Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Jewish pianist Mikhail Klein collapses, dies on stage


(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.

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

Ukraine arrests three alleged terrorists accused of targeting Jews in Uman


(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.

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

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


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.”

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.

5777: Coping with a year of rage


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.

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 Trump lawyers reportedly recommended Kushner step down over Russia scandal


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.

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


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.

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

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


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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.

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.

The Russia probe: Let’s wait and see


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.”

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

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


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

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


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 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.

Jared Kushner says Russia charges ‘ridicule’ Trump voters


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.

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

Will Pence pardon Trump?


“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.

Jared Kushner at a luncheon with President Mauricio Macri of Argentina at the White House on April 27. Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Trump-Russia investigation turns to Jared Kushner’s work on the 2016 presidential campaign


Federal investigators are looking into whether the Trump campaign’s digital efforts, which were led by Jared Kushner, aided Russia’s cyber attacks on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Members of the Justice Department and both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees believe the Trump campaign may have steered Russian cyber operatives to target voters in key states and voting precincts, McClatchy reported Wednesday.

Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and Jewish son-in-law, oversaw the Trump campaign’s successful digital operation throughout 2016.

The U.S. intelligence community widely believes that Russians hacked into the email accounts of multiple top Democrats and leaked thousands of their messages through WikiLeaks. Investigators are now scrutinizing whether Trump’s team helped the Russian hackers deliver fake news stories about Clinton — a notable one claimed she ran a pedophile ring at a Washington pizzeria — to voters at critical times during the campaign.

One unnamed source with knowledge of the probe said it was unlikely that Russian operatives would have known “where to specifically target” key voters.

Kushner has also come under fire in recent days for being implicated in a previously undisclosed meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya that The New York Times unearthed Saturday. Trump Jr. released a series of emails about the meeting in which he said he would “love” to learn of information that could have harmed the Clinton campaign.

Some Democratic senators are pushing for Kushner to give up his White House security clearance, the Guardian reported.

“Given the nature of the meeting, it stretches credibility to say he simply forgot it when he initially filled out his forms,” said Norm Eisen, President Barack Obama’s former ethics czar. “That puts him on the hook for false statements liability, possibly. At any rate, it increases his exposure.

“The pattern of omission by Mr. Kushner and others in Donald Trump’s circle of their Russia connections increasingly points to a consciousness of guilt.”

Activist Linda Sarsour in New York City on June 29. Photo by Joe Penney/Reuters

How the Dems can lose 2018


Last week, the Democrats released a new bumper sticker for their 2018 Congressional campaign: “I mean, have you seen the other guys?”

It’s not a bad political notion so far as it goes — opposition in politics is an effective tool, as Democrats learned from Republicans, who campaigned against Obamacare and Democratic spending policies to the tune of 1,000 state legislature seats, 12 governorships (including in states such as Michigan and Massachusetts), 10 Senate seats and 63 House seats. Now Democrats hope to reverse the math.

But there’s something else going on here, too. Democrats hope that campaigning as #TheResistance will suffice to prevent voters from looking too hard at their own moral and political shortcomings. That’s because for all the talk by Democrats about Republican extremism, Republicans actually have moved closer to the center on policy, while Democrats have embraced an ugly combination of Bernie Sanders-style socialism and college campus-style intersectionality.

Leave aside the boorish antics of President Donald Trump and the incompetence of Congressional Republicans. Here is the fact: Trump is the most moderate Republican president since Richard Nixon. He has successfully passed almost no major policy in seven months. His foreign policy on North Korea and Syria is barely distinguishable from former President Barack Obama’s. His approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been praised by Palestinians and former Obama officials. He’s the most pro-LGBT Republican in presidential history; his stance on abortion has been vague; his White House chief strategist has openly embraced higher taxes on upper-income earners, as well as a massive infrastructure spending program; he has embraced the central premises of Obamacare. Trump may act in ridiculous ways that defy rationality — his Twitter feed is littered with stupidity and aggression, of course — but on policy, Trump is closer to Bill Clinton of 1997 than President Obama was.

Democrats, meanwhile, are moving hard to the left. When former Clinton adviser Mark Penn wrote an op-ed for The New York Times calling for Democrats to move back to the center, he was roundly excoriated by the leading thinkers in the Democratic Party. He was an emissary of the past; he had to embrace the new vision of the leftist future. That leftist future involved radical tax increases, fully nationalized health care, and — most of all — the divisive politics of intersectionality. Sens. Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) may own the policy side of the Democratic coalition, but the heart of the Democratic coalition lies in polarization by race, sex and sexual orientation. Forget a cohesive national message that appeals to Americans regardless of tribal identity: The new Democratic Party cares only about uniting disparate identity factions under the banner of opposing Republicanism.

The clearest evidence for that alliance of convenience came earlier this month, when Democratic darling and Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour was caught on tape promoting “jihad” against Trump. Sarsour said that the sort of “jihad” she liked was “a word of truth in front of a tyrant or leader.” But she deliberately used the word “jihad” because of its ambiguity, not in spite of it: Sarsour has stated that pro-Israel women cannot be feminists; she supports the imposition of “Shariah law” in Muslim countries; she has stated of dissident and female genital mutilation victim Ayaan Hirsi Ali that she wishes she could take her “vagina away”; she has long associated with the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood; she opened her “jihad” speech by thanking Siraj Wajjah, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who has repeatedly advocated for a violent form of “jihad.”

Democrats hope that campaigning as #TheResistance will suffice to prevent voters from looking too hard at their own moral and political shortcomings.

Democrats rushed to her defense nonetheless, hoping to preserve the intersectional concerns that animate their base. Never mind that Sarsour is no ally to LGBT rights, or that she blames “Zionists” for her problems. She represents an important constituency for Democrats, and so she must be protected. More than that, she speaks anti-Trumpese fluently, and thus is an important figure for Democrats.

This isn’t rare on the left anymore. Much of the Democratic establishment supported Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a longtime Nation of Islam acolyte who spent years defending that group’s most extreme anti-Semitic rhetoric — a man so radical that he openly associated with the Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which recently labeled Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) an “Israel Firster.”

Even as the Democratic Party embraced Sarsour and defended her ambiguous use of the word “jihad” — after all, she was opposing Trump the Impaler — leftist spokespeople rushed to microphones to denounce President Trump’s speech in Poland, in which he called for a defense of “the West” and “our civilization.” Leftist columnist Peter Beinart labeled the speech racist. As Jonah Goldberg of National Review points out, we now have a Democratic Party that spends its time defending the use of the word “jihad” against the president but labeling the phrase “the West” a problem.

Bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see how it works out.

And so Democrats must focus on President Trump. They must hope that he smacks himself in the face with a frying pan. They must bank on some sort of Trump-Russia collusion revelation. They must pray that the focus stays on Republicans rather than turning back to Democrats. After all, Sanders-Sarsour doesn’t sound like a winning combination.


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.”

Rob Goldstone. Screenshot from Twitter

Meet the Jew behind Donald Trump Jr.’s Kremlin backchannel


The man behind Donald Trump Jr.’s Kremlin connection is a British-born Jewish publicist who once worked as a reporter for a Jewish newspaper.

Rob Goldstone confirmed July 10 to The Washington Post that he had an exchange of emails with the son of then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016 to organize a meeting with Kremlin lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York.

“The lawyer had apparently stated she had some information regarding illegal campaign contributions to the [Democratic National Committee] which she believed Mr. Trump Jr. might find important,” Goldstone said in a statement to the Post.

The emails, first reported by The New York Times, have fueled speculation that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Goldstone was born in Manchester, England, and attended a Jewish day school there, according to the Manchester-based Jewish Telegraph newspaper. His father, Isaac Goldstone, helped found the Hillock Hebrew Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue, according to the paper. The younger Goldstone went on to work briefly as a sports reporter for the Jewish Gazette and later as a music journalist before launching a career as a music publicist.

One of his clients is Emin Agalarov, an Azerbaijani pop star and the son of real estate magnate Aras Agalarov, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The elder Trump once appeared in a music video for the Azerbaijani singer.

Goldstone worked with Donald Trump on the Miss Universe pageant that Trump’s organization held in Russia, and appears to have become a link in backchannel communications between the Kremlin and the Republican presidential campaign.

“Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting,” Goldstone wrote in an email to Trump Jr. on July 3, 2016. “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate [Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton] and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

Though the meeting eventually took place, Goldstone told The Washington Post that little came of it.

That hasn’t stopped anti-Semitic trolls on the web from targeting the publicist for his heritage. Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website that strongly favors Trump, posted about Goldstone’s background hours after The Washington Post report, calling the story “fake news.”

Emin Agalarov, who goes by the stage name Emin, performed at The Wiltern theater in Los Angeles in May.

Alan Futerfas. Photo from the Law Offices of Alan Futerfas

Alan Futerfas: 4 things to know about Donald Trump Jr.’s Jewish lawyer


There’s another Jewish lawyer representing the Trump family.

Donald Trump Jr. has hired New York-based attorney Alan Futerfas to represent him in investigations about Russia-related contacts and election meddling, Reuters reported on Monday. The news came a day after The New York Times reported that Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer who had connections to the country’s government during the 2016 campaign after being promised he would receive compromising information about his father’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton

Futerfas joins a team of Jewish lawyers who have worked for the Trump family, including Jason Greenblatt, who now serves as the president’s special envoy to the Middle East; David Friedman, who serves as ambassador to Israel, and Marc Kasowitz, who is defending the president in an investigation into his Russia ties.

Here’s what you need to know about Futerfas.

He has his own law firm in New York

Futerfas has over 25 years of experience in traditional criminal defense, white collar cases and financial fraud including winning an appeal in front of the Supreme Court, according to his firm’s website. The New York Daily News puts it a little less delicately, writing that in addition to white collar defendants, Futerfas represents “mobsters.” Futerfas earned his law degree from Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law in 1987.

He plays the bass trombone

Futerfas graduated from The Julliard School in 1984 and plays the bass trombone in the prestigious Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, an amateur orchestra whose performances have been described as being on the level of a professional ensemble. The orchestra won the American Prize in Orchestral Performance three times, 2011-2013.

He is Jewishly involved

Futerfas has been involved in B’nai Jeshurun, an influential nondenominational synagogue in New York City, which listed him as a member in 2010. It is not clear if Futerfas is still involved with B’nai Jeshurun — another Upper West Side synagogue, the modern Orthodox Jewish Center, listed him and his wife Bettina Schein as new members in 2015. Futerfas also served on the committee for a 2015 Hanukkah party organized by Chabad at Cardozo School of Law.

He represented a Russian computer malware creator

In 2016, Futerfas represented Nikita Kuzmin, a Russian man who created a computer malware that stole millions of dollars from bank accounts. Kuzmin was jailed for 37 months but Futerfas helped him avoid further imprisonment; instead he was ordered to pay close to $7 millions to the victims.

President Donald Trump in Iowa on June 21. Photo by Scott Morgan/Reuters

Israel and Russia only countries to view Trump more favorably than Obama, poll shows


Israel and Russia were the only two countries to have a more favorable view of President Donald Trump than his predecessor, Barack Obama, at the end of his time in office, a survey found.

The annual survey by the Pew Research Center on America’s image abroad also found that some 81 percent of Israelis have a positive view of the United States under Trump, compared with a median of 58 percent, according to the results released Tuesday.

Some 40,447 respondents in 37 countries outside the United States answered the survey from Feb. 16 to May 8.

Israel’s favorability rating of the United States has held steady over the past several surveys, including 81 percent in 2015, 84 percent in 2014, and 83 percent in 2013. In 2009, the rating was at 71 percent, the lowest since the survey was started 15 years ago.

In Russia, 41 percent have a favorable view of the United States under Trump, compared with 15 percent under Obama.

Israelis’ confidence in Trump was measured at 56 percent, compared to 49 percent for Obama at the end of his second four-year term. But the median showed 22 percent confidence in Trump and 64 percent in Obama.

The survey also found that 69 percent of Israelis surveyed said they considered Trump to be a strong leader, compared to a median of 55 percent. Some 54 percent of Israelis said Trump is well qualified to serve as president; the median was 26 percent.

Considering the border wall with Mexico, 42 percent of Israelis supported Trump’s idea, compared with 24 percent from all countries surveyed. On Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, 69 percent of Israelis were opposed, comparing to the 71 percent of the other countries surveyed.

“The sharp decline in how much global publics trust the U.S. president on the world stage is especially pronounced among some of America’s closest allies in Europe and Asia, as well as neighboring Mexico and Canada,” according to the survey.

Among close U.S. allies, in Germany, the favorability ranking for the U.S. has dropped to 11 percent under Trump from 86 under Obama; in France, 14 percent from 84 percent, and in Canada, 22 percent from 83 percent. Sweden saw a drop to 10 percent from 93 percent.

Among Middle East countries, the U.S. did not fare particularly well under either president, but again there was more confidence in Obama. Some numbers: Turkey 11 percent for Trump, 45 for Obama; Jordan, 5 percent and 14 percent, and Lebanon, 11 percent and 36 percent.

Many countries that have had poor relations with the U.S. over many years were not among those questioned, such as Syria and Iraq.

Jared Kushner in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. Photo by Saul Loeb/Reuters

Jared Kushner speaks — and the internet is obsessed


Jared Kushner has given his first public speech since he became senior aide in charge of everything for President Donald Trump.

And it was about as bland, scripted and New Jersey inflected as we expected.

Kushner’s speech Monday kicked off Technology Week at the White House — it presumably doesn’t focus on how to set up backchannel communications with Russia. Instead, Kushner gave a seven-minute address on improving government efficiencythat included plenty of buzzy words like “bureaucracy,” “forms,” “cloud,” “interagency” and “optimization.”

“Together we have set ambitious goals and assembled interagency teams to tackle our objectives,” he said. “It’s working and it’s very exciting.”

It was not very exciting. It was supposed to be a boring speech, and it was. But because Kushner said it out loud — with Jersey vowels (“awwditing”) in a nasal, midrange voice — the internet is obsessed.

The obsession with Kushner’s voice — or, more to the point, the absence of his voice — is an avatar for his overall mysteriousness. As John Oliver pointed out recently in a viral smackdown, we don’t know much about what Kushner believes, what his priorities are or how his experience as a real-estate developer qualifies him to, say, solve the opioid epidemic while also achieving Mideast peace.

For the record, JTA had a video of Kushner speaking publicly before it was cool. That speech, from a 22-year-old Kushner in 2003 dedicating Harvard’s new Chabad center, includes a heartwarming anecdote about chicken soup.

Kushner’s White House speech included anecdotes about government compliance. Still, it also included a couple of zingers: For example, he pointed to government technology being so outdated that “the Department of Defense still uses eight-inch floppy disks.”

As close as he may be to his father-in-law, Kushner is his polar opposite as a public speaker — his tone remained even, he didn’t go off script. In fact, he barely cracked a smile.

But at least everyone now knows he doesn’t sound like Gilbert Gottfried.

Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington, D.C., on June 8. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Some of James Comey’s best friends are Jewish (legal scholars)


We now know that James Comey, the FBI director President Donald Trump fired last month, thinks the president is a liar. (It’s mutual, by the way.)

Asked in Senate testimony Thursday why he wrote memos immediately after each conversation he had with Trump regarding the FBI’s investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, Comey said: “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting so I thought it important to document.”

We also know that in order to make that case — he surely anticipated making that case in some forum, although perhaps not as dramatically as he did Thursday, testifying to the Senate — he twice confided in friends who happened to be a) legal scholars and b) Jewish.

Comey, a longtime Washington insider, has proved expert at shaping the narrative, and never more so than when it comes to the investigation. (Trump has said Comey’s handling of the investigation is one reason he fired Comey.)

It’s not just Comey’s dramatic opening statement released Wednesday, describing awkward moments when Trump appeared to be pressuring him to drop the investigation. The release drowned out what might have been a good news moment for Trump, nominating as Comey’s successor Christopher Wray, a former top Justice Department official respected across party lines.

Comey had left a careful paper trail, taking notes immediately following his meetings with Trump — and conveying to his friends his concerns.

Trump’s private lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, was furious and called for an investigation in a press conference after Comey’s testimony was completed. “Today, Mr. Comey admitted that he leaked to friends of his purported memos of those privileged communications,” he said, although Trump said previously that he would not claim executive privilege when it comes to his communications with Comey.

Last month a dramatic New York Times story that first revealed the lengths Comey took to keep Trump at a distance included on-the-record comment from Benjamin Wittes, who described a lunch he had with Comey around the time Comey was most intensely feeling Trump’s pressure. Wittes says he did not speak to the Times at Comey’s behest, but Wittes’ description of the March 27 lunch made it clear that Comey had concerns about Trump in real time, and not just in the wake of his firing.

“He had to throw some brushback pitches to the administration,” Wittes told the Times, referring to Comey’s efforts to get Trump and his aides to stop making inappropriate requests.

Wittes, the Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and the editor of the influential Lawfare blog, has said he and Comey are meet-now-and-then-for-lunch friends, but not close friends. He is married to Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior Middle East scholar at Brookings. (In 2010, Wittes, discussing airport security, recalled, bemused, how his bad Jewish day school Hebrew got him an exemption from a security line at Ben Gurion airport.)

Comey revealed in his testimony Thursday that in an another instance he leaked information to a friend in order to push back against Trump’s intimations — post-firing — that Comey could be embarrassed should the content of their conversations be revealed. (Trump had tweeted that Comey had better hope there were no tapes of the conversations; on Thursday, Comey drew laughter when he said, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”) Comey delivered his friend his private notes of the meetings taken immediately after one of his interactions. He explained why:

“My judgment was, I need to get [his memo] out into the public square,” he said. “I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter.”

Asked who the friend was, he said: “A close friend who is a professor at Columbia law school.”

Twitter soon identified the friend as Daniel Richman, and the Washington Post called Richman, who confirmed it, but would not add anything more.

Wittes has not said how he and Comey became friends, nor has Richman, although both men were federal prosecutors in New York around the same time.

What we do know is that Comey, an Irish Catholic born in New York and raised in New Jersey, was close to Jewish organizations throughout his FBI career, and has been enormously affected by the lessons of the Holocaust.

His final speech as FBI director was to the Anti-Defamation League, the week he was fired.

“I believe the Holocaust is the most significant event in human history. And I mean significant in two different ways,” he said in that speech. “It is, of course, significant because it was the most horrific display of inhumanity—one that simply defies words and challenges meaning. How could such a thing happen? How is it consistent with the concept of a loving God?”

Then, he added how the Holocaust informed his deeply held beliefs about preventing the abuse of power.

“I also believe the Holocaust was the most significant event in history not just because it was a display of inhumanity, but because it was also the most horrific display of our humanity—our true capacity for evil and for moral surrender,” he said. “And that second significance is the reason we require every new FBI special agent and intelligence analyst in training to visit the Holocaust Museum. We want them to learn about abuse of power on a breathtaking scale.”

Two other Jewish scholars, meanwhile, were duking it out at Twitter over whether what Comey was describing amounted to Trump obstructing justice.

Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard University constitutional law expert, has argued that Trump’s right as an executive to fire Comey (and other officials) meant that the firing could not be construed as obstruction:

Norm Eisen, who had been ethics lawyer in the Obama administration, disagreed, saying that if Trump acted with “corrupt intent,” he could be liable:

Trump’s son, Donald Jr., was excited that Dersh was ostensibly defending his Dad (although Dershowitz has also consistently said he believes Trump has been unwise.)

Trump Jr., who has had his own brushes with the alt-right, likely is referring to Dershowitz’s reputation as a liberal when he calls the scholar “not exactly the alt right.” Of course, Dershowitz’s well-known commitment to Judaism also would make him less than comfortable in those precincts.

Jared Kushner at a luncheon with President Mauricio Macri of Argentina at the White House on April 27. Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Jared Kushner: What you need to know about the scandal engulfing Donald Trump’s son-in-law


Jared Kushner was once hailed as the key to Donald Trump’s surprise election victory.

Now Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser is at the center of the biggest controversy plaguing the administration: its ties to Russia.

Kushner is facing heat following reports of two meetings with figures close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Democrats say his White House role should be diminished. Republicans, most crucially his father-in-law, are backing him up.

Confronting scandal — and overcoming it — is nothing new for the real-estate scion turned presidential aide.

Kushner is an observant Jew and, like JTA, he’ll likely be offline for Shavuot on Wednesday and Thursday. By the time the Jewish holiday ends, new reports may render this story outdated.

But at least for now, here’s what you need to know about Jared Kushner.

He is being investigated for his meetings with Russian officials.

Kushner is now at the center of the investigation into whether Trump officials colluded with Russia to sway the outcome of the presidential election. At issue are two meetings he had in December, during the Trump administration’s transition period: one with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and the other with Sergey Gorkov, who runs a Russian state-owned bank and is close to Putin. The meetings were first reported in March.

Last week, the Washington Post reported that the meeting with Kislyak focused on setting up a back channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow. As opposed to official communications with other countries, a back channel aims to avoid oversight by the U.S. government. Kushner reportedly proposed using Russian communications facilities for the back channel, but it was never established.

It’s not entirely clear why Kushner met with Gorkov. The New York Times suggests it could be part of Kushner’s attempt to create a direct line between the transition team and Putin. A Reuters report said the meeting could have concerned lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia. The bank said in a March statement that Gorkov met with Kushner in his capacity as a businessman.

Asked for comment, the U.S. national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told reporters that back-channeling was normal.

“We have back-channel communications with any number of individual [countries],” he said. “So generally speaking, about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner.”

That may be true, former FBI agent Frank Montoya Jr. told PBS, “but that’s usually when you are the government in power.”

If it is true that Kushner suggested they use the Russians’ own secure communications system to conduct their discussions, “this is something that just is beyond the pale for professionals,” added John Sipher, who served in the CIA in Russia and Eastern Europe.

He may not have broken the law, but Kushner’s meetings spell trouble for the White House.

As with many pieces of the Trump-Russia affair, there is a fine line here between “illegal” and “sketchy.” No one at this point is alleging that Kushner broke the law. But with suspicions swirling around Trump’s ties to Russia, it doesn’t help the president that his closest adviser and son-in-law is a focus of the investigation.

Kushner has been given a wide range of responsibilities in the Trump White House, from restructuring the federal government to achieving Middle East peace. He was one of the architects of Trump’s recent foreign trip, which especially in its visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel went smoothly and mostly gaffe-free.

Critics of Trump who may be experiencing Schadenfreude as a result of his son-in-law’s tribulations are also worried that it could hobble Kushner, who along with his wife, Ivanka Trump, are portrayed as moderating influences on the president. In the White House, Kushner reportedly has promoted fighting climate change and supporting LGBT rights. Kushner has also been called a restraining influence on Trump’s inflammatory tweets and statements.

Kushner has experience in weathering scandal.

If Kushner comes out of this maelstrom unscathed, it won’t be his first time getting past personal drama in the public eye.

When Kushner was a 24-year-old law student, his father was sent to prison for filing false tax returns, making illegal campaign donations and retaliating against a witness. Kushner took over the family real-estate business, purchased the Observer, a New York real-estate and culture newspaper, and bought 666 Fifth Ave. for $1.8 billion in the most expensive purchase ever of a New York City office building. All the while he visited his father in an Alabama prison every week.

And when Kushner fell into debt from the Fifth Avenue buy, he pulled a Trumpian move, aggressively renegotiating his obligations until he salvaged the investment.

“It is very helpful to him that he’s constantly underestimated,” Ken Kurson, a former Observer editor and friend of Kushner’s, told New York magazine. Real-estate attorney Jonathan Mechanic told New York that during the debt negotiations, the Kushners “lived through turbulent times, and not only did they live, they thrived.”

Kushner has also gained a reputation for seeking payback. He allegedly pushed the Observer’s staff to report negative articles about his business rivals, though none was ever published. He also reportedly shut out New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an early Trump supporter, from the administration. A decade earlier, Christie was the U.S. attorney who sent Kushner’s father to prison.

Kushner still has Trump’s support.

In the wake of last week’s news, the Democratic National Committee is calling for Kushner’s security clearance to be revoked until the Russia investigation concludes. While California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, didn’t call for suspending the security clearance, he said it should be reviewed.

“You have to ask, well, who are they hiding the conversations from?” Schiff told ABC’s “This Week,” regarding the back-channel reports.”If these allegations are true and he had discussions with the Russians about establishing a back channel and didn’t reveal that, that’s a real problem in terms of whether he should maintain that kind of a security clearance.”

Republicans, however, are defending Kushner. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said on CNN that the back-channel report “makes no sense” because such a clandestine channel would almost certainly be surveilled by U.S. intelligence. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for reserving judgment until Kushner testifies before Congress.

Regardless of those attacking and defending him, it appears Kushner still has the support of his boss.

“Jared is doing a great job for the country,” Trump said in a statement to The New York Times on Sunday evening. “I have total confidence in him. He is respected by virtually everyone and is working on programs that will save our country billions of dollars. In addition to that, and perhaps more importantly, he is a very good person.”

President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner. Photo from Reuters

Kushner reportedly encouraged to step aside as FBI investigates Russia contacts


Jared Kushner reportedly has been encouraged to take a leave of absence from his White House adviser position because of FBI scrutiny of his contacts with Russia.

Administration officials close to President Donald Trump have been pushing Kushner to step aside while the FBI investigates meetings that Kushner he had with Russian figures during the transition period following the November election, The Hill reported. Kushner is Trump’s Orthodox Jewish son-in-law.

The news website Politico called Kushner the White House’s ” lead distraction” following what is being seen as Trump’s mostly successful first foreign trip, which featured a stopover in Israel.

“It’s clear that Jared Kushner will be under intense scrutiny at a time when his father-in-law has named him everything but chief cook and bottle washer,” Democratic strategist David Axelrod, a former top White House adviser to President Barack Obama, told Politico. “It’s bad for the prospects of calm at the White House.”

Kushner reportedly flew home Thursday from Rome with his wife, Ivanka Trump, and arrived in his West Wing office on Friday to meet with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to discuss the presidential trip.

Though under scrutiny by the FBI, Kushner has yet to be accused of  unlawful behavior, and he has offered to share any information about meetings with Russian officials.

The Washington Post and NBC each reported late Thursday that Kushner’s interactions with Russian figures were of interest to the FBI, but that this did not mean he was a target of the investigation.

Kushner, is one of Trump’s closest advisers. He met separately last December — after the election but before Trump assumed office — with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to Washington, and Sergey Gorkov, the head of the government-owned Vnesheconombank, which has been subject to U.S. sanctions because of its role in Russia’s occupation of a part of Ukraine.

Kushner in March said he was ready to testify about his Russia meetings to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Former Sen. Joseph Lieberman testifying during a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill on Nov. 3, 2015. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Joe Lieberman reportedly out of contention as Trump pick to lead FBI


President Donald Trump reportedly has dropped Joe Lieberman, a one-time Democrat who was the first Jewish candidate on a major party presidential ticket, from his list of contenders to helm the FBI.

Trump had indicated last week that Lieberman, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut and an Independent who has forged strong ties with Republicans and Democrats, was his likeliest pick. Lieberman was seen by Trump’s team as a sop to members of both parties angry with Trump for how he fired James Comey, the previous FBI director.

But Democrats in the Senate, chief among them Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, raised concerns because Lieberman is employed by the legal firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres and Friedman, which represents Trump. CNN reported Wednesday that Trump had retained the firm’s top lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, as personal counsel as scandals besieged Trump’s presidency, and that was likely a factor in Lieberman’s removal from contention for the FBI post.

Comey was helming the investigation into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign when Trump sacked him earlier this month.

The White House delivered an array of sometimes conflicting reasons for the dismissal, saying at first that Comey mishandled last year’s FBI inquiry into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Then Trump acknowledged that he was also thinking of the Russia inquiry when he fired Comey.

Comey’s firing and subsequent reporting that Trump had tried to influence Comey’s handling of the Trump campaign-Russia investigation was a watershed in the scandals that have plagued Trump’s young presidency. Republicans in Congress seemed eager for the first time to vigorously pursue their own investigations into the alleged Russia ties, and last week subpoenaed materials related to the Russia investigations.

Lieberman earned a reputation for integrity in the late 1990s when he became the first Senate Democrat to take President Bill Clinton to task for his transgressions related to his affair with a White House intern.

Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000, made history when he named Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, as his running mate.

Lieberman alienated grassroots Democrats in the next decade when he backed President George W. Bush’s Iraq War, and in 2006 was defeated in the Democratic primary in his home state. He ran and won as an Independent, and backed his close friend, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, over Barack Obama in the 2008 election. He retired from politics in 2012.

Since then, Lieberman has gravitated back toward the Democratic fold, campaigning among Florida’s Jews last year for Clinton. He still maintains ties with Republicans, however, this year testifying on behalf of two Trump nominees in confirmation hearings: Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, and David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, who is the “Friedman” in the legal firm representing Trump.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on May 22. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump tells Netanyahu he ‘never mentioned Israel’ in meeting with Russians


President Donald Trump told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he “never mentioned Israel” in a meeting with Russian government officials in which he was alleged to have revealed highly classified information.

“Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel,” Trump said Monday at a photo op with Netanyahu at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel on the second leg of his first overseas trip as president. “Never mentioned it during the conversation, they’re all saying I did, so you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word Israel.”

By saying “you,” the president seemed to be addressing the media, collectively.

No one had alleged that Trump mentioned Israel in the meeting two weeks ago with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office.

Reports last week said that Trump revealed details of intelligence on Islamic State that could compromise an ally that had shared the intelligence with the United States. The ally was later reported to have been Israel.

There was no reporting that Trump had revealed the source of the intelligence with the Russians. Instead, the concern was that the level of detail in Trump’s account could be used to deduce sources and methods.

It was not clear from what during the photo op prompted Trump’s statement. Just before he brought up the information, Netanyahu said — apparently responding to a reporter — “The intelligence cooperation is terrific.”

There were concerns after last week’s revelations that Israel could limit its intelligence cooperation with the United States because of Trump’s alleged carelessness.

An Islamic State flag flying in the Syrian town of Tabqa on April 30. Photo by Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli agent undercover in ISIS at risk due to Trump intelligence leak, ABC reports


An undercover Israeli agent inside the Islamic State has been put at risk by President Donald Trump’s disclosure of classified information to Russia, ABC News reported.

The spy had provided Israel with intelligence about a plan by Islamic State, or ISIS, to cause the crash of a passenger jet on the way to the United States, according to the report aired Tuesday evening. Israel had shared the intelligence with the United States on the condition that it not be identified as the source of the information, unnamed current and former U.S. officials told ABC.

According to the intelligence, the undetectable bomb was to be hidden in a laptop, which has led the United States to consider banning all laptops on flights from Europe coming into the country. The U.S. now bans laptops on flights from 10 airports in the Middle East.

The Washington Post reported Monday that Trump revealed the intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.N. Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in an Oval Office meeting last week.

At a news briefing Tuesday, H.R. McMaster, the president’s top security adviser, discussed the meeting between Trump and the Russian diplomats, in which he took part.

“In the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged,” McMaster said.

Trump said in a tweet Tuesday that he had “the absolute right” to share information and wanted to show good faith, so that the Russians would “greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

In January, an Israeli newspaper reported that American intelligence officials warned their Israeli counterparts not to share sensitive information with the Trump administration because of the threat that it could be leaked to Russia.

On Wednesday, Yediot Acharonot cited an unnamed Israeli intelligence source as saying that Israel will have to reassess what information it shares with the United States and not hand over the most sensitive of it.

President Donald Trump is flanked by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office of the White House on May 10. Photo by Russia Foreign Minister Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Trump blew it, big-league


The New York Times has a new feature called “Say Something Nice About Trump.”

Last week, I was all set to do so. As President Donald Trump was preparing to embark on his first official trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, I found myself thinking nice things. It occurred to me that on the Israel-Palestinian issue, Trump had come out of the gate in a far more effective way than his predecessors.

On May 8, for instance, I was on a phone call with Dennis Ross, the former United States ambassador who served four American presidents as a Middle East envoy and negotiator. And this is what Ross said: Donald Trump has a better chance than President Barack Obama did at making peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Despite Trump’s support from the anti-two-state-solution crowd, despite the fact Trump’s own ambassador to Israel called pro-two-state groups “worse than kapos,” Ross said Trump has handled the Middle East diplomatic dance better than Obama so far. He said Trump has impressed the Palestinian leadership, gained their trust. And he had the Israelis in his pocket.

For someone who has seen Trump as dangerous to Israel’s future and ill-informed on Middle East affairs, it was surreal —but heartening.

“What is going on,” Ross said of the president, “is he continues to emphasize that this is a deal he really wants to do. Only last week, he said he couldn’t think of a single reason why he can’t reach agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. I think what he meant by that, not that there weren’t differences, but that ultimately those differences shouldn’t prevent a deal. In any case, this is one of those challenges that is deeply rooted [for Trump]. What the president has done is make [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] more relevant, which is important at a time when he does not have a lot of popularity.”

Ross’ call, arranged by The Israel Project, came on the eve of Trump’s visit in Washington with Abbas. The remarkable part was that Ross outlined a clear way forward toward an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, out of the long and dangerous impasse between the sides. And the Moses who could lead them? Donald J. Trump.

Trump has leverage, Ross said. He is seen as someone who can deliver and, beyond that, someone who, unlike Obama, will exact a cost if he’s rejected. So Trump can make tough demands of Abbas, including ending payments to the families of terrorists, and — in private — can ask for difficult sacrifices from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I was listening, shaking my head, wondering if I had completely misjudged Trump when it comes to Middle East policy. Perhaps I had overestimated the hard-line attitude of his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Perhaps I hadn’t taken into account the moderating forces of Trump’s childhood friend, Ron Lauder.

But more likely, I had forgotten my cardinal rule for understanding Donald J. Trump: The man will say anything in a room to make a sale. Alec Baldwin is not Trump. Trump is Alec Baldwin — in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

“Because only one thing counts in this life!” Baldwin’s real estate huckster character says. “Get them to sign on the line which is dotted!”

To get elected, Trump had to appeal to evangelicals and pro-Israel hard-liners like Sheldon Adelson. But to sell a bigger deal as president, he has new constituencies. The Saudi vote isn’t big in Florida or Wisconsin, but it sure matters in the Middle East.

“The more the administration, the president and his representatives are dealing with the Arab leaders, the more what they’re hearing from them is they’re prepared to work with them,” Ross said. “But on [the Palestinian-Israeli] issue, they’re asking for a two-state outcome.”

So in the spirit of saying something nice about Trump, I was all set to assert that he would continue to confound the very people who trusted him to do exactly what hard-liners in Israel, and their American armchair Golanis, want him to do.

But then, Trump happened. That is, shortly before his trip abroad, the president gave sensitive intelligence information to the Russians, intelligence that was revealed to have come via Israel.

Here’s how bad this is: Israeli intelligence had somehow penetrated ISIS command well enough to get detailed knowledge of its upcoming terror attacks. Now those methods and sources are burned, thanks to the president of the United States. The fact that Russia can now discern the methods and sources for that intelligence and pass it on to their allies the Iranians, who can funnel it to Hezbollah, is a criminal act against Israel.

This disaster will shadow Trump’s trip, shuffle the equation in ways that are now impossible to imagine — even if no other shoes drop between now and when he touches down in Israel.

The evidence was building that Trump was not going to be the hand puppet Sheldon Adelson thought he bought Bibi for Chanukah. Now, flying across the Atlantic with a self-inflicted puncture to his competence and credibility, Trump needs Bibi more than ever to keep his credibility afloat.

A week ago, Trump was positioned perfectly to land in Israel and shake things up. Now he will arrive, shaken, weakened, vulnerable, neutered.

I tried so hard to say something nice. It’s still not the time. And there’s no one to blame but Donald Trump.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands at White House on Feb. 15. Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Israel reportedly provided intel Trump gave to Russia


Israel was the source of the highly classified intelligence President Donald Trump disclosed to Russian officials, according to a report by the New York Times.

The Washington Post reported Monday that Trump revealed the intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in an Oval Office meeting last week. The intelligence concerns a terror plot by the Islamic State involving the use of laptops on aircraft.

The Times reports that, according to a current and a former American official, it was information that Israel relayed to the United States. The intelligence was deemed too classified to share with other United States allies, let alone a rival state like Russia, the Washington Post’s sources said. Russia is the main supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and an ally of Iran, one of Israel’s principal adversaries.

The country supplying the intelligence to the United States was identified in the Post story only as “an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State.”

Israel and the United States are close allies whose leaders often refer to the countries’ “special relationship.” The United States provides Israel with some $4 billion of defense assistance annually, and the countries share intelligence and participate in joint military exercises. Trump will be visiting Israel next week on his first foreign trip as president.

White House Spokesman Sean Spicer did not comment on the New York Times report, but said he appreciated the U.S.-Israel relationship.

“We appreciate the relationship we have with Israel and appreciate the exchange of information we have with them,” Spicer said in a press briefing Tuesday.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, also did not comment directly on the report.

“Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump,” Dermer said in a statement.

In January, an Israeli newspaper reported that American intelligence officials warned their Israeli counterparts not to share sensitive information with the Trump administration because of the threat that it could be leaked to Russia.

At a press briefing Tuesday, H.R. McMaster, the president’s top security adviser, discussed the meeting between Trump and the Russian diplomats, in which he took part.

“In the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged,” McMaster said.

President Donald Trump. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

What Trump told the Russians, and why allies like Israel are worried


As of Tuesday morning, thanks to the unfiltered confessional that is Twitter, we now know this: President Donald Trump shared information with Russia about “terrorism and flight safety,” as he put it.

Trump was responding, after about 12 hours, to a Washington Post report that he shared highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador when he met with them last week. The information, sources told the Post and confirmed to other outlets, could be used to reveal sources of an ally’s intelligence on the Islamic State terrorist group.

Which ally has not been revealed: The New York Times, in following up the Washington Post’s scoop, said it is a Middle Eastern ally known to be wary of sharing its intelligence. Israeli commentators already were speculating the impact if Israel was the country in question, although it is hardly the only ally fitting the bill.

Trump in his tweets confirmed that he shared the information but did not say whether or not it was classified. However, he specified that he had an “absolute right” to share the information, which could refer to laws that exempt the president from restrictions on revealing classified information.

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” Trump said. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.” ISIS is an acronym for the Islamic State terrorist group.

A lot of questions are not yet fully answered:

What did Trump reveal?

According to the Washington Post, Trump shared information about Islamic State plans to bomb aircraft with laptops. The Trump administration has banned laptops as carry-on luggage on U.S.-bound planes originating in some Middle Eastern countries, and reportedly plans to extend the ban to Europe.

The crux is in the details of what he shared.

“He described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances,” the Washington Post reported, and “revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat.” The Times said the information Trump relayed was “granular” — that is, highly specific.

Is the White House denying it?

Not quite. Officials have said the story, “as reported,” is “false” — but things get murkier on the details. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, and Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, who were in the room, said Trump did not discuss “sources, methods or military operations.” But the newspapers’ accounts do not allege that sources or methods or military operations are what were revealed. Instead, the concern is that the Russians and their allies could use details in the information to track down the source.

How likely is it that the Russians could trace the information to its source?

According to reports, the White House is taking seriously the threat that the information could be sourced. Thomas Bossert, Trump’s assistant for counterterrorism, alerted the CIA and the National Security Agency, and one of his subordinates said the information should be removed from internal summaries of Trump’s meeting.

What are the stakes?

Huge. It’s been enormously difficult to infiltrate the Islamic State, which cultivates only the truest believers for its operations.

Do we know which Middle Eastern ally provided the information?

No. Any one of the United States’ Middle East allies — Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, the Gulf states — could fit the bill of a country that would prefer that the U.S. closely hold whatever intelligence it shares.

Trump had a call scheduled with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Tuesday morning, but it may have been set up previously, ahead of Trump’s Middle East tour next week.

Israelis were wondering if it was their country that was potentially burned in the exchange. Ronen Bergman, the well-connected Yediot Acharonot reporter, reposted on Twitter a January story revealing that intelligence officials in the outgoing Obama administration warned Israeli counterparts to be careful about what kinds of intelligence they shared with the Trump administration because of alleged ties between Russia and some members of Trump’s entourage.

“The president has full authority to reveal classified information, but what will the ally think,” Keren Betzalel, an editor on Israel’s Channel 2, wrote Tuesday morning on Twitter.

Danny Yatom, a former director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, told The Jerusalem Post that he did not know if Israel was the ally, but expressed concerns about Trump’s revelations.

“If the information is sensitive, it can harm the security of the intelligence source or lead to other damage,” he said.

Alan Dershowitz, the pro-Israel activist and constitutional law professor who has been counseling patience and restraint to a U.S. Jewish community rattled by Trump’s flirtations with the far right, has now had it with the president.

“This is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president of the United States,” he told CNN. “Let’s not underestimate it.”

Dershowitz also speculated that either Israel or Jordan was the unnamed country potentially compromised as a result of the incident.

So if the ally is Israel, what’s at stake?

One of the closest U.S. intelligence relationships is with Israel. It was launched in 1956 when Israel secured Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret speech” to a Communist congress denouncing Stalin’s reign of terror, signaling an evolution in how the Soviet Union would conduct its domestic and foreign policies. Speech in hand, the first stop for Mossad director Isser Harel was the CIA.

More recent cooperative successes reportedly include Stuxnet, the computer virus that crippled Iran’s uranium enrichment program in 2009-10, helping to bring the country to the negotiating table to talk about curbing its nuclear program, and the 2008 assassination of Hezbollah’s operations chief Imad Mughniyeh, as well as the exposure and frustration of multiple planned Hezbollah strikes in Europe and elsewhere. As parlous as diplomatic relations between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government could get, officials in both countries agreed — and often emphasized — that intelligence sharing intensified over recent years.

Why would the Russians burn Trump?

The information is about the Islamic State, purportedly an enemy shared by the United States and Russia. Despite Russia’s claimed aim of crushing the Islamic State, its focus has been fending off others seeking the removal of Russia’s longtime ally in Syria, Bashar Assad. Defeating the terrorist groups is not the priority for Russia that it is for the United States, perhaps because keeping the Islamists in place could decrease international pressure to bring down Assad.

How (ticked) off are folks?

(Ticked) off. David Cohen, until recently the deputy director of the CIA and a veteran of both Republican and Democratic administrations, published an extraordinary op-ed in The New York Times on Tuesday lambasting the Trump administration for cozying up to autocracies like Russia’s Putin regime and describing the risks it posed. Citing the revelations of Trump’s conversations with the Russians as an example, Cohen said: “No one can say how many potential spies will decide that working for America is not worth the risk. But the administration’s rejection of the American idea will surely mean that some will say no.”

Trump’s support among Republicans and conservatives who had backed him through other controversies in his young presidency also appears to be eroding.

“They’re in a downward spiral right now and they’ve got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was quotedby Buzzfeed as saying.

Hugh Hewitt, the conservative radio host, said on Twitter: “This is very bad. Very, very bad.”

What does this mean for Trump’s Middle East tour?

Trump visits Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian areas next week. The pomp and circumstance — including stops at the Western Wall, Masada and Bethlehem — are likely to stay in place.

What we won’t know, for now, is how the conversations typical of such tours between lower-level officials — among them those who deal with intelligence — will play out. Will the Saudi, Israeli and Palestinian intelligence agencies be as ready to dish?

FBI director James Comey addressing the Anti-Defamation League in Washington, D.C., on May 8. Photo by Carl Cox/ADL

Trump fires FBI director Comey; aides cite handling of Clinton emails case


President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, on the same day that reports indicated Comey misstated, during testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee,  the involvement of Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her now-estranged husband Anthony Weiner in the email scandal his office investigated.

In a statement from the press secretary late Tuesday afternoon, the White House said Comey’s firing “will mark a new beginning” for the FBI. The statement said the search for a new FBI director will begin immediately.

In a memorandum commenting on Comey’s firing, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein said the “FBI’s reputation and credibility suffered substantial damage” over the past year. The letter chided Comey for his conclusion, announced at a news conference on July 5, 2016, that as Secretary of State Clinton demonstrated no criminal intent in her handling of classified emails and thathe was closing the case against her.

“I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal conclusion that he was mistaken,” Rosenstein wrote.

During the Senate committee hearing on May 3, ranking committee member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked why Comey felt it was necessary for the FBI director to reveal on Oct. 28, less than two weeks before the presidential election, that he was set to reopen an investigation into whether Clinton, the Democratic nominee, had criminal intent when as secretary of state she conducted government business through private email.

Comey explained there was evidence that new emails from Clinton could be found on a laptop seized from Weiner, the Jewish former congressman who resigned in a sexting scandal and now is under investigation allegedly for sexting with a minor. Included were emails from a private Clinton email account that the FBI had yet to access, Comey told Feinstein, explaining that the emails had come from Abedin.

Comey said that Abedin was forwarding hundreds of thousands of emails, some with classified information, to her husband to print out for her.

Pro-Publica and The Washington Post, citing unnamed FBI officials close to the investigation, reported Tuesday that Abedin occasionally forwarded a small number of emails to her husband for printing and that none were marked classified, though a small number were later deemed to contain classified information.

Comey said the FBI found no basis for concluding that Abedin or Weiner had acted with criminal intent.

On Monday, Comey addressed the Anti-Defamation League at their conference in Washington, calling for improvements in how law enforcement reports hate crimes.

“We must do a better job of tracking and reporting hate crime to fully understand what is happening in our country so we can stop it,” he told the group’s annual Washington, D.C., conference on Monday. “Some jurisdictions do not report hate crime data.”

FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

James Comey, under fire for presidential election tangles, cites JCC bombing case as an FBI success


Under fire for election-related controversies, FBI Director James Comey cited a successful outcome in the JCC bomb threats case as an example of why the agency’s work remains vital.

“Children frightened, old people frightened, terrifying threats of bombs at Jewish institutions, especially the Jewish community centers — the entire FBI surged in response to that threat,” Comey said in his opening remarks Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Working across all programs, all divisions, our technical wizards, using our vital international presence and using our partnerships especially with the Israeli national police, we made that case and the Israelis locked up the person behind those threats and stopped the terrifying plague against the Jewish community centers,” Comey said.

In March, an Israeli-American teen was arrested in Israel on suspicion of calling in more than 100 bomb threats. Last month, the U.S. Justice Department charged the teen, Michael Kadar, with making threatening calls to JCCs in Florida, conveying false information to the police and cyberstalking.

The JCC case was one of several Comey cited in his opening remarks to show what he termed the “magic of the FBI.”

Both the chairman of the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and the ranking member, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., made clear in their opening remarks that the hearing would be tough going for Comey because of election-related tangles involving the FBI.

Grassley wanted Comey to explain leaks exposing investigations into alleged ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Feinstein asked why Comey felt it was necessary for the FBI director to reveal on Oct. 28, less than two weeks before the president election, that he was set to reopen an investigation into whether Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee who would lose to Trump, had criminal intent when as secretary of state she conducted government business through private email. Comey had closed the case earlier in the campaign, saying there was no evidence of criminal intent.

Comey explained that there was evidence new emails from Clinton could be found on a laptop seized from Anthony Weiner, the former congressman who resigned in a sexting scandal and who now is under investigation allegedly for sexting with a minor. Weiner, who is Jewish, was then married to Huma Abedin, an assistant to Clinton.

Included were emails from a private Clinton email account that the FBI had yet to access, Comey told Feinstein.

“If there was evidence that she had bad intent, that’s where it would be,” he said.

It has long been a mystery why Clinton’s emails ended up on Weiner’s laptop. Comey, for the first time, provided an explanation: Abedin was sharing email, including classified information, with her husband.

“Somehow her emails are being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information by her assistant Huma Abedin,” he said.

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