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 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanctions relief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Kimball sounded exasperated at what has become a common misperception.

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

Why can’t we be friends?

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

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

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

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

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

Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, right, attending a brit milah at a synagogue in Moscow, April 8, 2015. Photo by Cnaan Liphshiz

Russian chief rabbi says Jews should leave France if Marine Le Pen elected

Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar called on French Jews to leave their country if the far-right politician Marine Le Pen is elected president next month.

Lazar, a Chabad rabbi who was born in Italy and has lived in Russia for 25 years, made the remark on Friday while attending a conference on Jewish learning near Moscow organized by the Limmud FSU association.

“If Marine Le Pen is elected president of France, the Jews must leave,” Lazar said, according to a transcript of his address at the conference provided by Limmud FSU. Lazar was a keynote speaker at the event, which drew 2,500 participants — a record attendance since Limmud FSU began holding conferences across the former Soviet Union.

Polls ahead of Sunday’s first round of the presidential elections suggested the centrist independent candidate Emmanuel Macron is in a tight race for the lead with Le Pen, leader of the National Front party and the daughter of its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has multiple convictions for Holocaust denial and incitement of racial hatred against Jews. Macron and Le Pen each have about 22 percent of the vote in an Ifop poll from April 19.

Le Pen recently called for banning the wearing of the kippah in public and for making it illegal for French nationals to also have an Israeli passport — steps she said were necessary because of the principle of equality in order to facilitate similar limitations on Muslims.

Le Pen has said radical Islam is a “threat on French culture” and has called on Jews to make certain “sacrifices” in order to fight jihadism. She has softened the rhetoric of her party after taking over from her father in 2011 and has kicked out of the party dozens of members over anti-Semitic rhetoric — including her father.

National Front’s best showing in a presidential election was in 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen made it to the second round and received 18 percent of the vote in it, losing to Jacques Chirac. In France, the winner of the first round of voting runs against the second-place candidate in the second and final round.

Many French Jews regard Marine Le Pen as dangerous, and the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities has called her and the far-left communist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon “candidates of hatred.” CRIF President Francis Kalifat on Friday said that Le Pen and Melenchon’s growing popularity is “a real danger to our country’s democracy.”

Melenchon has risen from fifth place in the polls in February with 9 percent of the vote to third with 19 percent. Francois Fillon, the center-right candidate of the party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, has 19 percent. In 2014, during a speech about the Gaza Strip, Melenchon condemned French Jews who support Israel, saying: “France is the opposite of aggressive minorities that lecture to the rest of the country.”

Lazar during his address at Limmud FSU said: “The situation there [in France] is very worrying. Not only because of immigrants, but also because the general population is heading toward radicalization. The best example of this is the rise of extreme-right parties.”

Lazar’s analysis of the situation in Western Europe echoes previous statements by Kremlin officials that sought to discredit European governments critical of the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, including the outlawing of literature on homosexuality, the abuse of judiciary for the elimination of political rivals and the introduction of severe limitations of free speech. Under Putin, Lazar’s Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia has become the largest Jewish organization in Russia.

Lazar praised Putin during his address Friday, saying: “Putin was the first president to publicly speak out against anti-Semitism and did the most for the Jews in Russia. There is no institutional anti-Semitism in Russia.”

President Donald Trump. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Politico, Trump, Chabad and the new anti-Semitism

Not every day do you wake up to find you run the world. That’s what I discovered reading Politico the day before Passover. According the long article, the key link between Putin and Trump is Chabad. You see, those Chassidim tentacles reach out everywhere. They are the cabal that binds Washington and Moscow. According to Politico, Jewish Russian oligarchs are buddies with Chabad rabbis in Russia who are connected in some convoluted fashion to Jared Kushner and others in the Trump orbit.

For centuries Jews would tremble before Passover, fearing a new blood libel that they were using Christian blood to bake matzahs. This went out style after the Mendel Beilis trial in 1914 in Czarist Russia. Next the Protocols of the Elders of Zion declared the Jews run the world. This too fell out a favor after the Holocaust. Now Politico has created a new version of the old story, only this time it’s not all Jews. The new kind of anti-Semitism is only against those guys in the black hats and the beards, the ultras, or Chassidim. And it’s not just Politico, CNN took a shot at the “ultra-orthodox” in hour long special a day before Passover. The production was so off base that even Israeli’s ultra-left publication, the anti-orthodox Haaretz, lampooned CNN for its bizarre depiction of orthodox Jews.

Politico’s theory is if you follow the connections — built over an abundance of lox and bagels served at a bris in New York, weddings in Mar-a-Lago and meetings in Trump Tower—they all lead to Chabad. To make these connections, Politico creates its own facts, distorting the development of the Jewish communal structure in Russia after the fall of Communism as having been orchestrated by Putin. It fails to reveal that Chabad sustained Judaism during the anti-religious Soviet Regime. Many of its rabbis sent off to Siberia and even death for keeping Judaism alive. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chabad emerged from the underground to continue its leadership. It wasn’t “brought in” by Putin. It was there, serving at a time of great danger, all along.

Politico claims it’s the Chabad connections that cement the bond between Putin and Trump. But why stop there? The article could have revealed the true depth of the Chassidic conspiracy. It didn’t mention the links between Chabad and the Democrats. Former Obama Chief of Staff Jack Lew, an observant Jew, attended the same synagogue that the Kushners do. Bernie Sanders’ closest friend and college roommate is a Chabad Chassid, beard and all. And what about Hollywood? Steven Spielberg dedicated a Chabad synagogue in LA , Beis Bezalel, in memory of his stepfather. His late mother was a member there. Mark Zuckerberg was caught dancing with the Chabad Rabbi at Purim party in Harvard. It’s even the New York Times! Tom Friedman recently attended the wedding of his niece in the Chassidic bastion of Crown Heights in Brooklyn.

If Politico had done the most basic fact checking it would have discovered that Chabad is unique amongst major Jewish groups — it never gets involved in politics. While others are busy with press releases on everything from immigration to who should be the US Ambassador to Israel, Chabad never says a word. Not in the US and not in the 90 countries around the world where it has centers. Chabad’s mission is Jewish education, outreach and social service. Its stays out of politics. It does not endorse anyone for any political position, even if it’s just for dog catcher in Iowa.

As a Chabad rabbi, I find Politico’s contentions bittersweet. Over forty years ago when I started as a young campus rabbi, we were viewed as a quaint cultural relic. Liberal Judaism was triumphant, those Chassidim from Brooklyn a bit like a gaggle of Tevyes from Fiddler on the Roof. However, Chabad taught as its central tenet the love of all mankind, the responsibility for Jewish destiny, the return of Jewish scholarship and spirituality as the foundation of Jewish life. Slowly Jews around the world were receptive to that message, and today Chabad is a global phenomenon. With size comes the lies and distortions. This Passover we have learned that not only are we popular, we are the secret cabal between the world powers.

Politico’s article is indicative of the new kind acceptable anti-Semitism. As long as the prejudice is directed at Jews who look very Jewish, live and love Jewish tradition to its fullest, it’s okay to mimic, mock and distort. If Politico has any journalistic integrity it will pull the article and make a public apology. Finally it needs to contact the HR department at the National Inquirer. The writers and editors responsible for this piece of fantasy journalism will fit right in there.

Rabbi David Eliezrie is the author of “The Secret of Chabad-inside the world’s most successful Jewish movement”

Rep. Adam Schiff speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill on March 30 about the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

The making of Adam Schiff: Why is this man taking on the president?

This is hardly the first time Adam Schiff has had Russia on his mind.

Years ago, and long before he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Schiff was a United States Attorney in Los Angeles who led the prosecution of an FBI agent  convicted on spy charges.

“Sex for secrets,” he recalled in a telephone interview with the Jewish Journal last month. “He was seduced by an attractive KGB asset named Svetlana — they’re always named Svetlana. I had to work extensively with the FBI even though it was the first time an FBI agent was ever indicted for espionage. … It’s so odd to be working on a case again involving the bureau and Russia. But it does feel like it’s come full circle.”

Congressman Adam Schiff, 56, is one of 18 Jews serving in the House, and these days, one of the most prominent of the chamber’s 193 Democrats. He’s been everywhere lately — a guest on CNN and MSNBC, a focus of stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post. His Twitter following is growing exponentially. Already, people are suggesting he could become a presidential candidate in 2020.

And all this for one reason: Schiff is the ranking member — the top Democrat — on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is investigating whether the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election and whether anyone in the Trump campaign had a role in it.

With Democrats in the minority, Schiff has only so much power in setting the panel’s agenda. Nonetheless, he has emerged as a forceful counterweight to President Donald Trump’s defenders, who insist the current investigations into Russia’s election activities — the Senate and FBI are holding their own probes — are little more than politically motivated witch hunts designed to undermine the Trump presidency.

“The American people do have a strong center of gravity that will constrain [Trump’s] worst impulses, so I’m a believer in our democracy.” — Adam Schiff

Undaunted, Schiff is pressing ahead, an effort that draws together the most salient parts of a life in public service — his Judaism, his law background, four years in the California Senate and his 16-plus years in the House — not to mention his role as a Big Brother to a young African-American boy who Schiff’s father, Ed Schiff, says made Adam “a better person.”

It’s a foundation that also has cemented his confidence in American institutions despite the current chaos of Washington.

“I think our democracy is resilient enough; we’ll get through this, I think, even if the president doesn’t operate within established norms of office,” Schiff said. “The American people do have a strong center of gravity that will constrain his worst impulses, so I’m a believer in our democracy. I think we’ll get through this. But certainly, there are some rough roads ahead.”

Schiff was born in Boston in 1960, a few months before John F. Kennedy was elected president, as the younger of two sons to Ed and Sherri Schiff. Theirs was a mixed marriage: Ed, who now lives in Boca Raton, Fla. — “living the ‘Seinfeld’ life,” his son said — is a Democrat; Sherri, who died around 2009 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, was a Republican.

Adam Schiff poses during his bar mitzvah in June 1973 at Temple Isaiah in Northern California. Photo courtesy of Ed Schiff

Ed Schiff was a businessman who moved around the country as a regional sales director for Farah, a men’s pants manufacturing company. Sherri, “bored with country club life … went into real estate, where her boss said, ‘You are wasting time writing copy. Why don’t you get into sales?’ ” Ed said.

After a few years of living in Arizona, the Schiffs moved in 1970 to Contra Costa County in the Bay Area, where Ed got out of the “rag business,” as he called it, and purchased a building materials yard.

In those days, Adam was a studious boy who, according to his father, always did his homework, adored his mother and had a friendly sibling rivalry with his older brother, Dan, a relationship Adam would later write about in a screenplay — never produced — called “Common Wall.” Adam became a bar mitzvah at Temple Isaiah, a Reform congregation in Lafayette, Calif., in June 1973.

“I certainly do remember making tape recordings of my [bar mitzvah] practice sessions on cassette tape with a little cassette recorder, and I think I may even have one of those,” Schiff said. “It’s funny to hear your voice back then.”

In 1978, he entered Stanford University. A pre-med student, he also studied political science, and upon graduation, he was unsure if he wanted to pursue law or medicine. He decided on the former and enrolled at Harvard Law School.

After graduating in 1985, he clerked for federal Judge Matthew Byrne, a Los Angeles native who presided over the trial involving Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Later, Schiff spent six years as an assistant U.S. Attorney in L.A. During that time, he met his wife, Eve Sanderson Schiff — yes, they’re Adam and Eve — and prosecuted Richard Miller, the FBI agent convicted of espionage.

Schiff’s success against Miller, as well as Byrne’s influence, accelerated his interest in politics.

“After Adam convicted the FBI agent of treason, he called me and said, ‘Dad, can you imagine what it’s like to have representatives of the most powerful nation in the world calling you and offering to help you in any way they could? Dad, I will never have another case like that in my life,’ ” Ed recalled his son saying. “ ‘I’m going into politics.’ ”

Twice he ran unsuccessfully for the California Assembly but promised his supporters he would do better next time. In 1996, he was elected to the State Senate.

“Adam takes things in progression, and the learning curve … with each loss made it that much easier the next time,” his father said.

In 2000, Schiff ran for Congress to unseat Republican James Rogan in what was then the most expensive House race of all time. Rogan was a two-term Congressman who had his own national profile, in part, from working to impeach President Bill Clinton. Schiff sought help from his mother, asking if she’d make phone calls to voters on his behalf.

“He said, ‘Mama, I would like you to do something for me. I would like you to call these people and tell them a little about me and ask them to vote for me. She jumped into that for 2 1/2 years like it was eating ice cream,” Ed said. “Her spiel went like this: ‘Good evening. My name is Sherri Schiff. My son Adam is running for Congress in your district. May I tell you a little about him?’ ”

Schiff currently is serving in his ninth two-year term in the House, representing a district that now extends from West Hollywood to the eastern edge of Pasadena and from Echo Park to the Angeles National Forest. He has a reputation as a moderate who works with members of both parties. With a large constituency of Armenians, he has championed legislation that would formalize United States recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915-17. He once delivered an entire speech on the House floor in Armenian and worked with the Armenian members of a hard-rock band, System of a Down, toward seeking recognition of the genocide.

Regarding Israel, which is never out of the headlines, he said, “I’m deeply concerned with a trend I’ve seen over the last several years, where the U.S.-Israel relationship, which always had been very bipartisan regardless of who was in office in Israel or in the U.S., has been trending toward a situation where you have a GOP-Likud relationship and Democratic relationship with other parties in Israel. I think that’s a very destructive trend.”

In 2015, as Jews became polarized over the Iranian nuclear agreement, Schiff considered both sides, then came out in favor of it. Recently, he expressed concern that in the event Trump believes Iran has violated the agreement by developing a nuclear weapon, the president’s outlandishness on Twitter and elsewhere will undermine his credibility in efforts to galvanize allies into action against Iran.

“I have been so appalled by this president’s conduct. I feel I have to vigorously oppose his efforts to undermine our system.” — Adam Schiff

“If they are cheating and the president calls them out on it and thinks there should be some response to it, will the country believe it?” he asked. “The allies we’d need to participate with us, would they believe us? The intelligence agencies that he’s maligning? This is the reason why presidential credibility is to be treasured and not squandered.”

Like Trump, Schiff uses Twitter to communicate his positions. One of his most shared tweets — more than 43,000 retweets and nearly 83,000 likes — addressed Trump’s tweet aimed at the “so-called judge” who had blocked his executive order barring individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.:

This ‘so-called’ judge was nominated by a ‘so-called’ President & was confirmed by the ‘so-called’ Senate. Read the ‘so-called’ Constitution.”

Tweets aside, Schiff’s 17-minute opening statement during the Intelligence Committee’s first public hearing on Russia on March 20 was less attack-dog and, befitting his usual public demeanor in television interviews, more lawyerly. He cited events of the presidential campaign that could suggest coordination between Russians and the Trump campaign, improving the Republican’s chance of victory.

“Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and are nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible,” Schiff said, addressing FBI Director James Comey and Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency. “But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected, and not unrelated, and that the Russians used … techniques to corrupt U.S. persons. … We simply don’t know.”

In the interview with the Journal, he said, “I have been so appalled by this president’s conduct. I feel I have to vigorously oppose his efforts to undermine our system, and so, I certainly think there is more than a grain of truth to the idea this is a different kind of role for me.”

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in West L.A. met Schiff five years ago at a memorial service at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills. Wolpe was leading the service, and Schiff said he was impressed with how eloquently and powerfully he spoke. The two struck up a friendship, exchanging book recommendations via email. The first book Schiff recommended to Wolpe reflected Schiff’s earlier involvement with Russia. It was “Eugene Onegin,” a masterpiece by the Russian novelist Alexander Pushkin.

“When he’s in town, we have lunch,” Wolpe said. “I talk a little bit about politics, but we talk a lot about literature and life.”

“When I saw him at AIPAC [in March], I told him how proud I am of how he’s been conducting himself,” Wolpe continued. “He’s in a tricky position. This is a very fraught time and I think he has conducted himself with a great deal of dignity. I am not trying to take political sides; I try my best not to. I think he is a nice, thoughtful, decent, caring and very intelligent man, so I’m impressed with him.”

Schiff’s own rabbi concurs.

“I felt personally very proud that Adam has taken stances on issues that really move him personally, and he hasn’t backed down on that,” said Rabbi Baht Yameem Weiss of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C.

“From where I sit, I think he’s certainly one of the leaders in the Democratic Party right now.” — Ed Schiff, father of Adam Schiff

For all his supporters, not everyone appreciates his approach to the investigation.

“Adam Schiff is a bright guy. He’s a talented legislator, but right now, instead of focusing on the substance of the investigation, he’s focusing on politics and partisanship,” Ken Khachigian, a San Clemente-based Republican strategist and former senior adviser to President Ronald Reagan, told the L.A. Daily News last month.

Schiff and his wife, who is Catholic, are raising their two children, Alexa, 18, and Elijah, 14, Jewish. The family has belonged to Temple Beth Ami since 2010. They formerly belonged to Temple Sinai in Glendale. Alexa is involved with the Hillel at Northwestern University, where she is a freshman. She has traveled to Israel with a Jewish summer camp and will be working as a counselor at the camp this summer, Weiss said.

As a House member, Schiff said he draws on the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam (repairing the world) to influence his work in Congress.

“We have a responsibility to mend the torn fabric of the world,” he said.

For all of his success as a prosecutor, state legislator and congressman, it might have been his experience with a Black kid from Inglewood that has shaped Schiff most. In his mid-20s, fresh out of law school, he volunteered to become a “big brother” through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles. He was paired with David McMillan, a child of a single mother who needed a male role model for her son.

The two hit it off immediately, bonding over “The Big Lebowski,” Billy Joel and the beach. Three decades later, they are still part of each other’s lives. McMillan, now a television writer and playwright living in Los Angeles, was in Schiff’s wedding and recently attended Elijah Schiff’s bar mitzvah. There, Adam’s father approached McMillan and said, “I want to thank you for making Adam a better person.”

“I certainly would like to hope my relationship has had a positive impact, not just in how he conducts politics but also as a human being,” McMillan said.

“My ‘big brother’ is leading the resistance and is emerging as a leader not just of the Democratic Party but of all people who care about our democratic institutions and making sure they just survive.”


Left: In 1986, 25-year-old Adam Schiff gets together with David McMillan, his Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles “little brother.” Photo courtesy of David McMillan
Right: Congressman Adam Schiff and David McMillan were paired 30 years ago through Big Brothers Big Sisters. The two would become lifelong friends. Photo courtesy of David McMillan

Speculation over Schiff’s future includes whether he might run for the Senate to succeed Dianne Feinstein, who is 83 and shares the same birthday, June 22, as Schiff. Feinstein, a senator since 1992, has not said whether she intends to seek another six-year term next year, but Schiff running to succeed her is a possibility his father won’t rule out.

“I think it would be a tremendous honor for him to step into the Senate if he wanted it, but I don’t know,” Ed Schiff said. “From where I sit, I think he’s certainly one of the leaders in the Democratic Party right now. And where that goes, how that goes, and so forth, I think it all depends on which way our country is going.”

In March, Schiff gave a speech at the Westwood home of Karl S. Thurmond, a friend of more than 30 years. In his 40-minute talk, Schiff denounced the president and expressed hope for the future of the Democratic Party before taking questions from the audience.

Left: Adam Schiff and his friend and former Harvard Law School classmate Karl Thurmond cross the finish line at the 1990 Los Angeles Marathon. Below: Nearly 30 years after running the marathon, the two appeared together at Thurmond’s Westwood home in March. Schiff spoke before 50 of his supporters and discussed the Trump administration, the future of the Democratic Party and more.

Left: Adam Schiff and his friend and former Harvard Law School classmate Karl Thurmond cross the finish line at the 1990 Los Angeles Marathon.
Right: Nearly 30 years after running the marathon, the two appeared together at Thurmond’s Westwood home in March. Schiff spoke before 50 of his supporters and discussed the Trump administration, the future of the Democratic Party and more.

Thurmond is an attorney and member of the Milken Community Schools board of trustees. He and Schiff were classmates in law school and both moved to L.A. after graduation, becoming part of a group that committed to becoming involved with a nonprofit to affect change. It was a pledge that led Schiff to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

They were 30 at the time, and Schiff was living in Venice. Training for the Los Angeles Marathon, he and Thurmond went on runs from Venice to Malibu and back, using the time to discuss career ambitions. Adam confided in Thurmond that he wanted to be president one day, to follow in the footsteps of his idol, John F. Kennedy.

“We would talk about our aspirations in life and one of his biggest from Day One was to run for political office so he could give back. His idol at the time, and I think still is, was President Kennedy,” Thurmond said. “I firmly believe, as he moves up, one day he will be running for president. And I can’t think of a better person to hold that office.”

For his part, Schiff declined to address his future.

“I don’t have much time even to eat lunch,” he said, “let alone think about anything other than what’s going on in the intelligence world.”

How complicated is Syria? Trump just helped ISIS

We like our problems clean and direct. Good versus evil. Good fights evil. Good wins.

The Syrian regime of President Assad is evil. Its use of chemical weapons to murder children was barbaric. It makes sense to not let him get away with it. So, you can argue that President Trump was right to order missile strikes against the regime.

This satisfying moral action, however, should not make us dumb down a complicated conflict. The dominant reality of the Syrian conflict today is that it represents evil vs evil. You can get rid of one evil only to see something worse replace it.

On one side of the conflict, you have the Assad regime, supported by Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. A few years ago, Assad was on life support. Now, with his strong partners, he’s made a comeback.

On the other side of the conflict are anti-regime rebel groups who fight each other as much as they fight the Assad regime.

The largest is ISIS, with 25,000 to 80,000 fighters. ISIS has become the enemy par excellence in the Western world. Trump has talked incessantly about destroying them. Now consider this: By striking Assad, Trump ended up helping ISIS. Complicated enough?

Besides ISIS, there are groups like Al-Nusra Front (15,000 to 20,000 fighters), Jaysh al-Islam (17,000 to 25,000), Ahrar ash-Sham (10,000 to 20,000), Asala wa-al-Tanmiya (13,000), Jaysh al-Fatah (10,000), Sham Legion (4,000) and Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union (3,000).

In the middle of this jungle is the Free Syrian Army, with 100,000 fighters, which was started by former Syrian officers. Everyone seems to fight them.

Geography further complicates the picture. The country has been heavily splintered. Different groups have different power bases. Of course, the more land you can conquer the more power you have.

In the North is the Kurdish group, which is another story altogether, because Kurds are known to be more moderate. But Turkey hates the Kurds. Just as Iran and Syria are supporting the Assad regime, countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey are supporting their own rebel groups.

The point is this: Syria has become a complete, violent mess. When it comes to the most likely winners in this conflict, the choice has become evil versus evil. The good people of Syria who initially rose up against Assad, and the militias they organized, have been slowly crushed.

As much as it may satisfy us to punish Assad for using chemical weapons, it’s important to keep our eye on the whole picture. What can America do? At this point, not much. Six years ago, when the more moderate rebel forces were stronger, we could have given them military assistance and established no-fly zones. Would it have worked? Who knows? There’s no certainty when so many violent forces are at play.

What we do know today is that extremist groups have the upper hand pretty much everywhere and that Russia has established its own military presence. That limits our options. On the humanitarian front, we can certainly help establish safe zones to assist the millions of refugees. We can even order the occasional pinprick attack to show we’re still here and we have our limits, and the use of chemical weapons is one of them.

But let’s be real. There are no good options. The Syrian fire has gotten too big to simply suffocate. Yes, let’s stay vigilant. Let’s make sure things don’t get too out of hand and spill over into other countries (like Israel). But as vexed as I am to say this, when evil fights evil, sometimes the best option is to let them fight it out, and to help ensure no one wins.

As Daniel Pipes writes, “Iranian- and Russian-backed Shi’ite pro-government jihadis are best kept busy fighting Saudi-, Qatar-, and Turkish-backed anti-government Sunni jihadis; because Kurds, however appealing, are not contenders for control of the whole of Syria; and because Americans have no stomach for another Middle Eastern war.”

Trump can go on about how attacking Assad is a “vital U.S. interest,” but who’s he kidding? Is he ready to invite the head of ISIS to the White House for peace talks?

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump had indicated earlier that he was considering action.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White House aide Ezra Cohen-Watnick reportedly leaked sensitive information to House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Representative Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), above. Cohen-Watnick's wife worked on behalf of Russia. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Wife of key Trump aide worked to make Putin’s Russia look good in the West 

In the rush to connect the dots between the Trump Administration and Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Jewish wedding provided the latest purported link.

Specifically, it’s the Jewish wedding of Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the White House aide whom the New York Times identified as having leaked sensitive intelligence to a high-ranking Republican congressman in March. New information suggests Cohen-Watnick’s wife worked on behalf of the Russian government as a Washington D.C-based public relations specialist before they married.

In November, the 30-year-old Trump aide celebrated his upcoming wedding with Rebecca Miller, a content executive at the multinational public-relations firm Ketchum, which was retained until 2015 by the Russian government. While at Ketchum, Miller reportedly worked to “make Russia look better.”

The information comes from an oral history interview of Miller’s mother, Vicki Fraser, by the State Historical Society of Missouri in August 2014 (Fraser was born in St. Louis).

“Her big challenges right now are Ketchum is responsible for providing PR and marketing to try to make Russia look better,” Fraser told the interviewer of her daughter, “which is particularly difficult when they’re invading other countries and when Putin is somewhat out of control.”

The interview was discovered by E. Randol Schoenberg, a Los Angeles-based attorney and genealogy who made a name and fortune by recovering some $300 million worth of paintings pilfered by Nazis in Vienna in a landmark case in 2006.

On his blog, Schoenberg wrote that he and a fellow genealogist managed to uncover family details about Cohen-Watnick that led to the find.

Cohen-Watnick, the National Security Council senior director for intelligence, reportedly provided California Congressman Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with information suggesting President Donald Trump was swept up in surveillance by American intelligence agencies.

The leak is particularly significant because it led to a breakdown in the intelligence committee’s investigation of ties between Trump associates and Russia. In addition, after the source of the leak was revealed, National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster reportedly sought the aide’s firing, but Trump intervened personally to save Cohen-Watnick’s job.

Ohr Kodesh Congregation, a Conservative synagogue outside Washington D.C., announced Cohen-Watnick and Miller’s aufruf, the Shabbat celebration that precedes an observant wedding, in November.

A train carriage damaged from an explosion at Tekhnologicheskiy institut metro station in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 3. Photo by Mikhail Ognev/

Israel sends condolences, support to Russia following deadly subway bombing

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent condolences to Russian President Vladimir Putin after at least 10 people were killed in a bombing attack on a St. Petersburg subway.

“On behalf of the Government of Israel, I send condolences to President Putin and to the families of those who were murdered following today’s bombing on the St. Petersburg subway,” Netanyahu wrote Monday in a statement hours after the afternoon blast, which also injured dozens more. “The citizens of Israel stand alongside the Russian people at this difficult time.”

The homemade bomb filled with shrapnel detonated in a moving subway car after Putin had arrived in his hometown for a visit. A more powerful bomb was discovered later at a nearby train station and defused.

The attack shut down the entire subway system in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

President Donald Trump. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

‘He’s not all bad’: A Democrat defends Trump

Ever since Donald Trump was elected president, I’ve been trying to decipher the indecipherable psyche of The Trump Voter.

I want to understand how a person of conscience could have voted for him and how such a person would defend the actions of his office. 

So I did a little research project by calling my Uncle Rich, a 76-year-old cardiologist and Trump supporter. As far as I know, he’s sane, rational and verifiably humane since he’s spent the last 47 years saving people’s lives.

Uncle Rich and I have been arguing about politics since I was 15. Last week, he emailed me an article about Trump doubling down against anti-Israel bias at the United Nations under the subject line: “He’s not all bad.” I gritted my teeth, took a deep breath and invited him to argue with me a little more — if not for the sake of heaven, then at least for the sake of my column.

First, I asked why on earth he’s a Republican.

“I am a registered Democrat and have been since I was 21,” he declared.

“I have voted both ways. I’m a great believer that America comes first and the parties come second. So, I’m open-minded to any candidate — Republican, Democrat, Black, white, Jewish, woman, etc.”

I asked him to describe his paramount political values, but he said they change with each election cycle. In 2016, his top concerns were: terrorism, the economy and health care.

“In the beginning, I was a little bit ambivalent about [Trump],” he admitted. “But as time went on, I began to see that he was serious. And he was willing to step out of an unbelievably successful business and into a job that I don’t know if I envy. I began to say, ‘Wow.’

“I felt this was a man who really recognized the problem of terrorism. I liked that he was vigorous and emphatic on the necessity of vetting people, particularly from certain areas. You know, profiling is a term I think gets a bum rap.”

This is only one area where Uncle Rich and I part ways. To me, profiling is a form of legalized discrimination that contributes in no small part to the mass incarceration of people of color and the poor.

“I profile in medicine,” he said. “If I see a person of a certain background, I’ll order certain tests based on their background. To say there aren’t certain groups of people who are more likely to be terrorists, that’s foolish. We need to be exquisitely careful in order to avoid a situation of tremendous, tremendous terror …

“As far as [economics], the man is a financial success.”

Never mind his bankruptcies? Or his record of failing to pay employees what he owed them?

“I’m a businessman myself. When I started in medicine, we were told not to be businessmen. We were told, ‘You’re a doctor, and you’ll work for oranges and grapefruits,’ which I would have. We were discouraged from negotiating with a hospital, for example. ‘Just take the job.’ [Trump] is a negotiator, and I became a negotiator.”

If Trump was such a negotiating wizard, I asked, what about his signature failure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare?

“Health care is an extremely complicated issue. At the end of the day, I think Republicans and Democrats want the same things: quality care, access and preventative medicine. Obamacare had great ideas — who could argue with what I just said? The problem is cost. This is a business problem.”

I argue it’s also a moral problem. Part of the reason the legislation failed is because its underlining interests were providing tax cuts for the wealthy and eliminating vital health care services for the nation’s most vulnerable: the old and the poor.

“I don’t think Mr. Trump wants a program where someone who is 64 can afford health care and someone who is 65 can’t. What makes America great is that we have the ability to create a system with some equality. Certainly, you’re going to have concierge medicine the way you can have a Mercedes or you can have a Chevy — but a Chevy is a good car!”

Then why don’t more rich people drive Chevys?

Still, I countered, the Great Negotiator failed to unify his party and pass his first major piece of legislation.

“You want to feel good about the fact that you were right? Come on! He’s been in office for three months. If you tell me three years from now that he’s failed in all his legislation, I’ll say, ‘You know, you’re right, I made a mistake.’ But not three months in.”

Well, what about Trump’s Russia ties? Should he get a pass on that, too?

“I’m not bothered yet because I come from a school of medicine where you have to deal with results. If we find out that Trump did things undercover with the Russians, then I’m gonna be upset about it. But I’m not gonna get caught up in the rumor mill. This stuff is still unsettled.”

It’s clear that where I see moral and legal transgression, my uncle sees a man who hasn’t yet hit his stride. Surely, though, he wouldn’t defend the terrible things Trump has said maligning women, immigrants and Muslims.

“He’s sometimes quick to speak,” Uncle Rich allowed. “He’s a hand-to-mouth guy, and sometimes what he says doesn’t go completely to his brain.

“What I was thinking when that was going on was: If we lived in a dictatorship, I would have been much more worried about Donald Trump than I am in the system we are in, which is a checks-and-balances system. Because a man who sometimes speaks like that may try to act like that.” 

Finally, Uncle Rich, we agree.

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

Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Feb. 7, 2017. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Pool/Getty Images.

Senate committee to question Jared Kushner over Russia ties

The Senate Intelligence Committee will question Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and an adviser, over his ties to Russian officials.

The committee is looking into meetings that Kushner had with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, in December during the transition at Trump Tower in New York. The meetings included Michael Flynn, who stepped down as Trump’s national security adviser over his contacts with Russian officials, including Kislyak, The New York Times reported, citing unnamed government officials. Kushner reportedly also arranged a second meeting between Flynn and Kislyak.

Kushner also will face questioning about an unreported meeting he had with the head of a Russian state-owned bank that was under sanctions enacted by the Obama administration over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

White House spokesman Hope Hicks confirmed the meetings to The New York Times.

Hicks also told the newspaper that Kushner was willing to talk to the committee about the meetings, saying, “He isn’t trying to hide anything.”

The arranging of the meeting with the Russian banker came at the same time that American intelligence determined that Russian spies ordered by President Vladimir Putin had attempted to sway the U.S. election in favor of Trump, the newspaper reported.

Kushner is the person closest to the president to be questioned in the investigations and the only one currently serving in the White House, according to the Times.

Committee chair Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the committee’s vice chairman, said in a statement that “Mr. Kushner has volunteered to be interviewed as part of the committee’s investigation into the Russian activities surrounding the 2016 election.”

Meanwhile, the White House announced Sunday night, after a report appeared in the Washington Post, that Kushner would lead a new White House office that would streamline the government, using ideas borrowed from the business world.

The White House Office of Innovation is being given the authority to overhaul government bureaucracy. The initiative was to be formally announced on Monday.

“All Americans, regardless of their political views, can recognize that government stagnation has hindered our ability to properly function, often creating widespread congestion and leading to cost overruns and delays,” read a statement issued by the White House on Sunday in Trump’s name. “I promised the American people I would produce results, and apply my  ‘ahead of schedule, under budget’ mentality to the government.”

Kushner, who is Jewish, told the Washington Post on Sunday: “The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”

Jared Kushner sitting in on a session with President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans at the White House, Feb. 16. Photo by Ron Sachs/Getty Images.

Report: Jared Kushner attended Michael Flynn’s controversial meeting with Russian envoy

Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, attended a controversial meeting in December between a Russian diplomat and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, The New York Times reported.

The meeting between Kushner, Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak lasted 20 minutes at Trump Tower and was intended to “establish a line of communication,” White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks told The Times on Thursday.

The FBI is investigating alleged Russian involvement in November’s U.S. presidential election. Flynn resigned after failing to disclose the nature of calls he had with Kislyak in which he reportedly urged the Russians not to respond to sanctions imposed or planned by the Obama administration, saying relations would improve under Trump.

Kushner was not known to have participated in talks with Russian officials prior to the report.

“Jared has had meetings with many other foreign countries and representatives – as many as two dozen other foreign countries’ leaders and representatives,” Hicks said, adding that Kushner has not met with Kislyak since the December meeting.

In an interview with the Times of London, Trump said that Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband, would take on the task of negotiating peace between Israelis and Palestinians – an appointment Trump had previously floated due to the fact that Kushner “knows the region, knows the people, knows the players,” Trump described in a previous interview.

Kushner is Jewish and has visited Israel many times. His wife underwent an Orthodox conversion before their wedding in 2010.

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in Washington, D.C, on Feb. 4, 2014. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Rep. Engel calls on Trump to dump Flynn

The top Democrat handling foreign affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives called on President Donald Trump to sack National Security Adviser Michael Flynn after reports emerged Flynn consulted with Russia on sensitive issues before Trump assumed office.

“It’s clear that concerns about General Flynn’s ties to Russia were well warranted,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Friday in a statement.

Democrats have since the campaign been raising questions about Flynn, who in 2015 accepted a fee to speak at the 10th anniversary of RT, the English-language broadcaster widely seen as a Russian government propaganda outlet.

Flynn also has been a booster of closer ties with Russia, whose government, under President Vladimir Putin, has been reviled as repressive and corrupt by Democrats and Republicans.

Obama in December slapped sanctions on Russia because of its alleged spying in the United States and because the U.S. intelligence community expressed a high degree of certainty that Russia attempted to meddle in the U.S. elections.

It was revealed shortly thereafter that Flynn had spoken with Russia’s ambassador to the United States just after Obama imposed sanctions, but Flynn and Sergey Kislyak, the ambassador, said the calls were routine and did not address the sanctions.

On Thursday, the Washington Post quoted nine intelligence officials who were familiar with the calls as saying that sanctions were indeed discussed. Inthe article, Flynn backed away from his earlier denial, leading some Democrats – chief among them Engel – to call for his removal.

“It’s unacceptable that during the transition, General Flynn discussed lifting sanctions with Russia’s ambassador,” Engel said.

According to the reports, Flynn suggested to Kislyak that Trump would roll back the sanctions, making the case to him that Russia should not retaliate against Obama.

“This action would be deeply troubling under any circumstances, but considering Russia’s effort to tip the election toward President Trump, the General’s actions are disqualifying,” Engel said. “And if General Flynn negotiated with Russia to change American policy, he may be in violation of the Logan Act, which bars such conduct. The President must relieve General Flynn immediately.”

The Logan Act is law against unauthorized citizens interfering in U.S. disputes with foreign governments. There has never been a prosecution under the act.

Engel’s district includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester County.

Was it the Russians who tipped the scale in Trump’s favor?

President-elect Donald Trump has finally admitted the possibility of the Russian hacking, so all liberal democrats who now consider the CIA the guardian of democracy and Russia the evil empire can breathe and go back to their seats.

I did not vote for Trump, but I did spend my childhood in communist Romania during the hay day of the evil empire — a background that makes me highly sensitive to hypocritical re-writes of history. Everyone knows that our future president has a flair for drama; still, he isn’t too far off to accuse his opponents of a “political witch hunt” to cover up “their embarrassment over their loss.” Yes the Russians need to be punished, along with all other hackers, through every possible means. But no, it isn’t fair to claim that they determined the election results.

To prove Trump’s point, Friday morning on CNN (1-6-2017) Paul Begala said that “Trump is the beneficiary of a crime; Russia put its finger on the scale and tipped it in his favor.” Gloria Borger, who had been trying to argue that the criminality of the hacking and the results of the election were totally separate matters and should be treated as such, tried but failed to shut her colleague up. Begala succeeded, over her protests, to do exactly what Trump contends his opponents are doing — crediting the Russians for Trump’s victory and Clinton’s defeat.

As much as I wanted Hillary to win, I find this narrative revolting. For in the very close 2016 race, who hurt Hillary the most? The far right? The far-away Russians? If you must blame someone for Hillary’s defeat — other than the massive numbers of Americans who grew disenchanted with Obama and the Democratic party — blame the American far left.

Who should know better than Robby Mook, Hillary’s campaign manager? During the Hillary for President Autopsy report held at The Harvard Institute of Politics on Dec 1, 2016, Mook reported that the precise cause of death was the millennial vote – or failure thereof.  “Yes, you can blame millennials for Hillary Clinton’s loss,” agreed Aaron Blake of The Washington Post on December 2, admitting that at first he was skeptical but realized after “digging into the numbers” that “Mook had a point.” And who poisoned the hearts and minds that had been enamored enough with the Septuagenarian socialist  to abandon lap tops, crowd at rallies and bring Sanders closer to the nomination than a socialist revolutionary might ever have dreamed was possible in America?

The ugly tactics used against Hillary Clinton by Sanders’ supporters were brought up during the Harvard post-mortem discussion.  Mandy Grunwald, a Clinton campaign senior adviser, confessed that a contributing factor to her candidate’s defeat was “the Bernie Bros and the vehemence and the anger and the hideousness and what was said on line; frankly I’ve never seen anything like it.”

What was said on line and on TV and at Bernie Sanders rallies about Hillary Clinton classifies not just as gender warfare – there was a bit of that – but as class warfare.  “Corporate democratic whore” was only one of the sexist revolutionary slurs directed at Hillary. There were many other unisex ones, like “she is in the pocket of Wall Street,” and “the tool” of “evil,” “corrupt,” “criminal”  “corporate America.”  There were  also those ugly, destructive chants at Sanders rallies, and the people sporting “Bernie or Bust” T shirts marching before the start of the Democratic National Convention shouting “Lock Her Up” and calling Hillary Clinton a “witch” and a “bitch.”

Strong-armed by the party’s establishment and wanting to retain maximum influence after Hillary’s victory, Team Sanders negotiated its fee for building the bridge over the troubled waters. And Sanders himself now remains more discreet in public than his supporters who are trying to strong-arm control of the democratic party as they advance the narrative that crooked Hillary cheated honest Sanders out of a presidency their hero could have easily won.  In truth, by the time the presidential race started, Hillary’s reputation – particularly with Bernie’s millennial fans — had already been brutalized in the primaries. The media, Hillary’s supposed best friends, continued to put salt on the wounds.  A second major reason for Hillary’s defeat, Mook explained at the autopsy report, was main stream media’s “not covering what Hillary Clinton was choosing to say” but instead “trying to unearth secrets and reveal the expose.”

“Like hungry school children, American mainstream media feasted on the hacked emails at the Democratic National Convention last summer,” I wrote in my essay “How Should Journalists Treat Stolen Booty.” (December 14,2016. ) But all the pundits thought Trump “was hopeless, and it was fun to torture Hillary and even more fun to guess when the next big batch of stolen property would be distributed.  Finally the John Podesta giant goody bag was pilfered and dumped out for all to feast on, and every major and minor journalist and newscaster rushed to grab his or her tasty treat. They ignored Hillary’s, Podesta’s and Mook’s pleas to stay away from it, not eat or feed anyone any of it,  especially not during the final and most important debate – the stolen goods were procured through an international crime, people!”

How the media raked Secretary Clinton over the coals over daring to attribute the millennials’ revolutionary fervor to the frustration of living in parents’ basements!  “I mean I’m still trying to understand the revolution part,” Hillary was caught saying in the leaked audio tape, followed by laughter from the audience.

Senator Sanders defended her statement at the time. Unlike many of his supporters, he is an honest socialist. He is also a serious socialist, and for him, the subject of revolution is no laughing matter.  Remember what he told the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board on March 23, 2016: No American president “can literally do anything for the American people, unless there is a political revolution” against “the ruling class – that is Wall Street, that is corporate America, that is the wealthy contributors, that is corporate media.”

The extremists in the Democratic Party did everything in their power to push Hillary Clinton as far to the left as possible; still, a socialist revolutionary they could never make out of her. Had she won, there might have been a chance she could have moved the Democratic Party back towards the center, where many of her supporters — like me– believe it belongs.

Instead of blaming the Russians for their hacks, “the movement” should thank mainstream media for the publicity provided every diamond dug out of the pilfered treasure chests. The Democratic Party Grand Robbery and The Podesta Grand Theft have now been used to fuel hatred towards an even bigger class enemy than the millionaire former presidential candidate – the billionaire future President of the United States. From a revolutionary perspective, Hillary Clinton’s defeat is a victory in disguise.

Those of us who are encouraged by Trump’s support for Israel during the last and worst back stab of the Obama administration should  consider trying, like David David Suissa suggested in his latest essays, to hold on to our seats and to give our next administration a chance.  And then there is still the hope that the sizable number of our Congressional leaders who are now standing with Israel in condemnation of the biased Security Council Resolution will also manage to withstand the efforts of the Berniecrats to tip the scale in their favor or bust it altogether.

TV puppet on Trump: “I know a Russian puppet when I see one!”

Since the mid-1950s, the iconic sock puppet Lamb Chop has said whatever’s on her six-year-old mind (as well as the mind of her creator Shari Lewis, and since Shari’s death in 1998, the mind of Shari’s daughter Mallory).

Now the sassy little sheep, who is proud of the fact that nobody’s ever pulled the wool over her eyes, is speaking out about Donald Trump. In her first-ever meme on social media, Lamb Chop states, “I know a Russian puppet when I see one!” followed by the hashtag “notmypresident.”

Lamb Chop is not unfamiliar with Washington.  In 1993, she became the only hand puppet in history to testify before Congress. Shari, whose “Lamb Chop’s Play-Along” series was a huge hit at the time on PBS, addressed the House Telecommunications subcommittee about the lack of quality TV programming for children. After Shari’s allotted three minutes, Lamb Chop asked Senator Edward Markey for her own three minutes, which he immediately granted.

Mallory Lewis, who now tours the country performing with her “little sister,” said “It’s important that artists speak out against Donald Trump and the Republican Party, and Lamb Chop is nothing if not an artist.”  As for the genesis of the meme, Lewis laughed. “I had already taken a picture of Lamb Chop with a safety pin on her, a symbol of solidarity with all the groups who feel threatened by Trump’s election, and after having a glass of wine last night, the thought struck me!”

Shari Lewis (whose father was Yeshiva University professor Abraham Hurwitz) and her husband, the late publisher Jeremy Tarcher, were lifelong Democratic activists, and their daughter insists the family never worried about the reaction among those on the other side of the aisle. “There comes a time when even if there is political backlash, you must stand for what is right.”

Given the positive response to the meme, Mallory Lewis said Lamb Chop will be coming out with a new one every week from now on. What will Ms. Chop be doing on Inauguration Day?  “She’ll be crying,” replied Lewis. “And the next day, she’ll be with me at the Women’s March in Los Angeles. Lamb Chop stands for children and the future.”

Although her millions of fans over the last six decades might not have been aware of it, Lewis reveals that, “Lamb Chop has always been a liberal. Her theory is, first they came for the blacks, then they came for the Jews… and Lamb Chop, you should know, is Jewish… and if nobody stands up, one day they’ll come for the puppets.”

Steve North worked at NBC, CBS and ABC during 44 years in broadcast journalism.  He’s a contributor to Jewish Journal, The Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post, The Daily Beast, and The Huffington Post, among other publications.

Trump in response to leak of Russian dossier: ‘Are we living in Nazi Germany?’

President-elect Donald Trump asked “Are we living in Nazi Germany?” in a tweet blaming intelligence agencies for reports that Russia has a dossier with compromising personal and financial information about him.

“Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ to the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” he tweeted Wednesday morning.

The tweet came on the heels of several others in which he called the existence of such a file a “total fabrication” and “utter nonsense.” He also tweeted that he has “nothing to do with Russia,” including “no deals” and “no loans.”

He called reports of the file “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”

Intelligence officials reportedly have briefed Trump on the 35-page document, which claims that the Russian government has pursued and collected the personal and financial information on him. President Barack Obama reportedly also was briefed. Journalists and other officials reportedly have been in possession of copies of the files for weeks but have not been able to verify the poorly sourced documents.

Russian officials have denied the report.

“The Kremlin has no compromising dossier on Mr. Trump, such information is not consistent with reality and is nothing but an absolute fantasy,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said at a regular news briefing, The New York Times reported.

A two-page summary of the dossier was attached to a U.S. intelligence report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The summary was first reported by CNN.

Memos in the dossier reportedly describe sex videos of Trump and prostitutes at a Moscow hotel in 2013, allegedly recorded for use as leverage against the new U.S. president, according to the Times. The dossier was compiled from information received from Russian informants and others for a Washington political research firm by Trump political rivals, the newspaper reported.

Various news outlets have emphasized that the claims contained in the dossier have not been substantiated.

Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, criticized Trump’s reference to Nazi Germany and called for him to retract the tweet.

“It is a despicable insult to Holocaust survivors around the world, and to the nation he is about to lead, that Donald Trump compares America to Nazi Germany,” Goldstein said in a statement. “The President-elect has denigrated our nation and its commitment to freedom on the eve of his inauguration. He must retract his tweet and apologize to survivors and to our entire nation.”

Trump was scheduled to hold his first news conference since before the election on Wednesday.

Trump doubles down on ‘Nazi’ tweet at news conference

President-elect Donald Trump defended a tweet he posted comparing the leak of a dossier containing allegations about him to the actions of Nazi Germany.

At a news conference Wednesday, Trump said leaking such intelligence “is something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”

Reports came out Tuesday claiming Russia has a dossier with compromising personal and financial information about Trump. A two-page summary of the dossier was attached to a U.S. intelligence report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The summary was first reported by CNN.

The dossier reportedly includes memos — their credibility has not been substantiated — describing sex videos of Trump and prostitutes at a Moscow hotel in 2013, allegedly recorded for use as leverage against the new U.S. president.

On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted that the reports were “fake news” and blamed intelligence agencies for the leak of the documents.

Critics pounced on Trump following the tweet. Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement that “it is not only a ridiculous comparison on the merits, but it also coarsens our discourse and diminishes the horror of the Holocaust.”

Trump attacked the report throughout his news conference Wednesday, his first since being elected. He called publications that published the dossier “disgraceful.”

“That should never have been written, never been had and never been released,” Trump said. “It’s all fake news, it’s phony stuff, it didn’t happen.”

Trump also discussed his vision of relations with Russia, his plans to keep manufacturing in the United States, and his intention to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. An attorney for Trump unveiled the president-elect’s plans to relinquish management of his businesses, but not his ownership, to his sons.

None dare call it treason

In 1964, when Barry Goldwater ran against Lyndon Johnson, a man named John A. Stormer self-published a book called, “None Dare Call It Treason.” It accused America’s left-leaning elites of paving the way for a Soviet victory in the Cold War. The book sold seven million copies, but Johnson crushed Goldwater in the election.

Now that the C.I.A. has determined that the Russians intervened in the presidential election to help Trump win, the Cold War politics of left and right have been flipped. If Stormer rewrote his book for 2016, its thesis might go like this:

Beware of Donald Trump. Witlessly or willfully, he’s doing the Kremlin’s bidding. Anyone who enables him – on his payroll or in the press, by sucking up or by silence, out of good will or cowardice – is Vladimir Putin’s useful idiot. This is a national emergency, and treating it like normal is criminally negligent of our duty to American democracy.

Trump as traitor: I can just imagine the reaction from the Tower penthouse. Lying media. Paranoid hyperbole. Partisan libel. Sour grapes. A pathetic bid for clicks. A desperate assault on the will of the people. Sad! (Note to Tweeter-in-Chief: You’re welcome.)

As a kid in a New Jersey household where Adlai Stevenson was worshipped, I thought Stormer was a nut job, so I won’t pretend that accepting the modern inverse of his case is a no-brainer. I’m also not trying to recast my political differences with the president-elect as a national security crisis. Trump won. Elections have consequences. I get that.

I may not like it, but I’m not surprised that Trump tapped Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a crusading climate change denier and an advocate of dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency, to run the E.P.A., presumably into the ground. Anyone who interpreted Al Gore’s meeting with Trump as a sign of his open-mindedness on climate change got played, just like Gore got played.

Similarly, I’m cynical, but not shocked that Trump’s picks for treasury secretary, National Economic Council and chief adviser – Steven Mnuchin, Gary Cohn and Steve Bannon – are alumni of Goldman Sachs. A billionaire managed to hijack Bernie Sanders’ indictment of Wall Street and brand Hillary Clinton as the stooge of Goldman Sachs. The success of that impersonation isn’t on Trump, it’s on us.

I’m infuriated, but not startled that Trump refuses to disclose his tax returns, divest his assets, create a credible blind trust, obey the constitutional prohibition of foreign emoluments or eliminate the conflict between fattening his family fortune and advancing American interests.  That’s not draining the swamp, it’s drinking it.

It’s abysmal that Democrats didn’t have a good enough jobs message to convince enough Rust Belt voters to choose their economic alternative to Trump’s tax cuts for the rich. It’s disgraceful that the media normalized Trump, propagated his lies, monetized his notoriety and lapped up his tweet porn. It’s maddening that the Electoral College apportions ballot power inequitably. But as enervating as any of that is, none of it is as dangerous to democracy as the C.I.A.’s finding that Putin hacked the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf. Without firing a single shot, the Kremlin is weeks away from installing its puppet in the White House.

Within days, Trump is expected to name Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobil’s CEO, as his secretary of state. Putin bestowed the Order of Friendship, one of Russia’s highest civilian honors, on Tillerson, after Exxon signed a deal with Rosneft, the Russian government-owned oil company, to jointly explore the Black Sea and Arctic. The plan died when the U.S. and E.U. sanctioned Russia for annexing Crimea; Tillerson, whose Exxon shares’ value will skyrocket if sanctions are lifted, favors lifting them.

The Tillerson appointment is the latest dot in the pattern of Trump’s Putinophilia. When 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concurred that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic emails, Trump – who’s refused most of his security briefings – rejected their conclusion, claiming at one point that it “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” at another that “it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.” I knew that Trump is a serial fat-shamer, but I didn’t know until now that being a Newarker puts me in his crosshairs, too.

It’s entirely conceivable that Russia has something on Trump. They may hold hundreds of millions of dollars of Trump debt. They may have spousally unsettling video of him – a K.G.B. specialty, and a plausible Trump susceptibility. Surely the Kremlin has mapped his character disorder. In the third debate, when Trump said Putin had no respect for Clinton, and she shot back, “Well, that’s because he’d rather have a puppet as president,” Trump’s interruption – “No puppet, no puppet, you’re the puppet, no, you’re the puppet” – sounded like a third-grader. Actually, it was a confession, what clinicians call projective identification. Putin’s psy ops must know every such string on him to play.

Before the election, when both parties’ congressional leaders were secretly informed that Russia had its thumb on the scale for Trump, Republican leader Mitch McConnell torpedoed a bipartisan plan to decry their intervention. Now that the news is out, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Sunday that the intel “should alarm every American,” and they called for a bipartisan investigation to stop “the grave threats that cyberattacks… pose to our national security.”

Trump’s response? “I think it is ridiculous. It’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it. Every week it’s another excuse. We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College.”

As we don’t know. Trump’s Electoral College margin will rank 44th among the 54 presidential elections that have been held since the 12th Amendment was ratified.  Nate Silver called Trump’s “landslide” claim “Orwellian.” The Washington Post gave it Four Pinocchios. Why not just call it a lie?

Trump blew off the Kremlin’s intervention in our election the way Putin denied Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Do we call that a lie, too?

Maybe there’s a better word we should dare to use.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at

Many Russian expats expect ‘strong’ Trump leadership

West Hollywood resident Roman Finarovsky was sitting on a bench recently, watching his fellow seniors play chess and dominoes in Plummer Park. Not long before, he had cast his vote for Donald Trump, and now he was thrilled to find out his candidate had won the presidential election.

“Trump is going to be a strong leader,” the 76-year-old Russian Jew said. “He keeps his word. He will do everything in his power for people.”

As shock spread across the United States following a bitter election season that divided the nation, many Russian expats in the Los Angeles area united in their support of Trump.

Steven Windmueller, a professor emeritus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles who has been studying American Jewish voting patterns for decades, said that while there’s no real data on the issue, his interactions with the community support this conclusion — as did more than a dozen interviews conducted for this story.

“They expressed to me their belief that the nation needed ‘a strong man’ to deal with the external threats to the country,” Windmueller wrote to the Journal in an email. “Several suggested to me that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Trump would work well together, as they marveled at [Putin’s] leadership, and they were hoping that Mr. Trump would emulate that model within this country. They also believed that Donald Trump would be ‘great’ for Israel!”

There are about 500,000 Russian Jews in the U.S., or roughly 10 percent of the American Jewish population, according to a recent study. Approximately 80,000 Russian Jews reside in Los Angeles.

There are numerous reasons cited by members of the Russian Jewish community for supporting Trump and his policies. Many Russian-speaking Jews welcomed Trump’s anti-immigration promises, despite being immigrants or the descendants of recent immigrants.

“Trump is against undocumented immigrants,” said Boris Reitman, a West Hollywood resident who moved from Ukraine 18 years ago. “His polices will target those who are in the country illegally.”

A deeper look at Soviet history might explain why expats — the majority of them Jewish refugees who fled anti-Semitism between 1970 and 1990 — appear so unsympathetic to other refugees and immigrants, said Robert English, director of the USC School of International Relations.

“They see themselves as sort of naturally Americans,” he said. “They are white people and they are from the big country that occupies a whole continent, a former superpower. They look at Latinos, Asians and Muslims and see people who don’t really belong here.”

Putin also was at the center of why a number of Russian Jews supported Trump — although sometimes for opposite reasons.

In some cases, they liked that the Russian leader endorsed Trump on multiple occasions and that Trump said he would get along with Putin. Others, like Finarovsky, said Trump will do a better job than President Barack Obama in keeping the Russian leader in check.

“Unlike Obama, Trump is not going to let Putin do whatever he wants,” he said. “Putin feels weakness and he uses it against people.

In the past few months, relations between Russia and the United States have deteriorated over accusations that Putin’s administration hacked the U.S. election and took controversial military actions in Syria and Ukraine. Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., said in September at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., that the relationships between two countries reached “the lowest point since the Cold War.”

Other Russian Jews looked to Israel as a reason behind their vote. Igor Lerman, 66, the owner of a bookstore in West Hollywood who moved to the U.S. 24 years ago from Ukraine, said he admires Trump because of his support of the Jewish community.

“Trump promised to move Israel’s capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” he said. “And I respect him for that.”

But not all Russian Jews endorsed Trump. Igor Mikhaylov, an engineer who immigrated to Los Angeles from Ukraine in 1989, said everyone in his family voted for Hillary Clinton.

“Clinton is a strong and experienced leader that puts America’s interests first. She isn’t using the presidency to enrich her own business interests like Trump,” Mikhaylov, 38, said. “Clinton’s secretary of state record speaks of her willingness to stand against Vladimir Putin’s expansionist plans that are dangerous to peace on the European continent and the security of former Soviet republics. Hillary Clinton’s background appeals to me. As an immigrant, it instills hope and exemplifies a quintessential American story of a simple blue-collar family that worked hard to reach the top.”

Some Russian expats refrained from supporting either candidate. Valeriy Yakovlev, a West Hollywood resident who moved from Moscow 11 years ago, said he opted not to vote because neither candidate was worthy.

“Why, out of 300 million people in this country, they didn’t find two decent candidates?” Yakovlev said. “I don’t know.”

Skaters wearing Holocaust costumes perform on Russian television, spark outrage

A Russian state-owned television channel aired a figure-skating performance featuring dancers wearing uniforms worn by Jewish concentration camp inmates.

Actor Andrey Burkovsky and Tatiana Navka, a professional figure skater and wife of a senior Kremlin spokesman, wore striped pajamas with yellow Star of David patches while dancing to a song by an Israeli singer on the Russia-1 channel Saturday night. It was aired as part of “Ice Age,” a popular Russian celebrity ice dancing show similar to “Dancing With the Stars.”

Throughout the four-minute performance, Navka and Burkovsky frolic and play cheerfully with an imaginary infant. Near the end of the routine, a bright light shines on them.

Burkovsky signals to Navka that he must go and gestures for her to take care of the imaginary child before he walks into the light. A loud bang is heard and the stage goes dark but for Navka’s face as she closes her eyes and clutches the imaginary infant with her back turned to Burkovsky.

The act was loosely inspired by Roberto Benigni’s 1997 film “Life is Beautiful,” which tells the story of a Jewish Italian man who attempts to distract his son from the horrors of the Holocaust. Navka and Burkovsky danced to the song “Life is Beautiful,” performed by Israeli singer Noa, from the film’s soundtrack.

The unusual performance prompted criticism on social media.

Navka is married to Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“For a person who knows very little if anything about the Holocaust, the message is this: Put on a striped robe, adorn yourself with a yellow six-pointed Star of David, get an all-included deal at a concentration camp, and your life will be beautiful,” Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, a professor of Jewish studies at Northwestern University, told The New York Times. “I would call it a crime against elementary humanity.”

In second debate, Trump says Syria regime is not worth confronting

Donald Trump said the U.S. focus in Syria should solely be on the Islamic State terrorist group, arguing that the Assad regime is not worth confronting because its allies, Russia and Iran, effectively control the country.

Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, in the second presidential debate held Sunday night at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, turned a question about what he would do to end the carnage in Syria into an extended attack on his rival, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

He said that she had advised President Barack Obama to back down in 2013 from his “line in the sand” threat to attack Syria if it uses chemical weapons and Clinton corrected him, noting that she was no longer secretary of state at the time.

He then described the situation as he saw it in Syria, but offered no specific prescriptions. He suggested that the Bashar Assad regime, principally responsible for the nearly half million lives lost since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, was not all bad because it was targeting the Islamic State terrorist group, along with its allies, Iran and Russia.

“Iran now and Russia are now against us,” he said. “So she wants to fight. She wants to fight for rebels. There’s only one problem. You don’t even know who the rebels are. So what’s the purpose? And one thing I have to say. I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS. And those three have now lined up because of our weak foreign policy.”

One of the moderators, ABC’s Martha Raddatz, pressed him for a policy answer, noting that his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said that if Russia continues to back Assad with air strikes on civilian targets, the United States should hit Assad’s military targets.

“He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree,” Trump said, referring to Pence. “I think you have to knock out ISIS. Right now, Syria is fighting ISIS. We have people that want to fight both at the same time. But Syria is no longer Syria. Syria is Russia and it’s Iran, who she made strong and (Secretary of State John) Kerry and (President Barack) Obama made into a very powerful nation and a very rich nation, very, very quickly, very, very quickly.”

Trump was referring to the sanctions-relief-for-nuclear-rollback deal reached last year between Iran and six major powers led by the United States. Clinton, who set the stage for the deal by helping to set up the sanctions regime that induced Iran to join the talks, says it has effectively kept Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons power.

Israel is wary of most of the likely outcomes in the Syrian civil war, but one of those it fears most is effectively conceding part of a failed state to Iran, allowing its deadliest enemy in the region to remain indefinitely on its doorstep.

Trump once again accused Clinton of being overly unfriendly to Russia. “I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example,” he said.

Clinton advocated during the debate confronting both ISIS and the Assad regime through training rebels, creating no fly zones and allying with Syrian Kurds. She noted that the Assad regime and its Russian ally have mostly targeted non-ISIS rebel targets.

She aimed fire at Trump as she has in the past, alluding to the mutual admiration he and Russian President Vladimir Putin have expressed for one another, and to U.S. government allegations that Russia is intervening in the U.S. elections by hacking and releasing embarrassing emails related to Clinton’s campaign.

“I want to emphasize that what is at stake here is the ambitions and the aggressiveness of Russia,” she said. “Russia has decided that it’s all in, in Syria. And they’ve also decided who they want to see become president of the United States, too, and it’s not me.

The debate, in a town hall format, was unusually bitter, with Trump at one point threatening to jail Clinton over the controversy of her use of private email while she was secretary of state, should he be elected president.

It came on the heels of a bombshell video released Friday in which a 59-year-old Trump is heard bragging to an entertainment reporter about groping women and getting away with it because he is a “star.” In discussing the tape and the Republican politicians who rescinded their endorsements of Trump in the past 48 hours, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, Clinton said Trump’s campaign was “exploding.”

Netanyahu describes mutual interests in defending ties with Russia

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that outreach between Israel and Russia made sense because of shared concerns about militant Islam, a desire to avoid clashes in Syria and Russia’s interest in Israeli technology.

Netanyahu appeared in New York on Sept. 22 to receive the Herman Kahn Award from the conservative Hudson Institute, named for one of the think tank’s founders.

He was pressed by his interviewer, Roger Hertog, a philanthropist who is one of Hudson’s benefactors, to explain why Russian President Vladimir Putin has been seeking closer relations with Israel, given Russia’s military backing for the Assad regime in Syria and its sale of an anti-missile system to Iran.

The “first interest is to make sure that militant Islam doesn’t penetrate and destabilize Russia,” Netanyahu replied. “There are many, many millions of Muslims in Russia, including in greater Moscow; I think it’s up to 2 million. And the concern that Russia has, which many other countries have, is that these populations would be radicalized.”

Another reason is to avoid a clash in airspace bridging Israel and Syria, where Russian combat aircraft are bombing enemies of the regime of Bashar Assad.

“We can coordinate in order not to crash and clash with each other,” Netanyahu said.

Given Russia’s influence in Syria, Netanyahu said, Russia was also a useful conduit to keep Israel’s enemies from being empowered. Notably, another Assad ally is Hezbollah, the Iran-allied Shiite Lebanese militia that has warred frequently with Israel.

“We don’t want to see in the aftermath in Syria, whether with an agreement or without an agreement, we don’t want to see an Iranian military presence, we don’t want to see Shiite militias which Iran is organizing from Afghanistan, from Pakistan, and we certainly don’t want to see Iranian game-changing weapons being transferred through Syrian territory to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” the prime minister said.

Another factor was Russian interest in Israeli technology.

Putin is “interested in technology and Israel is a global source of technology in many areas that are of interest to Russia — agriculture, dairy production, you name it, the standard fare,” Netanyahu said.

Finally, Netanyahu said, Israel has a substantial Russian-speaking minority.

“There’s a cultural, a human bridge,” he said. “We have a million Russian speakers in Israel. These and other reasons, I think, inform Russia’s policies. And I think it’s very important that we have this relationship.”

To applause, Netanyahu reasserted that Israel’s main alliance is with the United States.

“With the United States, we certainly have shared interests, but it’s the one alliance we have, and there may be one or two others, but nothing like this, that is based on shared values,” he said.

‘For the Love of Spock’ doc celebrates the life and career of Leonard Nimoy

A Boston-born son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Leonard Nimoy played one of the most iconic TV characters of all time, the ever-logical half-Vulcan Mr. Spock on “Star Trek.” 

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the television series, the recently released documentary “For the Love of Spock” celebrates the sci-fi character’s impact on pop culture while honoring Nimoy’s life and career. More personally, it’s also a candid account of an increasingly strained relationship within a family, as only a son can tell it.

“I was fulfilling a mitzvah to honor my father, and that was very important to me,” filmmaker Adam Nimoy told the Journal. “The film is not a tell-all or exposé. It’s an homage, but it doesn’t sugarcoat. We had bitter disagreements. There are times when I thought, ‘I never want to speak to this guy again.’ In fact, we were estranged for a long time. But he was a mensch. And what he accomplished in life was phenomenal.”

Anticipating the “Star Trek” anniversary, Nimoy asked his father about making a documentary in November 2014. “He was interested right away in doing it. But we didn’t know how fast the clock was ticking,” he said. Leonard Nimoy, a longtime smoker who had quit, died in February 2015 of chronic lung disease. “The damage was done,” Adam said.

The younger Nimoy proceeded nevertheless, poring through what he calls “a voluminous amount of material” from “Star Trek” TV episodes and feature films, and his father’s other projects, photographs and interviews, including archival and newly shot footage with celebrities from the “Star Trek” world and elsewhere. The $662,000 raised via a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign paid for licensing video clips, music usage and other costs.

The film also highlights Leonard Nimoy’s career in theater, voicing documentaries and as the author of two autobiographies, the first of which upset fans who misinterpreted its title, “I Am Not Spock,” as disrespect and a desire to distance himself from the character. 

“He insisted on the title, and apologized for it his entire career. ‘Star Trek’ fans were angry. They didn’t lay off him till the first feature film,” Adam said. “It was difficult for him. But if you read the book, it’s nothing but reverential for Spock and the opportunities Spock brought him. He’s always said that if he had one character to play again, it would be Spock.”

Adam told the Journal that his father chose the title simply to make the distinction that he is more than a character. (His second autobiography was titled “I Am Spock.”)

“> for details.