’t reveal any evidence of collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia:

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders downplayed the indictments.

“Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the President, has nothing to do with the President’s campaign or campaign activity,” said Sanders. “The real collusion scandal, as we have said several times before, has everything to do with the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS, and Russia.”

The White House has also stated that they expect Mueller’s investigation to wrap up soon.

WSJ: Mueller Should Step Down from Russia Investigation


Screenshot from YouTube.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has called on former FBI director Robert Mueller to step down from his role as special counsel in the Russia investigation.

The editorial recapped the news that broke earlier in the week that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) paid Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm, to unearth information against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. The firm produced a dossier comprising allegations against the president, including the claim that the Russians were blackmailing Trump with videos of him with Russian prostitutes. The editorial noted that the dossier was “based on largely anonymous, Kremlin-based sources.”

The editorial then pivoted to the FBI, pointing out that they were paying Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored the dossier, “to continue his work in the run-up to the election.”

“Did the dossier trigger the FBI probe of the Trump campaign, and did Mr. Comey or his agents use it as evidence to seek wiretapping approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Trump campaign aides?” the editors asked.

The FBI’s role in regards to Fusion GPS and the Russian investigation needs to be investigated, which is why the Journal’s editors believe Mueller should step aside.

“Mr. Mueller is a former FBI director, and for years he worked closely with Mr. Comey,” the editors wrote. “It is no slur against Mr. Mueller’s integrity to say that he lacks the critical distance to conduct a credible probe of the bureau he ran for a dozen years. He could best serve the country by resigning to prevent further political turmoil over that conflict of interest.”

Mueller was appointed as an independent special counsel to oversee the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Others who have called on Mueller to step aside include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ).

D.C Judge to Request Israel’s Assistance In Dispute with Russia Over Chabad Books


Photo from Public Domain Pictures.

Judge Royce Lamberth, a federal judge of the District of Columbia, will request Israel for their assistance in a dispute with Russia over religious texts.

The dispute involves the Chabad-Lubavitch movement demanding that Russia relinquish a collection of texts that are invaluable to the movement. So far, Russia has refused to hand them over.

According to The National Law Journal, Chabad told Judge Lamberth on Tuesday that Kedem Auction House in Israel was able to a get hold of one of the texts, so they requested that Lamber ask an Israeli court to mandate Kedem to explain how they obtained the book. Lamberth approved their request and issued a legal letter to an Israeli court.

“Chabad has brought to this court’s attention the apparent intention of the Witness, Kedem Auction House Limited of Jerusalem, Israel, to auction a volume that has been identified as part of the Chabad library in Russia’s possession,” the letter reads. “Based on information presented to this Court and found to be credible, the volume is subject to this Court’s previous judgment and order.”

Lamberth also reportedly ruled that the book obtained Kedem shouldn’t be sold.

The texts in question involve a collection of 12,000 books and 25,000 handwritten documents that were stored by Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn during World War I, which is why they are known as “the Schneerson collection.” Rabbi Chaim Cunin told Deseret News that these documents feature “notes from rabbis” and “personal thoughts and teachings.”

“The documents include the stories and struggles of people who, in some cases, only exist on these pages,” said Cunin.

The Russians seized half of the Schneerson collection in 1918; the rest were seized years later by the Nazis. In the aftermath of World War II, the Soviet Union got their hands on them.

Chabad first filed a lawsuit against Russia to return the texts in 2004. Russia withdrew from the case in 2009 and has refused to hand them over, claiming that Chabad has no legal claim to it. However, Tablet’s Avital Chizik has written that the Russians are simply afraid of “setting a legal precedent for returning nationalized Soviet property at large.”

Russia’s refusal to hand over texts prompted Lamberth to sanction them $50,000 per day in 2013, which has accumulated to $83.5 million. Chabad argued on Tuesday that the sanctions should be increased to $100,000 per day.

All 100 U.S. senators have called for Russia to release the texts. The Department of Justice has also sided with Chabad, although they are wary of further sanctions that may result in Russia taking retaliatory measures.

Jewish pianist Mikhail Klein collapses, dies on stage


Photo from Wikimedia Commons

(JTA) — The celebrated pianist Mikhail Klein collapsed and died on stage at the age of 72 while performing his own composition in his hometown of Irkutsk.

Klein, who in 1987 was awarded the prestigious title of Honored Artist of Russia, died at the foot of a grand piano of the Irkutsk Philharmonic Orchestra on Tuesday before hundreds of people who had come to hear him play, said the municipality of the Siberian city, situated near Russia’s border with Mongolia.

“I was sitting in the front row and, seeing that Mikhail Leonidovich was ill, ran up to him,” the head of the city department of culture, Vitaly Baryshnikov, told RIA Novosti.

Two of the city’s most prominent physicians were in attendance but their attempts to reanimate him with a cardiac massage did not succeed. He died, reportedly of heart failure, just before 8:30 p.m. He had lived in Irkutsk for the past 45 years and has worked for the Irkutsk Philharmonic for all that time, the orchestra wrote in an obituary mourning his death.

With his “fanatic devotion to the arts,” the obituary said, he “brilliantly represented Russian musical art in many cultural and educational activities” locally and abroad. “His other passion was sports, loyalty to his friends — colleagues in the volleyball team, which he carried through all his creative life,” the statement also said.

Known in Russia and beyond for his renditions and interpretations of works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms and other great composers, Klein, who was Jewish, was also a prolific jazz composer and enthusiast.

He was playing “This is all Russia,” a jazz composition that he wrote featuring fragments of several famous Russian songs, before he collapsed.

Ukraine arrests three alleged terrorists accused of targeting Jews in Uman


An ultra-Orthodox Jewish pilgrim blows a shofar, near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov during the celebration of Rosh Hashanah holiday, the Jewish New Year, in Uman, Ukraine, Sept. 21, 2017. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

(JTA) — Ukrainian police arrested three men they said were terrorists who, in their efforts to pit ethnic groups against one another, also targeted Jews in the central city of Uman.

The men were arrested earlier this month at a border crossing while carrying explosives, according to the KP news site. Citing unnamed officials from the regional prosecutor’s office, the news site reported that the suspects were planning to blow up a monument for Hungarians in a bid to escalate tensions over legislation in Ukraine that outlaws the use of Hungarian at elementary schools.

The three suspects were also behind a string of anti-Semitic incidents, according to the report, including the hurling on Sept. 21 of a grenade at Jewish pilgrims in Uman, where 30,000 Jews convene each year on Rosh Hashanah to celebrate the Jewish holiday near the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

They are also accused of dousing a synagogue in Uman with red paint in 2016 and leaving a pig’s head there – an incident that many people attributed to hatred of Jews and locals’ growing dissatisfaction with problems associated with the pilgrimage.

They are further accused of spraying the words “death to Jews” on the synagogue in Chernivtsi in November and trying to set fire to the synagogue in Lviv in July. The suspects denied these and other allegations.

Though prosecutors have not said this, the arrests prompted theories that the three suspects were working for Russia to exacerbate social tensions in Ukraine and give the country a bad image abroad.

Russia and Ukraine have exchanged allegations of sabotage after 2014, when a revolution led by nationalists in Ukraine toppled the rule of former president Viktor Yanukovych, whom some critics said was a corrupt Russian stooge. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and backs separatists in Ukraine’s east.

The two countries have also exchanged accusations of anti-Semitism in an apparent attempt to discredit each other in the West.

Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg defends targeted ads in face of ‘Jew hater’ controversy


Sheryl Sandberg speaking at Advertising Week in New York on Sept. 27, 2016. Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Advertising Week New York

Allowing hateful terms as options was “a fail on our part,” Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg said in a post in which she also defended targeted advertising.

Sandberg also announced in the message posted on Facebook last week that the company is strengthening its policies and tools on targeted ads.

ProPublica, an investigative website, reported earlier this month that a news website was able to target ads at Facebook users who expressed interest in “Jew hater” and “how to burn Jews.” Facebook removed the categories after being alerted to their existence and said it would seek to prevent such categories from popping up for potential advertisers.

Sandberg wrote in her post: “Seeing those words made me disgusted and disappointed – disgusted by these sentiments and disappointed that our systems allowed this. Hate has no place on Facebook – and as a Jew, as a mother, and as a human being, I know the damage that can come from hate. The fact that hateful terms were even offered as options was totally inappropriate and a fail on our part. We removed them and when that was not totally effective, we disabled that targeting section in our ad systems.”

She defended targeted advertising, which allows companies to place ads based on demographics on the buying history of consumers, or on behavior and self-identification. Facebook relies heavily on algorithms to find and highlight content.

“Targeted advertising is how Facebook has helped millions of business grow, find customers, and hire people,” Sandberg wrote. “Our systems match organizations with potential customers who may be interested in their products or services. The systems have been particularly powerful for small businesses, who can use tools that previously were only available to advertisers with large budgets or sophisticated marketing teams.

Sandberg said Facebook would clarify its advertising policies and tighten enforcement processes to ensure that content that goes against Facebook’s community standards cannot be used to target ads; by adding more human review and oversight to the automated processes; and by creating a program to encourage users to report potential abuses directly to the company.

“We hope these changes will prevent abuses like this going forward,” Sandberg note, adding that Facebook has had “a firm policy against hate.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Facebook sent out Happy New Year messages to users it believed to be Jewish. But many who received the message are not Jewish and may have received the greetings because they followed a group with a Jewish theme or posted a message on the Facebook page of a Jewish friend, Mashable reported.

“We send messages about religious moments to people in countries where a large proportion of the population observes the religion, or where the religious date is a public holiday,” firm policy against hate. “We may also show the message to people who’ve expressed interest in the holiday.”

5777: Coping with a year of rage


White supremacists, foreground, face off against counterprotesters, top, at the entrance to Emancipation Park during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

We hear the word “high” a lot during the High Holy Days — and it’s not just because we live in pot-friendly California.

This time of year is supposed to elevate us, lift us up. It’s so integral to the mission of the holidays, and it’s embedded into the choreography of the service: The ark is opened and we rise; the shofar calls us to stand and wake up; the fast on Yom Kippur alters the chemistry of our brains. Prayer itself promises to bring us “higher and higher,” inching us closer to the profound mystery at the heart of the universe we call God.

Everything about this 10-day annual ritual titillates us with the promise of spiritual intoxication: If we take the holidays seriously enough — if we repent, return, forgive — Jewish tradition tells us we can change our lives; that everything we thought lost is still possible. Begin again, we’re told. It’s a new year. 

But for so many of us, the task of getting high this year seems especially hard because this last year was so full of personal and global anguish. How do we reclaim a space for the spirit when life can be so profoundly dispiriting?

Most of the major events of 5777 have given us reason to worry, rage and fear. We lived through the most polarizing election in our lifetimes, followed by the installation of an equally polarizing administration. We learned about Russian subversion of our democratic process. We endured nuclear threats from North Korea and the rising threat of economic imperialism in China. We watched the Syrian civil war and genocide spread into its sixth tragic year. We divided ourselves over Israel, agonizing about the challenges it faces within and without. We witnessed terror in Europe.

And, most recently, we watched with utter helplessness as the wrath of nature devastated American cities and communities, and as DACA was rescinded, putting the futures of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants in limbo. All of this courtesy of the constant churn of the 24-hour news cycle that knows no Shabbat. 

For these reasons and others, we feel drained. Can prayer and community have any impact on healing these wounds? And what if the very polarizing politics we wish to escape appear in our rabbi’s sermon?

For those of us who already are politically engaged, philanthropic and working with great devotion to fight injustice in this world, we hope the High Holy Days will pour some light onto the canvas of our aching souls.

Just before Rosh Hashanah, I asked Rabbi Mordecai Finley, the spiritual leader at Ohr Hatorah in Venice who teaches and counsels through the prism of psychology and philosophy, how we can move from a year of rage, grief or simply exhaustion to a period of spiritual elevation.

His answer was surprising — and kind of Buddhist.

“Every philosophical system that takes morality seriously detaches wisdom from emotions,” he said over warm apple pie at Sophos Café, the Italian-coffee hangout that serves as the lobby at his shul. (I had to put aside my extreme satisfaction with the pie to understand his point.)

But aren’t you angry about what you see happening in our country, or in the world, I asked?

“I don’t get that emotional [about it],” he said. “Anybody who is that upset [over politics], I’m wondering how efficacious their spiritual practice is to begin with. When people say to me, ‘It’s been the worst year ever,’ I say, ‘1862 was a bad year for our country [it was the Civil War and the Union was losing]. 1942 was a bad year for the world.’

“There are those who love divisiveness and get all emotional. It’s a choice you make. I’m among those who find [President Donald Trump] repugnant, but if I talk to somebody on the other side, I don’t bring that into the conversation. I say, let’s have rational conversation based on moral values. For people who say politics is personal, I think they like to be angry.”

Finley admitted that different people seek different things on the High Holy Days. Some people want and need to vent about politics.

“It can feel extremely satisfying when your leadership vents what you’re feeling,” Finley said. “But when people are venting, they don’t want to process. My congregation is populated by people who want an oasis during the High Holidays. I’ve asked, ‘Would you like me every week to rehash the new litany of Trump’s latest outrages?’ They say, ‘No, we get that from The New York Times.’ They’re after personal depth and transformation. They want leadership there.” 

Finley believes that for most of us, the way to a better world is through higher consciousness, by cultivating what he calls “the higher self,” or the soul. And the best way to test and exert the functioning of our higher self is through interpersonal relationships.

“There’s a moral framework in which we live that for most people, the first place they experience it is interpersonally,” he said. “You’ve been hurt by others; they’ve been hurt by you. That’s the first thing we have to deal with.”

It’s a lot harder to take on the problems of the world if we’re suffering at home. So for those of us who are grieving, heartbroken, angry or stuck, the holidays are a time to examine and refine our most sacred relationships.

Simple acts of being kinder, more generous and more compassionate can make our broken world a little brighter and bring us higher — indeed, closer — to God.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Some Trump lawyers reportedly recommended Kushner step down over Russia scandal


Jared Kushner speaking at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House on June 19. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Some lawyers for President Donald Trump recommended that Jared Kushner step down as senior White House adviser over the Russia scandal.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the president’s lawyers were not united in the opinion. The article also said that Trump believed Kushner had done nothing wrong, thus there was no reason he should quit.

Due to the concerns of some members of the president’s legal team, press aides to the team drafted a statement explaining Kushner’s departure, the newspaper reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Kushner reportedly had several meetings with Russian officials during and after the election campaign. He also failed to disclose on his application for a security clearance a meeting he had with a Russian official, along with his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr., to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate for president, during the 2016 campaign.

In July, Kushner appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the election. Afterward he released an 11-page statement denying collusion.

Some of Trump’s attorneys worried that keeping Kushner as an adviser could involve other White House officials in the Russia investigation, including his discussing the probe with the president without a lawyer present.

Lithuanian troops train at former concentration camp where 5,000 Jews are buried


A film crew preparing to record at the former concentration camp known as the Seventh Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania on July 12, 2016. Photo by JTA/Cnaan Liphshiz

Lithuanian soldiers training to fight Russian troops pitched tents on the grounds of a former concentration camp and burial ground for Jews in Kaunas.

A battalion of special forces troops camped Monday at Seventh Fort, the first of dozens of concentration camps established by Nazi Germany following its 1941 eastward invasion, the Kauno Diena news website reported Thursday. The deployment is part of a military drill.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to JTA questions about the exact nature of the deployment.

The remains of 5,000 murdered Jews are buried at the fort in mass graves that are marked by a few poles and rocks. Relatives sometimes visit the site to light candles in memory of the dead.

Privatized by the government in 2009, the Seventh Fort, a disused 18-acre bunker complex, is run by a nongovernmental organization headed by Vladimir Orlov, a 38-year-old amateur historian and military enthusiast.

His organization charges entrance fees to the grounds, where it operates summer camps for children and hosts private events. Revenues are used for the site’s preservation as an educational institution where the genocide is taught alongside Lithuanian military heritage, Orlov told JTA last year. He declined to say how much revenue the site generates and how much is spent on commemoration.

The Jewish Community of Lithuania last year said the privatization was a “huge mistake” that happened despite its stated opposition.

Like the other two Baltic states, the Lithuanian government’s concern about the expansionist policies of Russia has prompted it to update its own defense capabilities. This summer, thousands of troops trained with NATO contingents across the country.

Efraim Zuroff, a hunter of Nazis and the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s point man on issues concerning Eastern Europe, condemned the deployment as showing “incredible lack of sensitivity” by the authorities at a site where Lithuanian militiamen led the wholesale slaughter of thousands of people within the space of two days in July 1941.

Zuroff, who has written extensively about Lithuania and the Seventh Fort, said the deployment raises concerns as to potential desecration of burial grounds, since the area where the bodies are buried “is not fenced off,” he added.

Between July 4-6 in 1941, local militiamen belonging to the pro-Fascist National Defence Battalion carried out the murder of 3,000 people at the Seventh Fort. That unit was a precursor of the collaborationist Security Police Battalions, which worked with the German Nazis in occupied Lithuania.

Daily Kickoff: Ahead of Kushner’s visit, Bibi goes to Moscow; “The Russians set the facts on the ground in Syria” | Abbas’ 45 day ultimatum for talks


Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Aug. 9. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

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JI INTERVIEW — Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) discussed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and President Trump’s response to the Charlottesville protests in an interview with JI’s Aaron Magid: Fresh off a trip to Israel, Smucker slammed Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah for justifying payments to families of terrorists in a meeting with the Republican Congressional delegation. “It was absolutely amazing when asked about the payments to families of terrorists, that were either imprisoned or killed, [Hamdallah] tried to justify it. We were very disappointed in his approach and explanations with that particular issue,” Smucker said. He expressed strong backing for the Taylor Force Act. “It’s very clear that those payments are being made. For the PA to incentivize terrorism, essentially, is completely unacceptable.”

Smucker on Charlottesville: “What we saw in Charlottesville was particularly horrifying after just coming from Israel and visiting the Holocaust museum (Yad Vashem). We should be absolutely unequivocal in our denunciation of these groups: they are simply not acceptable. It is unbelievable that there are still groups in our country today that believe they are better than others based on the color of their skin or religion. The President will speak for himself. I obviously cannot tell you what he was thinking when he said [there were fine people on both sides], but I think it’s important for the American people to hear from its leaders that we will not stand for this type of activity.” Read the full interview here [JewishInsider

DRIVING THE CONVO — President Trump used his primetime address to the nation last night to clean up his “both sides” comments in response to the Charlottesville protests: “Loyalty to our nation demands loyalty to one another. Love for America requires love for all of its people. When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate. The young men and women we sent to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home. We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other.” [CSPAN]

HEARD YESTERDAY — House Speaker Paul Ryan during a CNN Town Hall: “I do believe that [Trump] messed up in his comments on Tuesday, when it sounded like a moral equivocation, or at the very least moral ambiguity, when we need extreme moral clarity… And I’m pleased with the things he just said tonight to add clarity to the confusion that I think he gave us on Tuesday.”

CNN host Jake Tapper: “I think the issue.. is the reluctance to criticize President Trump for specifically saying things like ‘very fine people were marching in that rally’ that had swastikas and anti-Semitic signs and there were not any ‘very fine people’ in that rally… It wasn’t morally ambiguous. It was morally wrong.”

Ryan: “I have a hard time believing, if you’re standing in a crowd to protest something and you see, you know, all these anti-Semitic slogans… that you’re good with that and you’re a good person… You’re not a good person if you’re there… And that’s why I think it was not only morally ambiguous, it was equivocating. And that was wrong.  That’s why I think it was very, very important that he has since then cleared that up.” [CNN

“Ryan says Trump messed up but opposes censure” by Scott Bauer: “Ryan was asked at a town hall organized by CNN in his Wisconsin congressional district whether he would back the resolution that comes following Trump’s comments about the Charlottesville, Virginia, rally. The question came from Rabbi Dena Feingold, the sister of former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who grew up in the same city as Ryan. Ryan said censuring Trump would be “counterproductive.” “If we descend this issue into some partisan hack-fest, bickering between one another … what good does that do to unify this country?” Ryan said, adding that it would be the “worst thing we could do.”” [AP

TRUMP EFFECT: “Donations to Anti-Defamation League surge in US” by AFP: “ADL spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara said donations like the one from James Murdoch — head of Fox News, who last week announced a million-dollar donation — as well as those from corporations like Apple, Uber and MGM Resorts yielded a rise of “1,000%” last week, compared to the weekly average donations since the beginning of the year… On Monday, the big bank J.P. Morgan also joined the ranks of the donors, Alcantara said. The bank announced a million dollar-gift to be shared by the ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center.” [Yahoo

Rep. Jerry Nadler on race and anti-Semitism in the age of Trump — Off Message with Edward-Isaac Dovere: “As for the Jewish aides to the administration who defend Trump, including his daughter and son-in-law Jared Kushner… Nadler says they need to get real. “I don’t care what Jared Kushner said about the fact that Donald Trump loves, loves him and Ivanka and other people,” Nadler said. “He was willing to traffic in anti-Semitism. He was willing to use anti-Semitic imagery. And then, when caught up in it, refused to repudiate it, and denied that it was what it clearly was.”” [Politico]

“President Trump Maintains Support in New York City’s Religious Communities” by Stephen Nessen: “Members of New York City’s Evangelical and Hasidic communities turned out to vote for Donald Trump for president, and they continue to support him, despite his tepid and mixed responses to white supremacists who rally in his name… In Borough Park, Brooklyn, which gave Trump 68 percent of the vote, many in the ultra-orthodox community also said the president had done enough to condemn hate groups. “He said KKK is not good, whatever, he did what he has to do,” Chaim Shmedra, 24, said. “He could criticize more, but he’s doing a great job.””[WNYC] • Orthodox Resistance to Trump Grows — In Secret Social Media Groups [Forward]

INSIDE THE ADMIN: “Is It Time for Trump Aides to Resign?” by Eliot A. Cohen: “Gary Cohn is a Jewish philanthropist: He paid a price, not in emotional discomfort but in his integrity, in staying silent while the president made excuses for anti-Semites shouting slogans that hark back to Hitler’s brown shirts. One’s country can ask those who volunteer to serve it in uniform to put their lives on the line… But the hazards of battle do not require surrendering your soul: just the reverse, risking it all can mean reaffirming your highest values. The country does not, however, have the right to ask you to sacrifice your moral core, what makes you who you are.” [TheAtlantic] • Gary Cohn, Trump Agoniste, Contemplates the End [VanityFair]

“Trump Official Once Praised a Defender of Holocaust Deniers; Now she’s in charge of family planning policy” by David Corn: “Earlier this year, President Donald Trump appointed Teresa Manning, a leading anti-abortion activist, to be a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services… But there was one item in her résumé that did not receive attention: She had once praised a defender of Holocaust deniers… In the preface to Back to the Drawing Board, Manning… called contributors to the book “statesmen, scholars, doctors, lawyers, judges, activists, and mothers.” And at [a 2003] conference, she remarked that they included “people that I have respected and admired my entire professional life.” Presumably, her accolades applied to [Joe] Sobran, whose controversial association with Holocaust deniers and whose “contextually anti-Semitic” writings were publicly known within conservative circles at the time.” [MotherJones]

“Why the White House Needs Another Bannon” by Tevi Troy: “Trump likes to think of himself as the whole show—his own strategist, his own communications guru, his own political whisperer… But this is one area in which Trump really does need the help: He doesn’t have the patience, the background, or the interest to be able to articulate a consistent conservative-friendly vision and to get other conservatives on board. Bannon’s absence means the White House lacks someone who can attempt to create a coherent narrative for the administration’s efforts… Not filling the role would be a self-inflicted wound, while filling the role with the wrong person would be a missed opportunity.” [PoliticoMag

DRIVING THE WEEK: “Kushner in Middle East for peace talks” by Annie Karni: “While everyone was busy gazing into the solar eclipse on Monday, White House adviser Jared Kushner had quietly snuck away to the Middle East… Accompanying Kushner on Tuesday in the Gulf states were deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt… A White House aide and an outside adviser familiar with the trip planning said Kushner departed on Sunday and is set to arrive in Israel Wednesday night for meetings on Thursday. The traveling American delegation was meeting with leaders from the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia in the days before. It was not clear why the White House would announce the trip but then keep the details of Kushner’s departure under wraps.” [Politico]

“PA to give Trump team ultimatum on peace plan” by Shlomi Eldar: “A senior Palestinian source… said a decision had been reached after lengthy negotiations at top PA levels… to present Kushner and Greenblatt with a clear ultimatum: Unless progress is made within 45 days on launching talks with the Israelis, the Palestinians will consider themselves no longer committed to the US channel and will turn to an alternative plan on which they have been working for the past two years… The Palestinians understand that the current occupant of the Oval Office tends to act impulsively, and such a move could prompt him to take out his anger on Abbas — but “we have no choice,” said the source.” [Al-Monitor

KAFE KNESSET — Dasvidaniya, Bibi — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: Netanyahu is preparing for a day trip to Sochi, Russia. There, he will be meeting President Putin tomorrow for the sixth time in the past two years, and the second meeting in 2017. Iran, of course, will top the agenda for the meeting. President Putin will hear about Jerusalem’s concerns arising out of the diplomatic attempts to end the fighting in Syria. These diplomatic efforts are creating, according to Israeli officials, an Iranian territorial contiguity between Tehran and the Mediterranean.

The meeting with Putin comes against the backdrop of a clear disappointment in Jerusalem with the Trump administration and its level of attention to Israeli interests. “The Americans are sympathetic, but they are not willing to back words with deeds. We are not in the administration’s priorities. They are preoccupied with other issues, and there is a feeling that they have very limited attention span,” a senior Israeli Minister told Kafe Knesset. The Minister explained that the American vacuum over Syria – which was created in the Obama administration but has also been transformed into a Trump government policy – “has given increased importance to the strategic dialogue with the Kremlin, especially after Russia increased its military involvement in Syria. This has required close military coordination with the Russians to prevent friction. The Russians fill the American void and they are the ones who determine the facts on the ground. We want to make sure that the facts on the ground do not hurt us.” Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset — featuring Bibi’s privacy and the latest with the Kotel — here[JewishInsider]

“U.S. pushing to quash U.N. ‘blacklist’ of firms doing business in Israeli settlements” by Anne Gearan: “The Trump administration is urging the United Nations not to publish what it calls a “blacklist” of international firms that do business in Israeli settlements… “The United States has been adamantly opposed to this resolution from the start” and has fought against it before several U.N. bodies, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said… “We have made clear our opposition regarding the creation of a database of businesses operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and we have not participated and will not participate in its creation or contribute to its content,” she said. In a statement Monday, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, called the [U.N. Human Rights Council] moves toward publication of the list “an expression of modern anti-Semitism.”” [WashPost

IRAN DEAL: “Iran Says Can Produce Highly Enriched Uranium in Days if U.S. Quits Deal” by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin: “Iran can resume production of highly enriched uranium within five days if the nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015 is revoked, Iran’s atomic chief was quoted by state media as saying on Tuesday… “The president’s warning was not baseless,” Head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi said…  “If we decide, we can reach 20 percent (uranium) enrichment within five days in Fordow (underground nuclear plant),” he added.” [Reuters]

2018 WATCH: Police Investigate Alleged Twitter Hack of Senate Candidate: “The Michigan State Police is investigating after Republican U.S. Senate candidate Lena Epstein said someone hacked her campaign’s Twitter account last week and “liked” posts from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Epstein, who is Jewish, has said any suggestion that she supports “this type of hateful ideology is extremely disturbing.”” [USNews

2020 WATCH: “How potential 2020 Democrats are honing their foreign policy chops” by Jeremy Herb: “[Cory] Booker’s seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is another path for senators harboring presidential ambitions — it’s the committee Obama served on ahead of his 2008 run. In the early months of the Trump administration, the panel gave Booker a seat at the table for some of the most contentious confirmation hearings, including those of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson… and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman… When Friedman testified, Booker elicited an apology for the nominee’s comments suggesting Obama was anti-Semitic and that Kaine was an Israel basher.” [CNN

“Nikki Haley says she had ‘personal’ talk with Trump about Charlottesville” by Diamond Naga: “Well, I had a personal conversation with the president about Charlottesville, and I will leave it at that,” Haley said on CNN… But when asked afterward, she would not confirm or deny whether Trump understood he made a mistake with his racially charged comments. “The president clarified so that no one can question that he’s opposed to bigotry and hate in this country.” [Politico]

** Good Tuesday 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 BRIEF: Jim Crown’s Aspen Skiing, KSL Capital venture adds Utah’s Deer Valley to growing resort portfolio [DenverPost] • Ghermezian’s Meadowlands ‘American Dream’ Project To Be Complete By 2019[CBS; NorthJersey] • Gary Barnett’s luxury condo tower rises on ‘gritty’ South Street [NYPost] • ASRR to buy out partner in Surfside condo project[TRD] • Israel’s TowerJazz to set up China chip plant with Tacoma Semi[Reuters] • Paul Singer’s Black Knight Unhorses Warren Buffett [DealBreaker]

“Billionaire Moguls Join Musk, Bezos in Race to Outer Space” by Tom Metcalf: “While technology tycoons dominate, the list also includes casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who’s backing SpaceIL — a lunar mission.”[Bloomberg]

STARTUP NATION: “After Imperva And Mobileye, Here’s What’s Next For Israeli Startups” by Peter Cohan: “What’s most interesting to me is that at least one company — run by Israel’s most prolific info sec company founder, Shlomo Kramer, is that Israel is beginning to develop enough talent in marketing and sales that his latest company is able to operate out of Israel instead of being run from Silicon Valley. Tel Aviv is the center of Israel’s startup scene even though its top talent is educated 52 miles away at Haifa’s Technion. As Edouard Cukierman, Managing Partner and Founder of Catalyst Funds, said in an August 10 interview, “When I was at the Technion, the joke was ‘What is the nicest place in Haifa? The highway to Tel Aviv.’ Entrepreneurs want to be in Tel Aviv — it’s a place of fun; whereas Haifa is a serious place for studying.””[Forbes]

MEDIA WATCH: “Digital media veteran Ross Levinsohn takes over the LA Times as it fires top editors” by Peter Kafka: “Ross Levinsohn has worked at all kinds of media companies, but he’s never managed a newspaper before. Now he’ll run a big one: He’s the new publisher and CEO of the Los Angeles Times. Levinsohn made his digital reputation by helping News Corp acquire Myspace way back in 2005, a move that kicked off a wave of digital M&A. And he tried to buy Hulu multiple times, while working for multiple organizations. In 2013, he went to work for Guggenheim Partners, which owned several media trade publications, and planned on writing big checks to bulk that group up.” [ReCode]

TOP TALKER: “Louise Linton’s Couture Draws Ire on Instagram, and She Lashes Back” by Maggie Haberman and Mikayla Bouchard: “The wife of the Treasury secretary on Monday night took a page from President Trump’s social media playbook for punching down. Louise Linton, the labels-loving wife of Steven Mnuchin, replied condescendingly to an Instagram poster about her lifestyle and belittled the woman, Jenni Miller, a mother of three from Portland, Ore., for having less money than she does. The brouhaha began when Ms. Linton posted a photograph of herself disembarking a military jet emblazoned with official government markings. She had joined her husband on a quick trip to Kentucky with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.” [NYTimes; NYPost]

TALK OF THE TOWN: Jewish congregation reflects on letter by George Washington: “An annual letter reading at the nation’s oldest synagogue in Newport took on new relevance in the aftermath of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. The letter was written nearly 230 years ago by George Washington and addressed to Newport’s Jewish community. It promised that the country would give “bigotry no sanction, no persecution no assistance.” … Former Harvard University Dean Martha Minow asked members of the congregation to stand up for their beliefs.” [AP

“Asian American doctor: White nationalist patients refused my care over race” by Kristine Phillips: “John Henning Schumann, a Jewish doctor, said he’s had encounters with patients that sometimes result in awkward conversations. “I’ve been asked point-blank by patients if I’m Jewish,” Schumann wrote last week in a column published by NPR…  Sometimes, after saying that he is Jewish, patients surprise him with their response: “Good. I always like Jewish doctors, because they’re the smart ones.” Schumann said that “positive prejudice” is better than the alternative, and he often takes the compliment.” [WashPost

BIRTHDAYS: Philanthropist and hedge fund manager, specializing in acquiring distressed debt, Paul Elliott Singer turns 73… Chairwoman of Israel’s Strauss Group, a large dairy and food company, Ofra Strauss turns 57… Emmy Award winning television news journalist, formerly the weekend anchor of CBS Evening News, Morton Dean (born Morton Dubitsky) turns 82… Former Chief of Staff to the Vice President Dick Cheney, Scooter Libbyturns 67… Portland, Oregon’s Marque Lampert Scherer turns 67… Chairman of Israel Military Industries (now know as IMI Systems), he was a member of the Knesset for the Yisrael Beiteinu party (2006-2015) and served in multiple cabinet posts, Yitzhak Aharonovich turns 67… Encino, California’s Robin Elcott turns 61… Former MLB outfielder, then investment banker, fundraiser for both Obama presidential campaigns, more recently he was the US Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa (2015-2017), Ambassador Mark Gilbert turns 61… Former investment banker who left his job to run a Los Angeles-based homeless service provider, he is now a professor at USC and a trustee of Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, Adlai W. Wertman turns 58…  Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Paul E. Singer Foundation, Deborah Hochberg… Deputy mayor of Lawrence, NY, political consultant and investor, Michael Fragin turns 44… Project coordinator for “The Conversation: Jewish In America,” an annual invitation-only gathering sponsored by The Jewish Week, Rachel Saifer Goldman… Associate Director in the Atlanta regional office of Christians United for Israel, Shari Dollinger Magnus turns 40… Joyce Fox… Margie Berkowitz

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]

Russia’s Jews will get their etrog fruits from Italy despite sanctions, says rabbi


The Italian government said that the export of Italy-grown etrog fruits to Russia will not be affected by sanctions imposed by the European Union against Moscow, Russia’s chief rabbi said.

The agreement to exempt the export of the citrus fruit, which Jewish communities use as a religious artifact during the weeklong holiday of Sukkot, from any sanctions was reached last year and applies also to the June extension of those sanctions, Rabbi Berel Lazar told JTA based on statements from a local government in Italy.

Speaking to JTA from the region of Calabria in southern Italy on Friday, Lazar said: “The local government here said that because this is a religious product, they are going to make sure no sanctions are going to be applied on the etrogim.” He added that Russia imports the etrogim as a religious article exempt from taxation.

Lazar was born in Milan to a Chabad rabbi, Moshe Lazar, who for the past 50 years has been responsible for supervising the export of etrogim in Calabria to make sure the fruit, which is easily bruised and rendered non-kosher, meets the highest standards. Berel Lazar traveled to Calabria to help his 83-year-old father with the harvest.

Followers of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement share a strong preference for the etrog grown in Calabria, where tens of thousands of etrogim are picked annually for export in orchards owned by approximately 100 farmers. Etrogim also are grown in Israel and Morocco.

Chabad communities are major engines of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union and especially in Russia. The European Union in June extended a list of sanctions on Russia, including on exports and imports, in reaction to Russia’s annexation in 2014 of Crimea, an area that is internationally recognized as belonging to Ukraine.

The prospect of sanctions is not the only challenge facing the etrog industry in Calabria. An unexpected frost this winter severely damaged the sensitive etrog trees, destroying approximately 90 percent of the crop, Moshe Lazar told JTA. The shortage means that the fruit this year, which was deemed unfit for exportm will be picked and exported as long as it is kosher, Moshe Lazar said. Even so, he added, the frost means “there won’t be enough etrogim to go around this sukkot.” This applies to Russia, too, said Berel Lazar.

The shortage has hiked up prices, with a prime Calabria etrog going for approximately $500, according to Rabbi Avraham Wolff of Odessa, Ukraine.

“We’re worried that we may not have a Calabria etrog and we’re pulling all possible strings to get at least one,” Wolff said. In previous years, his community was able to purchase five individual Calabria etrogim ahead of the holiday.

“We decided to set up a small fund for buying that Calabria etrog, no matter the price,” he said.

Immediately after sukkot, the prices of Calabria etrogim drop to about $1 a pound, Berel Lazar noted. The local population uses the fruit to make jam.

The Russia probe: Let’s wait and see


Special Counsel Robert Mueller (R) departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill. June 21, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS.

There hasn’t been this much talk about Russia in the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union. From May 17 to June 20, ABC, CBS and NBC spent 353 minutes of airtime talking about federal probes into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, according to the Media Research Center. CNN has spent an inordinate amount of time on coverage of the Russia investigation. The mainstream media seemingly break a piece a day based on leaks regarding the investigation. An ABC News/Washington Post poll from July found that 64 percent of Democrats believed that the Russians had attempted to influence the election, and that the Trump campaign had worked with the Russians to do so.

Meanwhile, President Trump travels the land calling the investigation a fraud, fulminating at special counsel Robert Mueller, and nagging his own attorney general for a perceived failure to protect him; Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity spend time nightly talking about the supposed “coup” against Trump in the press; and just 9 percent of Republicans polled say they believe the Trump campaign worked with the Russians to disrupt the election.

So, what’s driving the divide between left and right on the Russia investigation? After all, the evidence is mixed. There’s certainly evidence of an attempt to collude to impact the election from Donald Trump Jr. Last month, Trump Jr. released an email chain with publicist Rob Goldstone in which Goldstone proposed to set up a meeting with a “Russian government attorney” who would “provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. responded, “If it’s what you say, I love it.” He then dragged in campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

But an attempt to collude is not in and of itself evidence of collusion. No actual information apparently changed hands. And there’s no evidence of any follow-up. There’s also no evidence of coordination in weaponization of material acquired by Wikileaks, which has ties to Russia, from the Democratic National Committee. In fact, watching the campaign, it appeared that Wikileaks would simply dump large amounts of material and then members of the internet community would sift through it for damaging information — there didn’t seem to be any quick-response unit in the Trump campaign beating everyone else to the punch.

Furthermore, even collusion among members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government wouldn’t necessarily implicate Trump himself. Members of the Trump campaign could have been involved in bad action without telling Trump — and in fact, that’s highly likely given Trump’s penchant for uncontrollable outbursts on the national stage. If you were going to rig a complex conspiracy with the help of the Russians, would you tell the guy with the biggest mouth in the history of politics?

It’s also true that the Russian government apparently forged connections with Fusion GPS, a Democrat-linked opposition research group that came up with the infamous Trump dossier later exposed by BuzzFeed. According to Bill Browder, a financier targeted by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime, the Russian-connected lawyer who met with Trump Jr., Natalia Veselnitskaya, “hired Glenn Simpson of the firm Fusion GPS.” As Lee Smith wrote at Tablet, “Add Fusion GPS’s contracts with Russian and Russian-linked entities together with the company’s role in compiling and distributing a defamatory dossier sourced to the Kremlin, and the idea that the Trump Dossier was a Kremlin information operation becomes quite plausible.”

This scenario wouldn’t be particularly surprising.  While the CIA, NSA, FBI and the Director of National Intelligence universally agree that the Russian government attempted to meddle in the election, they differ regarding Russia’s intent: Some members of the intelligence community think Russia wanted Trump to win or simply wanted to cast doubt on election transparency.

So, here’s the story boiled down: Russia wanted to meddle in the election; it’s unclear if it wanted Trump to win, or simply to screw with Americans more generally.

So, here’s the story boiled down: Russia wanted to meddle in the election; it’s unclear if it wanted Trump to win, or simply to screw with Americans more generally; there’s evidence of willingness to collude but no hard evidence of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

But those reasonable conclusions are now being ignored by both sides. Democrats have been shrieking for months that the election was stolen. In return, Trump has seized on that wild overstatement, fixated on it, and produced his own overstatement: “The Russia story is a total fabrication. It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. It just makes them feel better when they have nothing else to talk about.” That overstatement reinforces Democratic determination to write off the Trump win as an act of thievery – he knows he cheated and now he’s lying about it!  Which, of course, prompts Republican voters to respond by stating that Democrats are exaggerating their claims, and that the current investigation is a politically motivated witch hunt.

This leads to a radical impasse: No matter what the evidence, many Democrats will now suggest that Trump must be impeached; no matter what the evidence, many Republicans will now suggest that he must not be, and that the investigation should actively be killed. No matter what happens from here, it won’t be good.

The only solution: Let’s wait for the facts to come out. Let’s make a call once we know them. Until then, let’s let President Trump do his job. 

BEN SHAPIRO is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

Daily Kickoff: Trump uses Zivotofsky case to complain re: sanctions bill | AIPAC backs Taylor Force Act | Spotted on Geffen’s yacht | Shaq vs. Cordish


President Donald Trump on Aug. 3. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

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DOWN UNDER: “Bondi synagogue ban over terrorism risk leaves Jewish community shocked and furious” by Joe Hildebrand: “A local council has banned the construction of a synagogue in Bondi because it could be a terrorist target, in a shock move that religious leaders say has caved in to Islamic extremism and created a dangerous precedent. The decision, which has rocked the longstanding Jewish community in the iconic suburb, was upheld in court this week as the nation reeled from the alleged airline terror threat and debate raged over increased security measures at airports and other public places.” [News.Au]

JEWISH JOURNAL COVER STORY: “The Temple Mount, California edition: Anti-Semitic sermons test Muslim-Jewish bonds” by Ryan Torok and Nicholas Cheng: “The July 21 remarks by Imam Mahmoud Harmoush of the Islamic Center of Riverside and Imam Ammar Shahin of the Islamic Center of Davis drew strong condemnation from Muslim and Jewish leaders, fearful that such incendiary language could erode relations. The effect was like picking at a scab on a slow-healing wound. Since the terror attacks of 9/11, American Jewish and Muslim groups have made a concerted effort to forge bonds of understanding and cooperation. Those have been nursed along despite the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, not to mention the enduring friction between Israelis and Palestinians.” [JewishJournal]

2020 WATCH: “Zuckerberg hires former Clinton pollster Joel Benenson” by Annie Karni: “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have hired Democratic pollster Joel Benenson… as a consultant… Benenson’s company, Benenson Strategy Group, will be conducting research for the Zuckerberg-Chan Initiative, the couple’s philanthropy… The hiring of Benenson is sure to fuel renew speculation that Zuckerberg is getting more serious about how he plays in the political and policy worlds. Speculation, however, maybe the beginning and the end of the Zuckerberg for President story.” [Politico

But first, Zuckerberg’s plan for fake news… “Facebook Drowns Out Fake News With More Information: Starting Thursday, when Facebook’s U.S. users come across popular links—including made-up news articles—in their feeds, they may also see a cluster of other articles on the same topic. The “related articles” feature, which will roll out widely in the U.S. after months of testing, is part of Facebook’s strategy to limit the damage of false news without censoring those posts.” [WSJ]

TOP TALKER: “H.R. McMaster Cleans House at the National-Security Council” by Rosie Gray: “Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a 31-year-old former Defense Intelligence Agency officer… was let go from the council this week… According to a senior administration official familiar with the matter, Cohen-Watnick is expected to move to another job within the administration. The official said that there had been a plan to keep Cohen-Watnick in the job until a new position was finalized, but that Cohen-Watnick was called in to a meeting with McMaster on Wednesday in which McMaster informed him he would be leaving now… A source close to Kushner said “Jared is a big fan of Ezra’s and is grateful for his contributions to the administration as part of the NSC but obviously completely defers to General McMaster on all NSC personnel decisions. He looks forward to seeing what’s next for Ezra.”” [TheAtlantic

“Inside the McMaster-Bannon War” by Michael Warren: “The national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, has removed three NSC aides loyal to Trump aide Steve Bannon in the last three weeks… For some time, Steve Bannon has been considering leaving the White House… A newly emboldened H.R. McMaster, purging Bannonites with the backing of John Kelly (and the president), could hasten his exit.” [TWS 

Far-right Israeli columnist Caroline Glick writes: “The Israel angle on McMaster’s purge of Trump loyalists from the National Security Council is that all of these people are pro-Israel and oppose the Iran nuclear deal, positions that Trump holds. McMaster in contrast is deeply hostile to Israel and to Trump. According to senior officials aware of his behavior, he constantly refers to Israel as the occupying power and insists falsely and constantly that a country named Palestine existed where Israel is located until 1948 when it was destroyed by the Jews.” [Facebook]

DRIVING THE DAY — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on the Taylor Force Act during a business meeting that began at 10:00am. The legislation would suspend aid that directly benefits the Palestinian Authority until they end payments to families of terrorists.

AIPAC backs Taylor Force Act in letter to Senators — by Aaron Magid and Jacob Kornbluh: “We urge all members of the committee to work together to move this important legislation forward and to VOTE YES to report the bill from committee,” Brad Gordon and Marvin Feuer, AIPAC’s Directors on Policy and Government Affairs, wrote in a letter to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We are hopeful that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup will produce a strong, bipartisan bill that will send a very clear message to the Palestinian Authority: Stop these payments to terrorists and their families or your assistance will be cut.”

Noah Pollak, an advocate in favor of the Taylor Force Act, said that AIPAC’s formal backing is a “welcome development and something we have been encouraging for many months. We hope that AIPAC will now put its considerable resources behind promoting the bill, even if it is not possible to earn a perfectly equal number of Republican and Democratic votes.”

Jonathan Schanzer, Senior Vice President at the Foundations for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), added, “Once this bill became bipartisan, it became easier for a wider range of groups to support it.” When informed of AIPAC’s support of the bill, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said the decision was helpful. While AIPAC’s view on the Taylor Force Act isn’t conditional for Rubio, the pro-Israel organization’s position “is influential with me,” he added.

Eugene Kontorovich, Professor of Law at Northwestern University, tells us… “For too long, some supporters of Israel have feared cutting funding to the PA because it would ‘destabilize’ a supposed peace partner. Now, hopefully, [they] all understand that continuing to fund the PA while it funds murder legitimizes their policy and keeps peace further away. The Palestinian government’s salaries for convicted terrorists is not just a reward for murder, it is murder-for-hire.” [JewishInsider

The Republican Jewish Coalition sent a letter urging Senators to reject amendments that would dilute the final bill before being sent to the Senate floor [Doc]

ON THE HILL — Senators’ Views on anti-BDS Bill Diverge — by Aaron Magid: Independent minded Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) told Jewish Insider, “I haven’t looked at the specific language, but if it bans the ability to protest, I don’t know how that could possibly be constitutional.” In contrast to Paul, Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) wholeheartedly backed the legislation, “I think it’s pro-free speech. I think it’s self-explanatory.”

But, for Democrats, criticism of the bill by progressive advocacy groups is pushing liberal lawmakers in an uncomfortable position. When Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) was asked last week by Jewish Insider about his view on the legislation, he declined to voice support or opposition. Senator Tom Udall — arguably the most progressive Senator on the Foreign Relations Committee regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — similarly declined to offer any substantive comment. “I’ve got to get briefed on the whole thing before the deal comes up,” he noted. [JewishInsider]

Video: An Israeli social media user Hen Mazzig added clips to an Al Jazeera video explaining the BDS movement and the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Twitter took down the video citing a DMCA violation. As of press time, the video is still available here [Facebook]

IN THE SPOTLIGHT… “Trump aide dismisses Statue of Liberty ‘huddled masses’ poem” by Russell Contreras: “Senior White House aide Stephen Miller told reporters the poem written by Emma Lazarus about the “huddled masses” is not part of the original Statue of Liberty… The statue was a gift from France commemorating its alliance with the United States during the American Revolution… Writers and authors later asked Emma Lazarus, a poet and descendant of Jewish immigrants, to write a sonnet to be sold at an auction to raise money for a pedestal to hold the Statue of Liberty. She wrote “The New Colossus” on Nov. 2, 1883, inspired by the plight of immigrants and refugees and her own experiences.” [AP

Fifteen minutes of defame — “White House aide blasts CNN reporter for ‘cosmopolitan bias’ in bizarre exchange” by Nolan D. McCaskill: “White House senior adviser Stephen Miller smiled as he volunteered to “take one actual last question” at Wednesday’s news briefing… He probably wishes he’d gone ahead and ceded the floor. Seven minutes later, Miller found himself apologizing to CNN’s Jim Acosta over the fiery, bizarre, combative and confusing exchange that had just ended. The dialogue culminated in the senior White House aide lobbing insults at a member of the White House press corps, prompting Acosta to note that he’d just been called “ignorant” on television. The explosive episode occurred as Miller took questions from reporters on a bill endorsed Wednesday by President Donald Trump that seeks to cut legal immigration to the United States in half.” [PoliticoWatch the full exchange here [YouTube

Brian Stelter in Reliable Sources: “Some other commentators took exception to Miller saying that Acosta, the son of a Cuban immigrant, displayed a shocking “cosmopolitan bias.” “The way Miller leaned into the word ‘cosmopolitan’ while answering Acosta has a long and ignoble history in 20th century authoritarianism, especially the anti-Semitic variety,” Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce writes.” [CNN]

“Glenn Thrush Rips Stephen Miller After Tense, ‘Scaramucci-esque’ Briefing Exchange” by Joe DePaolo: “[MSNBC] Host Nicole Wallace opined that Miller was getting mad during the exchange… “I don’t think Stephen Miller got mad,” Thrush said. “I think Stephen Miller got air time. And I think he enjoyed it immensely. He was not getting off that stage. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was standing around long enough to have charged him rent.” He added, of Miller’s performance, “It was [Anthony] Scaramucci-esque.”” [Mediaite

THE DAILY KUSHNER: “U.S. Attorney Subpoenas Kushner Cos. Over Investment-For-Visa Program” by Erica Orden, Aruna Viswanatha and Byron Tau: “The subpoena concerns at least one Jersey City, N.J., development financed in part by a federal visa program known as EB-5: twin, 66-floor commercial-and-residential towers called One Journal Square… A spokesman for the Brooklyn U.S. attorney’s office, which issued the subpoena, declined to comment… Mr. Kushner’s personal attorney said in a statement Wednesday that he had recused himself from “matters concerning the EB-5 programs.”” [WSJ]

JARED INSIDER: “The Temple Mount crisis ended Trump’s Palestinian honeymoon. The Kushner tape made things worse” by Raphael Ahren: “We’re not saying that Trump is the most pro-Israel president in history. We’re not blaming him for anything,” a senior official in the Palestinian leadership told The Times of Israel on Wednesday. “But if he wants to have a peace process, we need to know what we’re talking about.”[ToI

“His Health Crisis Made Public, Palestinian Envoy Pushes On” by Isabel Kershner: “[Saeb] Erekat said he had spoken with [Jared] Kushner “more than once” and had held at least 19 meetings since February with American officials. Among them was Jason D. Greenblatt… whom Mr. Erekat described as having good “listening skills.” Mr. Erekat said he was surprised by Mr. Kushner’s comments expressing doubt about a solution, not least because Mr. Kushner had emphasized how serious Mr. Trump was about seeking one. Mr. Erekat added that administration officials have said “many times that they are not against two states,” but they have not stated it as their position.”[NYTimes]

“Relations between Israel and Jordan have become ‘very dangerous’” by Noga Tarnopolsky: “In the eyes of many Israelis, there was something uncomfortably familiar in what was perceived as Netanyahu’s disrespect toward Abdullah. “It’s Obama all over again,” fumed a former senior Israeli diplomat… The diplomat was referring to Netanyahu’s chilly relations with former President Obama, including a 2015 address to a joint session of Congress that he delivered without coordination with the White House… “This is the result of a longtime, ongoing, obstinate policy that doesn’t even bother for the sake of appearances to be considerate to any partner, friend or foe. It is simply a continuous state of non-communication,” the former diplomat said.” [LATimes]

“Under Trump, a Hollowed-Out Force in Syria Quickly Lost C.I.A. Backing” by Mark Mazzetti, Adam Goldman and Michael Schmidt: “[President Barack Obama] changed his mind the following year, signing a presidential finding authorizing the C.I.A. to covertly arm and train small groups of rebels at bases in Jordan. The president’s reversal came in part because of intense lobbying by foreign leaders, including King Abdullah II of Jordan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who argued that the United States should take a more active role in trying to end the conflict.” [NYTimes]

COMING SOON: “Benjamin Netanyahu to speak at UN same day as Trump” by Herb Keinon: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to speak to the UN General Assembly on September 19, the same day that US President Donald Trump will make his maiden address to the world body, UN Ambassador Danny Danon said on Wednesday. Since the date for the address has just been finalized, efforts have not yet begun to arrange a meeting between the two leaders… The prime minister is expected to fly to the US a couple of days before the UN event.” [JPost

KAFE KNESSET — The Latest with Bibi — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: The news cycle continues to be dominated by Netanyahu’s criminal entanglements with various reports emerging over the past 24 hours. Last night the main TV news shows opened with a reports about Ari Harow, Bibi’s former Chief of Staff, becoming a state’s witness. According to these reports, Harow will provide details on issues that have to do with all of the ongoing investigations.

At the same time, Netanyahu received some American legal support this week, as Alan Dershowitz gave a series of interviews in which he defended the Prime Minister and accused the opposition of “using the judicial system as a political tool.” In a front page interview in Adelson’s Israel Hayom, Dershowitz addressed the similarities between the legal affairs of the Netanyahu family and the Trump family. “It is a similar tactic to spread endless accusations and hope that one of them could eventually stick. Meanwhile the news diverts the leader’s attention from what he is trying to accomplish.”

Dershowitz staunchly brushed off any criminal aspects of both Trump and Bibi, stating: “I have been teaching criminal law for 50 years, and I am very knowledgeable about all the laws, and I can not find any proof of any accusation against Trump that would be a federal offense.” Dershowitz explained that he similarly does not find any criminal signs in Bibi’s behavior: “Even if his talks with Yedioth Ahranoth happened, what is criminal about it? Every politician in history tried to reach understandings with the media … and in any case it did not happen. It was just talk. If we would bring politicians to justice based only on what they say, all the politicians in the world today would be under investigation.” Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here[JewishInsider]

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin Says We Will Care for Transgender Vets We Displace: “Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin says his department has compassion for the transgender vets whom the President is kicking out of the military. We got the Secretary Wednesday on Capitol Hill and he spoke with resolve … if anyone — transgender people included — serves in the military, they will get medical and other care for life.” [TMZ]

TEHRAN WATCH: “Rouhani Starts Second Term With Trump’s Shadow Hanging Over Tehran” by Golnar Motevalli and Ladane Nasseri: “Trump’s decision to expand non-nuclear sanctions on Iran has been a setback for [Hassan] Rouhani… The curbs have spooked major banks and hindered Iran’s oil-led economic recovery, delaying the president’s efforts to spread the benefits of his diplomacy to poorer Iranians… An uncompromising assault on the nuclear deal would have even more far-reaching consequences, said [Ali] Vaez at Crisis Group. The accord’s collapse “would shift the mainstream of Iranian politics to the right,” forcing Rouhani and his chief ally — Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — to adopt a more confrontational approach, he said.” [Bloomberg

“Trump signs what he calls ‘seriously flawed’ bill imposing new sanctions on Russia” by Abby Phillip: “Trump noted that he supported tough measures to punish the three regimes (Russia, Iran and N. Korea), and said that he will honor the review period prescribed in the bill. But in a potential warning to lawmakers that he might not observe those parts of the law, Trump added that he would “give careful and respectful consideration” to other provisions that direct the administration to undertake diplomatic initiatives.” [WashPost

“Like other presidents, Trump signs a bill with his fingers crossed” by Michael McGough: “Even as he approved the legislation, Trump insisted on issuing a “signing statement” registering constitutional objections to parts of it. For example, he asserted that two sections of the bill “purport to displace the president’s exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments, including their territorial bounds, in conflict with the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Zivotofsky vs. Kerry.” The sections the president objects to state that the United States doesn’t recognize the acquisition of various territories by force or the Russian annexation of Crimea. Trump says he doesn’t disagree with those statements as policy, but he notes, absolutely correctly, that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution gives the president, not Congress, the power to recognize foreign governments.”

“That was the holding in the 2015 case of Zivotofsky vs. Kerry.Zivotofsky was Menachem Zivotofsky, an American boy born in Jerusalem in 2002, whose parents wanted the State Department to list his place of birth on his passport as “Israel.” The State Department refused, despite a law passed by Congress ordering it to do so at the request of a citizen born in those circumstances. The justices ruled for the State Department, holding that the Constitution’s text and structure grant the president the power to recognize foreign nations and governments. And no president has yet recognized Jerusalem as part of Israel.” [LATimes] • Trump’s Signing Statement on the Russia Sanctions Bill, Explained [NYTimes]

** Good Thursday 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: Ari Emanuel’s WME-IMG Takes on Another $1.1 Billion in Outside Money [HollywoodReporter] • David Rubenstein’s Carlyle Group has no plans to increase its $100B fundraising target, despite investor demand [BizJournals; Bloomberg] • James Packer rejoins Crown Resorts board[TheAustralian] • Take a rare look at the enormous mansions hidden behind the Hamptons’ famously high hedges [BusinessInsider]

“Saint-Tropez gets sinking feeling as luxury yacht owners ditch the ‘billionaires’ harbour'” — “St-Tropez officials are lamenting the sinking number of yachts that have berthed at the glittering French Riviera resort’s marina this year. They say that revenue at the iconic marina has fallen 30 percent since the start of 2017; luxury yacht owners are instead choosing destinations like Spain or Italy, where berthing fees, fuel and crew costs are lower. While many more superyachts appear to be sailing around Italy and Greece, many are still docking in St-Tropez, according to official marine sites. Roman Abramovich’s Eclipse, which is 533 feet and too large for any marina, is moored off the Cap d’Antibes.” [NYPost; Telegraph]

–David Geffen posts a pic from his 454-foot luxury yacht Rising Sun near Sicily: “Michael Hess, Dasha Zhukova and me taken by Bob Iger on Rising Sun.” [Instagram

REMEMBERING: “Jeff Brotman, Founder of Retail Juggernaut Costco, Dies at 74” by Sam Roberts: “Jeff Brotman, a founder of Costco, which became one of the world’s largest retailers… died on Tuesday in Medina, Wash… Jeffrey Hart Brotman, a grandson of Jewish immigrants from Romania, was born on Sept. 27, 1942, in Tacoma, Wash., to Pearl and Bernard Brotman… Mr. Brotman also drew attention as a campaign fund-raiser for Democratic candidates and, with his wife, as a philanthropist whose beneficiaries included the University of Washington and the Seattle Art Museum.” [NYTimes

MEDIA WATCH: Reporter says ‘state run Russian propaganda outlet’ pushed him to cover Seth Rich conspiracy theory — by Hunter Walker: “[Andrew] Feinberg alleged Sputnik wanted him to bring up a news article that’s at the center of the lawsuit in the White House press briefing room… “It was, ‘We want you to ask about Seth Rich and just, you know, ask about the case and if it those revelations should put an end to the Russia hacking narrative and the investigation,” said Feinberg. According to Feinberg, his bosses handed him a termination letter when he declined. He described the situation as “disturbing.” “It’s really telling that the White House is pushing the same narrative as a state run Russian propaganda outlet,” Feinberg said.”[YahooNews• Confusion, anger inside Fox News over lack of answers in network’s Seth Rich probe [CNNMoney

“A Mossad Show Heavy on Spycraft Recounts Eichmann’s Capture” by Jason Farago: “Eichmann’s abduction in Argentina and prosecution in Israel are the subject of “Operation Finale: The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann,” a new exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan. The show goes longer on spy thrills than on moral and legal perplexities, though that may have been inevitable given its co-organizer: none other than the Mossad, the intelligence service that is Israel’s equivalent of the C.I.A.” [NYTimes]

BOOK REVIEW: “Mahmoud Abbas: Negotiator Turned Autocrat” by Adam Rubenstein: “The success of this book (“The Last Palestinian: The Rise and Reign of Mahmoud Abbas”) rests in its ability to analyze Mr. Abbas not only as a diplomatic figure but also as a politician with his own domestic concerns. Too often, writing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its key players denies readers insight into domestic Palestinian affairs. Not here. Messrs. [Grant] Rumley and [Amir] Tibon treat readers to their combined expertise and understanding of internal Palestinian politics. Mr. Abbas’s story, as they argue, is a tragic one. He appeared to be the man with the greatest political potential on the Palestinian side to make peace with his neighbors. Instead, he has turned into a power-consolidating silencer of dissent who eulogizes some of the more contemptible impulses of Palestinian nationalism.”[WSJ

TALK OF OUR NATION: Daniel Shapiro writes… Israel and American Jewry: Stepping Back from the Brink: “The crisis over the Kotel and the conversion bill took many Israeli political leaders by surprise, which itself is evidence of a deep disconnect between Israeli leaders attuned to Israeli voters, and the attitudes of American Jewish leaders and activists. Anyone who spends time these days in American Jewish communities cannot fail to take notice of the anger, disgust, and feelings of personal betrayal.”[INSS

“The Jewish People in 2017: Fault Lines, Threats, and Opportunities” by Shalom Lipner: “The prism through which [Trump] views the Jewish community—reflected by the comparatively hawkish Orthodox faction that backed him, and to which his daughter, son-in-law, and even ambassador to Israel belong—is one that sees Israel as a bulwark against Islamist extremism and upholds (at least in principle) its essential right to settle the Jewish homeland. This complicated calculus has generated the following equation: The governments of Israel and America, together with a plurality of Israelis, appear ideologically aligned behind current Israeli policy toward the peace process. At the same time, sitting on the other side of the scale are many American Jews whose personal belief systems are antithetical to those of Trump, Netanyahu, and the majority of the Israeli electorate.” [Tandfonline

TALK OF THE TOWN: “New York congregation owns oldest U.S. synagogue, court rules” by Chris Kenning: “A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that a New York Jewish congregation is the rightful owner of the nation’s oldest synagogue, in Rhode Island, along with a set of bells worth millions. The decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston marks the latest turn in a long-running legal battle that began when members of the Touro Synagogue in Newport tried to sell a set of ritual bells, called rimonim, worth some $7.4 million. New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel attempted to block the deal, citing an 18th century agreement that named it a trustee.” [Reuters]

“Menashe Is a Moving Drama of Hasidic Life” by David Sims: “Though Menashe (played by Menashe Lustig) is quite a relatable ne’er-do-well, his story is set in Hasidic Jewish Brooklyn, one of America’s most insular communities… But Menashe is wise not to be preachy, or to make sweeping judgments about Hasidic life. Weinstein’s workmanlike camera style allows him to act as a bystander who has gotten closer to a world that’s still sealed-off (the director struggled to convince Hasidic actors to participate in the project). In grounding the story in a particular personality, and the familiar connection between a father and son, Weinstein has created a subtly powerful work of human drama, driven by the charismatic, if frustrating, man at its center. Menashe bodes well for Weinstein’s future as a storyteller; it succeeds at taking older cinematic traditions of everyday storytelling and using them to help illuminate a world most viewers know little about.” [TheAtlantic

SPORTS BLINK: “Shaquille O’Neal to battle Maryland casino owner David Cordish in free-throw contest” by Callie Caplan: “Have you ever wanted to watch an NBA Hall of Famer battle a casino owner in a free throw competition?… Shaquille O’Neal will be in Hanover on Thursday evening to do just that against Live! Casino owner David Cordish…. Aside from having 20 seasons of NBA experience and a 7-foot-1, 325-pound stature, he likely has confidence facing a 77-year-old better known for his Baltimore-based real estate and entertainment company than sinking foul shots. But don’t count Cordish out.” [BaltimoreSun

DESSERT: “Catskills’ Culinary Revival Lures Newcomers” by Charles Passy: “For generations, many New Yorkers referred to the Catskills as the Borscht Belt, a nod to the Jewish resorts that once dominated the upstate region and were likely to feature the Eastern European beet soup on their menus. These days, the beets that one comes across at Catskills restaurants are likely to be of the heirloom variety and served in gourmet-minded preparations—say, a salad with shaved and roasted beets in an apple-cider vinaigrette.” [WSJ]

BIRTHDAYS: Retired Head Coach of both the NFL’s KC Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills, member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Marv Levy turns 92… English actor, author, playwright and theatre director, known for his roles as the villain in both James Bond and Rambo films, Steven Berkoff turns 80… Prominent Sephardic rabbi and rosh yeshiva in Tel Aviv, he was a member of the Knesset for the Shas party (1992-1996) and served as Deputy Minister of Education and Culture, Rabbi Moshe Maya turns 79… EVP of the UJA-Federation of New York (1993-2015), Vice Chancellor of JTS (1985-1993) and Education Director at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA (1980-1985), John S. Ruskay turns 71… Chairman and CEO of NYC-based commercial real estate brokerage firm Savills Studley, Mitchell S. Steir turns 62… Board Member of both the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and the LA Museum of Contemporary Art, Orna Amir Wolens turns 56… Political journalist, a Rhodes Scholar and Editor-in-Chief of Slate Group, Jacob Weisberg turns 53… Russian-born Canadian entrepreneur, he is the lead developer of the 65-story Trump International Hotel in Toronto and President of the Jewish Russian Community Centre of Ontario, Alexander Shnaider turns 49… Member of the New York Daily News editorial board and the paper’s opinion editor, Josh Greenman turns 44… National Security Advisor in the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, previously senior policy advisor to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Jeffrey A. Dressler turns 33… Carrie Keller-Lynn turns 30… Program Officer at The Natan Fund, Adina Poupko… Director of community engagement for the New York region of the Anti-Defamation League, Erica Greenblatt… Former aide to Senator Schumer, then senior adviser to President Clinton at the White House and thereafter, now President of DC-based Freedman Consulting, LLC, Thomas Z. Freedman… Ariana Kaufman

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]

‘Icarus’ director points camera at doping scientist, international intrigue


“Icarus” filmmaker Bryan Fogel runs through tests before his race through the French Alps. Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Before Bryan Fogel embarked upon his debut documentary, “Icarus,” which revolves around Russia’s Olympic doping program, he was “desperate to not be the ‘Jewtopia’ guy.”

Fogel, 43, who grew up “Conservadox” in Denver, co-created “Jewtopia,” a comic play about a Jewish man who dislikes Jewish women and a non-Jew who wants to marry one. The play opened at the Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood in 2003 and became a hit. An off-Broadway production several years later enjoyed an often sold-out, three-and-a-half-year run. A “Jewtopia” coffee table book was published by Warner and dozens of “Jewtopia” plays were produced throughout North America.

But Fogel said that directing the 2013 movie version proved to be a “toxic experience” for him. The film was only briefly released in theaters and received poor reviews. Instead of launching his TV- and film-directing career, as he had hoped, “I came out of the film just completely beaten and really emotionally broken,” Fogel said. “I was really in a funk and a bit of a depression.”

As therapy, Fogel turned to his lifelong hobby of competitive cycling, a sport he avoided after a bike crash knocked out several of his teeth in a race when he was 19.

Then, in early 2013, one of Fogel’s cycling heroes, Lance Armstrong, admitted publicly that he had used banned performance-enhancing drugs throughout his winning of seven Tour de France titles, all the while evading detection. “So, I was going, ‘Wait, you tested him 500 times and you never caught him?’ ” Fogel recalled. “ ‘Like, are you kidding?’  So, I’m going, not ‘What’s wrong with Lance?’ [but rather] ‘What’s wrong with this bull—- system?’ ”

So, Fogel got the idea to film a documentary in which he would take the drugs, enter a major amateur cycling competition and see if he could beat the urine testing required by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

To do so, he sought out an expert to advise him on which drugs to take. One Los Angeles scientist declined Fogel’s request but recommended that he contact Grigory Rodchenkov, director of the WADA-approved antidoping lab in Moscow. The documentary chronicles how Rodchenkov eventually outlined Fogel’s doping regimen, even traveling to Los Angeles to smuggle the filmmaker’s urine back to his lab for testing. “All the labs in the world will be confused by your piss,” he gleefully tells Fogel.

The filmmaker goes on to evade detection as he competes in a grueling amateur cycling race through the French Alps.

Along the way, Fogel and Rodchenkov become good friends. But one day, Rodchenkov surprises Fogel by suggesting he view a 2014 German television documentary that features him in an exposé of Russian doping.

“I watched this thing and I went, ‘Holy s—,” Fogel said.

In November 2015, WADA published a report alleging Rodchenkov was the brains behind Russia’s Olympic cheating program.

In a Skype video call included in the documentary, the Russian scientist reveals to Fogel that he fears he might be assassinated for his allegations of a state-sponsored doping program. “I need to escape,” he says. Fogel promptly buys Rodchenkov an airplane ticket to Los Angeles — a round-trip ticket to avoid suspicion — and arranges for him to stay in a series of three safe houses in 2015 and 2016. “I felt a tremendous burden to protect him,” Fogel said.

Rodchenkov says he has wiped his laboratory computer clean but possesses three hard drives with thousands of incriminating documents. The filmmakers helped him hide the hard drives around Los Angeles, but the drives eventually were turned over to the FBI, the Justice Department and WADA, Fogel said.

Soon after fleeing to Los Angeles, Rodchenkov learns that two of his colleagues in the doping scheme died under mysterious circumstances in Russia. He is distraught and frightened by the news, as is Fogel. 

In the film, he tells Fogel meticulous details of how he and others arranged to thwart detection of doping at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia — cloak-and-dagger methods that included secretly swapping out dirty urine samples with clean ones.

Meanwhile, the FBI and U.S. Justice Department may want Rodchenkov to serve as a possible witness in their investigation of the Russian doping allegations, although Fogel is unclear about what the agencies’ goals are for investigating a case that involves another country.

Further into the film, Fogel helps the Russian scientist find attorneys and persuades him to go public with his knowledge, for safety reasons, by providing details to The New York Times. The Times runs a front-page story on Rodchenkov in May 2016. Thereafter, Rodchenkov says his relatives in Moscow have been interrogated, their passports seized and the family’s assets confiscated. Russian authorities also have instigated criminal charges against him.

 

In the film, we see Fogel representing Rodchenkov at a gathering of top WADA officials who want to know what the lab director did. “Is he sorry?” an angry scientist asks Fogel at the meeting. The filmmaker replies that Rodchenkov risked his life to reveal his documents, left his wife and children and all his belongings behind in Russia, and is now committed to telling the truth.

Meanwhile, Russian leaders deny — as they do now — that the state sponsored the doping project and insist that Rodchenkov was a lone wolf. Russian news media also run a number of stories on the scientist’s friendship with Fogel. “All the claims against the government, he did himself,” the Kremlin’s minister of sports says in a clip from a top Russian TV news show.

In July 2016, Rodchenkov went into protective custody with the FBI and the Department of Justice, which may use him as a witness or even prosecute him in their ongoing investigation, Fogel said. He added that he hasn’t seen or spoken to Rodchenkov in a year but has learned through the scientist’s attorney that Rodchenkov is OK, currently residing in an undisclosed location for his safety.

“Icarus” was well received at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. But a feature story in the Los Angeles Times suggested that Fogel portrayed the flawed scientist strictly as a hero — an interpretation Fogal disagrees with.

“I see him as a very, very complicated person because he’s lived a very, very complicated life,” Fogel told the Journal. “I think it’s easy from a Western perspective to go into the very simple good/bad, right/wrong point of view. But from a Russian perspective, from Grigory’s perspective, this was a guy who was born into the system … [and] the entire system was always doping and trying to avoid detection.”

Why did Rodchenkov offer Fogel intimate information about his conspiracies on camera? He did so not only to save himself from potential Russian retribution, he wanted to come clean, the filmmaker said.

“He had had enough,” Fogel said. “He no longer wanted to live with this information.”

“Icarus” opens in Los Angeles theaters on Aug. 4 and is available on Netflix.

Jared Kushner says Russia charges ‘ridicule’ Trump voters


Jared Kushner reading a statement at the White House after testifying behind closed doors to the Senate Intelligence Committee, July 24, 2017. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

In a rare public statement, Jared Kushner insisted he did not collude with Russia and said the query into suspicions of a relationship between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign “ridiculed” Trump voters.

“Let me very clear, I did not collude with Russia, nor did I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so,” Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top aide, said Monday, reading a prepared statement after appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed session.

Kushner is in the spotlight because of revelations in recent weeks that he attended a June 9, 2016, meeting organized by his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr., who took the meeting believing it would be with a Russian government lawyer who had compromising intelligence on Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton. Also under review are reports that Kushner’s family real estate business, reportedly like his father-in-law’s, owes money to Russian lenders.

“I had no improper contacts,” he said. “I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses and I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information.”

Kushner suggested the investigation was a means of undercutting Trump’s election.

“Donald Trump had a better message and ran a smarter campaign, and that is why he won,” Kushner said. “Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him.”

The Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence all have determined that Russian spies interfered in the presidential election. Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III is leading a probe to examine whether any of the president’s advisers aided Russia’s campaign to disrupt the election.

Kushner said he remained committed to his work, citing among his many assignments bringing peace to the Middle East.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to work on important matters such as Middle East peace and reinvigorating America’s innovative spirit,” he said.

Will Pence pardon Trump?


Vice President Mike Pence in Providence, Rhode Island, on July 14. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

“Thank you, Mr. President,” Vice President Mike Pence tweeted on July 15, celebrating the one-year anniversary of candidate Donald Trump naming him to the 2016 ticket. Will ex-president Trump get to say the same thing to Pence when the new president pardons him?

Despite the “I love it” salivated by Donald Trump Jr. at the prospect of Kremlin help with the campaign, his father’s impeachment still is a long shot. Unless Democrats retake Congress in 2018, the chance that elected Republicans will admit they’ve been enabling a “liar” and “idiot” — words that polled Americans call Trump — are just about nil. But I give even odds to Trump’s resigning “for health reasons.”

He’ll never admit to any of the crimes that congressional committees or special counsel Robert Mueller may fillet him for, and even if he fires Mueller, no amount of incriminating evidence uncovered by investigative journalists will awaken our man-baby-in-chief to grown-up skills like telling true from false, reality from delusion and news from Fox News.

But bullies like Trump are cowards at heart. However appealing he finds sliming his prosecutors like a stressed hagfish, the thought of running away to spend more time with his 9-iron might prove irresistible. Would Pence trade the Oval Office for Trump’s holding his resignation hostage to a pardon?

Pence could use the same reason Gerald Ford gave for pardoning Richard Nixon in 1974: To write the ending of a nightmarish chapter in our history. When Ford lost the 1976 presidential election, he believed it was the pardon that doomed him, and most historians agree. You can imagine Pence wondering the same thing about his own fate in 2020.

Pence, though, may not have a choice. Trump has the goods on him.

Trump knows Pence lied when he claimed to be in the dark about the footsie former national security adviser Mike Flynn was playing with the Russians, the Turks and who knows who else. Trump also knows Pence knew how deep in the tank were Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Trump Jr. (and Ivanka? Steve Bannon? Bueller?) with Russian hackers, oligarchs and Vladimir Putin himself. As Trump might put it, many people are saying that Pence is either “lying or wildly incompetent,” or “either a sucker and a dupe” or a liar. Trump knows it’s all of the above, leaving Pence no alternative to paying the ransom of a pardon.

I have to believe that Pence’s political rise, like Sarah Palin’s, has been powered at least in part by his looks. If Pence, a right-wing talk radio host for an Indiana station, had looked like Rush Limbaugh or Alex Jones, he might never have made it to Congress. In the 2016 vice presidential debate, Pence lied through his teeth, claiming Trump never had uttered the falsehoods Tim Kaine quoted. If Pence didn’t look like central casting’s idea of Midwestern rectitude, he would have been laughed off the stage. In May, at the U.S. Naval Academy graduation, Pence said the most important quality of leadership is being humble, a point he made again July 12 to high school students attending the National Student Leadership Conference at American University, where he went on, with no irony, to cite Donald Trump as a paragon of that very humility. Really. He actually said that. He invoked Trump to illustrate other leadership virtues, too: integrity (!), self-control (!!) and respect for authority (?). How did Pence get away with it? Tonsorial integrity, I’d venture — the proxy for honesty that his headful of snowy white hair absurdly confers on the blatant bull that comes out of his mouth.

Pence’s current priority, selling Mitch McConnell’s health care bill to wavering senators, isn’t going very well. The damage he did to his credibility by lying about Flynn, Russia and why Trump fired FBI Director James Comey is an anvil around his neck. His approval ratings, at plus-11 as recently as March, have fallen, like Trump’s, to all-time lows. No wonder he bombed at the National Governors Association’s meeting on July 14. When he lied about Medicaid — he said its expansion under the Affordable Care Act hurt developmentally disabled Americans and put “far too many able-bodied adults” on the program — he was nailed not by a Democrat, but by the Republican governor of Ohio, John Kasich. Pence also scored zero points with three other Republican governors whose states expanded Medicaid: Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Doug Ducey of Arizona and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas. When Republican senators from those states vote on McConnell’s bill, they’ll take their lead from their governors, not from Pence.

If you’re dreaming of an abbreviated Trump administration, you need to reconcile yourself not only to a Pence presidency, but also to a Pence pardon. That would make Trump even more insufferable, but as many people are saying, at least Pence would be a normal Republican. You know, the garden variety Republican who wants to kill Planned Parenthood and end gay marriage, who calls global warming a myth and “longs for the day that Roe v. Wade is sent to the ash heap of history.”

We have to keep reminding ourselves not to get used to Trump, that he’s not normal. Pence may be normal, but so is poison ivy.


Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

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