June 25, 2019

The Joe Biden Gamble

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addresses the International Association of Fire Fighters in Washington, U.S., March 12, 2019. Photo by KEVIN LAMARQUE/ Reuters

Most presidential campaigns are about the economy, or matters of war and peace. Can Joe Biden make the 2020 election a referendum on white supremacy? If he can, he will win. If not, President Donald Trump’s chances for re-election get a lot better.

While most of the other Democratic candidates are debating how aggressive they should be pushing to reverse Trump’s agenda on a number of fronts, Biden is taking a decidedly different approach. He is arguing not against Trump the policymaker, but against Trump the person. While Biden has indicated the outlines of his platform and has promised more details going forward, it’s clear that he will frame his campaign primarily as a moral indictment against the incumbent. 

The safer and more conventional approach, which all of the other 20-plus Democratic candidates are taking, is to try to beat Trump on the issues. That’s how Nancy Pelosi’s forces took back the House last year, by talking about health care and other policy matters rather than taking Trump’s bait. 

On the presidential campaign trail, this has played out as an internal Democratic debate over different degrees of progressivism. Should universal health coverage be achieved through a Bernie Sanders-preferred single-payer system or through less sweeping means? Should the nation institute something along the lines of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal or fight climate change in a more measured Barack Obama-era way? Similar shades-of-blue distinctions are being drawn on criminal justice, taxes, education, housing, immigration and foreign policy.

Biden is arguing not against Trump the policymaker, but against Trump the person.

But Biden is gambling that while the voters who will decide a general election may disagree with Trump on many policy matters, they are much more uncomfortable with the president’s personal conduct. That’s why the most significant aspect of Biden’s launch has been his repeated references to the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and to Trump’s comment about “fine people on both sides” of the events there. Biden clearly believes that this was a defining moment in Trump’s presidency and in recent American history, and he clearly intends to make it the centerpiece of his campaign. The president’s recent efforts to reframe those remarks in a less objectionable context suggest that he knows the harm that a sustained debate about Charlottesville could cause his chances for re-election. 

The conventional wisdom that developed after the 2016 campaign is that Trump’s opponents place themselves at a great disadvantage when they engage in his type of personal combat. So for the last two-plus years, the president’s foes have instead trained their fire on his least popular policy goals.

Until Biden. The unique calculation he has made is that the way to beat Trump isn’t to abandon the strategy that Clinton employed in 2016, but rather to just do it better. Biden’s advisers believe that the former vice president’s “Middle Class Joe” relatability will allow him to connect with the white working-class voters in a way that Clinton simply could not. 

Biden’s first challenge is to make it out of a Democratic primary populated with alternatives that are a more natural generational and ideological fit for the new Democratic Party. His struggles to address the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings in the first days of his campaign portend ongoing difficulty on this front, as does his habit of praising Republicans with whom he has worked.

If he becomes the nominee, he must then confront Trump’s ability to marshal populist animosity toward the traditional political system. Biden might be more likable than Clinton, but he has been in Washington even longer, which makes him a ready-made target for Trump’s attacks against the establishment.

Biden’s final challenge with this approach is one of consistency. As those of us in the Jewish community know, hatred and prejudice come from both the far right and the far left. Just as ugly strains of nationalism can ooze into anti-Semitism and other racial and ethnic bigotry, the most virulent strains of anti-Zionism in some progressive circles can turn into equally repulsive forms of anti-Semitism. 

Can a character-based message take Biden to the White House? Perhaps, but only if it’s applied evenly.


Dan Schnur is a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies and Pepperdine University. 

Greenberg’s Cartoon: Pelosi’s Democratic House

For more of Greenberg’s artwork, visit his website. 

Panel Discusses Faith, Truth in Leadership of Truthiness

Slate editor Dahlia Lithwick

The concept of fake news started in part as a way to help people convey conspiratorial stories, such as Hillary Clinton running a child sex slave ring out of a pizzeria.

That’s how Slate Senior Editor Dahlia Lithwick introduced her take on the etymology of fake news during a recent symposium titled, “These Truths We Hold: Judaism in an Age of Truthiness.”

Speaking at a three-day symposium earlier this month at Stephen Wise Temple hosted by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), Lithwick said over the past two years, “Donald Trump very adeptly co-opted those two words to mean any news critical of him.” 

“If you follow the sort of etymology of this fake news, it starts with the ‘good people’ at Infowars, it is pushed out by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary — who, ostensibly, to be clear, works for the government, works for us — [and] it is immediately pulled up by [internet] bots,” she said.

Lithwick talked about the Nov.  7 White House press conference, after which CNN correspondent Jim Acosta had his press credentials revoked by the Trump administration as Sanders released a video that had been edited to depict Acosta “karate chopping” a White House intern’s arm. 

The sequence of events was illustrative of everything wrong about Trump’s relationship with truth, Lithwick said. “There were millions of Americans who agreed that what we all saw, what happened in real time in front of our eyes, did not happen,” she said. “There is a reason that [George] Orwell quote, about believing something that is not true as a cornerstone of authoritarianism, has been affixed to this. The White House claimed something utterly different than what we saw with our eyes.”

In her nearly 30-minute indictment of the president, Lithwick also attributed blame to journalists for creating confusion over real and fictitious reporting, specifically the “conflation of news and opinion, and that’s been going on for years,” and a revenue model that “rewards clicks and drama, and rewards grandstanding and showboating” over quality journalism.

“Truth cannot be determined first and foremost only by those in power.”

— Dahlia Lithwick

She said people are responsible for holding their leaders accountable. “Truth cannot be determined first and foremost only by those in power,” she said.

Also appearing at the event, Rabbi Rachel Adler, the David Ellenson professor of modern Jewish thought at HUC-JIR, said stories, more than truth, have the capacity to move people. She cited the news coverage of the Oct. 27 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. The most effective reporting featured the personal stories of the victims, Adler said during a presentation titled, “The Torah, Our Chavruta: Re/Constructing Truth in Sacred Text.” 

Christine Hayes, the Weis professor of religious studies in classical Judaica at Yale University, delivered a talk titled, “The ‘Truth’ About Torah.” She said people should look to Torah for more than proscriptive text on how to lead their lives. “There is more to Torah than some static, immutable truth,” she said.

Benjamin Sommer, a professor of Bible studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, built on Hayes’ sentiment. During his talk, “Can the Torah Still Be a Source of Truth?” he said the Bible, with its many self-contradictions, shows that even work considered to be divine truth presents more than one the truth. 

Attendees included Sarah Benor, professor of contemporary Jewish studies at HUC-JIR. During a break, Benor said she was impressed with Sommer’s characterization of the Torah as “proto-rabbinic literature,” a text containing a multitude of voices, as opposed to one absolute truth. It “blew my mind,” she said.

Anger and Gridlock: Working With a Divided America

In a deeply divided America, there was only one thing that unified the nation’s voters when they went to sleep the night of Nov. 6 after a long, bitter and ugly midterm election campaign.

Everybody was angry.

Despite reclaiming a majority in the House of Representatives and putting Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) on a glide path back to the Speaker’s chair, Democrats were unhappy that Republicans maintained — and may have increased — their majority in the Senate. Among other things, that means two more years of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees and the possibility of one or two additional Supreme Court appointments.

Republicans, even though they saved their Senate majority, are just as mad after losing control of the House and realizing that Pelosi and her colleagues will derail the overwhelming majority of conservative legislative and policy priorities until 2021. Two years of House investigations into almost every corner of the Trump administration will keep that anger at a fever pitch until the next election.

The predictable result of a hyper-polarized electorate is a gridlocked government. With Washington split between a Democratic House, a Senate controlled by a largely conventional GOP majority, and a White House occupied by the most untraditional of Republicans, the odds of significant progress on any of the country’s most pressing policy challenges are infinitesimal. That will in turn fuel even more voter frustration, more partisan finger-pointing and previously unimaginable levels of vitriol and nastiness.

But while voter unhappiness is pervasive throughout the electorate, the highest levels of fury and can be found at the ideological bases of the two major parties. After watching the most conservative and uncompromising voices assume control of the Republican Party throughout the age of former President Barack Obama, it appears that the lesson the Democrats have learned over the past decade is that they need their own Tea Party. And the only thing less appealing than one party being held captive by its most hard-nosed absolutists is when it happens to both of them.

The vast majority of American Jews, of course, line up on the blue side of the political dividing line, so a new House majority will offer them some solace and a considerable amount of motivation to continue the resistance for another two years. Smaller segments of the Jewish community are Trump supporters, and will now worry that their priorities on issues relating to the economy and Israel will face a more difficult path forward in a divided Washington.

But on a political landscape where the most extreme elements of both major parties have increased their influence, it raises the question as to whether American Jews should be focused more on the partisan balance between Democrats and Republicans  — or on the ideological makeup inside of those two parties. 

It has become increasingly difficult to ignore the growing vehemence of the anti-Israel voices that populate the populist wing of the Democratic Party. It has become just as hard to discount the most virulent voices of intolerance among alt-right Republicans. The majority of both parties’ loyalists would stand with Israel and protect the rights and safety of American Jews. But the red-blue chasm that separates Democrats and Republicans has fueled such scorched-earth animosity on both sides that partisans on the left and the right are far too willing to tolerate the inexcusable excesses of those who just happen to share their party registration.

The question is whether Jewish voters — just as polarized as the rest of the electorate — are willing to call out the extremists in their own party ranks. It’s important for Republican Jews to criticize those who advocate for economic boycotts against Israel. It’s just as necessary for Jewish Democrats to castigate the voices of race-based nationalism and prejudice. But it’s not that hard. The challenge is to move beyond the selective outrage that inspires our anger only against those in the other party rather than against those on both the right and the left who would endanger our community and our homeland.

The fact that Democrats took the House and Republicans held the Senate was not especially surprising. But it now appears that both parties will maintain larger majorities in their respective parties than had been expected, and larger majorities mean less incentive for compromise and collaboration. Party leaders on both sides will be reluctant to confront the extremists in their own ranks, and those who tolerate either the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement or blood-and-soil proclamations, will continue to grow their ranks — unless the Jewish community decides that some things are more important than party registration.

Here in California, the results were even less surprising, as the heavily Democratic state elected Gavin Newsom as governor and re-elected Dianne Feinstein to the Senate by overwhelming margins. Late on election night, it was still unclear whether Democrats would hold two-thirds supermajorities in the state legislature. Otherwise, the most compelling contests in the state were between blue and deep-blue candidates. But California voters are angry too, and their fury toward Trump will continue to fuel state politics and governance.

Next week, I will go on a deeper dive into all the results and what they portend. But for now, the one safe prediction is that the anger will continue to grow.


Dan Schnur is a professor at the USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism and UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies. He is the founder of the USC-L.A. Times statewide political survey and the former director of the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles region.

White House Defends Israel’s Handling of Gaza Violence

Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from Israeli fire and tear gas during a protest against U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip, May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/File photo

The White House is standing by Israel as the Jewish state defends its border from the Hamas-led violent riots at the Israel-Gaza border.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told reporters on May 14, “We believe that Hamas as an organization is engaged in cynical action that is leading to these deaths. The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas.”

Shah also stated that Israel should be able to defend itself, just like any other country.

The Hamas-led riots, which have occurred every Friday for the past six weeks, are reaching their apex on May 14 and 15 as the United States opens its new embassy in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.

The May 14 riots have resulted in 55 Palestinians dead – at least 10 of whom have been identified as Hamas terrorists – and over 2,000 Palestinians injured.

Israel dropped leaflets warning Palestinians that they would be shot if they came within 300 feet of the fence and were armed. And yet, tens of thousands of Palestinians tossed rocks, burning tires and explosives at Israeli soldiers as well as flew fiery kites toward the Israeli border. The Israeli military even had to launch airstrikes against Hamas outposts in Gaza where terrorists were firing at Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers.

Here are some scenes from the riots:

It’s also worth noting that Hamas is providing $100 to each family that engages in the border riots and is threatening any families that don’t engage in the riots to be smeared as “collaborators” with Israel. The riots are also being funded by Iran, an ally of Hamas, and being encouraged by the Palestinian Authority. The IDF is concerned that the border riots are part of a Hamas plot to breach the border fence and launch terror attacks against Israel.

“Every country has the obligation to protect its borders,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “The Hamas terrorist organization declares its intentions to destroy Israel and sends thousands to break through the border fence for that purpose.”

Watch Trump’s High Holy Days greeting

President Donald Trump in the Cabinet Room of the White House Sept. 13. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Per White House tradition, President Donald Trump released a greeting ahead of the Jewish High Holidays. The White House sent the video message on Monday, ahead of Rosh Hashanah, which starts this year on Wednesday evening.

Below is the transcript and video of Trump’s address:

“On behalf of all Americans, I want to wish Jewish families many blessings in the New Year. The High Holy Days are a time of both reflection on the past year and hope for renewal in the year to come. Jewish communities across the country, and around the world, enter into a time of prayer, repentance, and rededication to the sacred values and traditions that guide the incredible character, and spirit, of the Jewish people. We reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, and we ask God to deliver justice, dignity, and peace on Earth. Melania and I wish everyone a sweet, healthy, and peaceful year, which we hope will bring many blessings to all. Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless America.”

Some Trump lawyers reportedly recommended Kushner step down over Russia scandal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was Stephen Bannon good for the Jews? A review

Senior Counselor to the President Steve Bannon in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. Photo by Win McNamee/Reuters

Stephen Bannon, whose advice to President Donald Trump was that “darkness is good,” was thrust out into the light of the sunshiny day enveloping Washington, D.C., on Friday: He is no longer Trump’s strategic adviser.

It’s not clear yet what led to Bannon’s departure. He alone among Trump’s senior advisers favored the president’s decision to blame “many sides” for the violence last weekend when white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, a posture that has outraged Americans across the political spectrum. Bannon and Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, were always at odds.

Bannon conveys, perhaps unintentionally, the impression that he is manipulating Trump, an impression that Trump is known to hate. And Bannon told the American Prospect this week that there is no military solution to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, just as Trump and his national security team are ramping up claims that a military option is not off the table.

One thorny issue that kept coming up: Was Bannon, who made gutting the Iran nuclear deal a priority, the Jewish community’s best friend in the White House? Or was the man who embraced conspiracy theories about globalists the most Jewish-hostile White House presence since Richard Nixon stalked its halls?

Let’s review:

Breitbart

Bannon helmed Breitbart News, the right-wing news site, since the sudden death of founder Andrew Breitbart in 2012.

Breitbart plus: In 2015, under Bannon’s leadership, the site launched Breitbart Jerusalem because Bannon wanted to counter what he sees as media bias against Israel. Breitbart also aggressively covers anti-Semitism in Europe.

Breitbart minus: Bannon has described the news site as “the platform for the ‘alt-right,’” the loose coalition of anti-establishment conservatives who include among their ranks anti-Semites and racists.

The alt-right

Alt-right plus: Bannon, addressing a conference held at the Vatican in 2014, recognized the tendency of the alt-right to attract racists and anti-Semitism, but said he rejected those bigotries and predicted they would “wash away.”

Alt-right minus: Even absent specifying Jews or blacks or other races, the conspiratorial mind-set of the alt-right is uncomfortably redolent of the toxic myths that have led to violence. Bannon is believed to have written a speech by Trump on the eve of his election suggesting that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, was part of an international banking conspiracy. It set Jewish hairs on end. Trump’s final campaign ad, excerpting parts of the speech against a backdrop that include a rogues gallery of “internationalists” who all happened to be Jews, didn’t help.

The Trump agenda

The agenda plus: Bannon has worked closely with the pro-Israel right, which says he has been particularly aggressive within the White House in advocating for scrapping the Obama administration deal they most revile, trading sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program. Undoing the Iran deal featured on Bannon’s famous whiteboard, where he checked off Trump’s “to-do” list. (The deal has yet to be undone, but not for lack of trying by Bannon.) Whatever one thinks of the Iran deal, Bannon’s opposition to it comported closely with the current Israeli government, whose officials appreciated his advocacy.

The agenda minus: Trump’s “America First” outlook, spurred by Bannon and his White House acolytes, has rejected “identity politics.” Bannon believes rejecting “politically correct” views on race helped Trump win the White House, which is why he cheered on Trump this week when the president insisted that “many sides” were responsible for the deadly violence in Charlottesville. This outlook is not new to the Jewish community: It was behind the bizarre Jan. 27 International Holocaust Day declaration that failed to mention that Jews were the victims of the Holocaust.

Shall we invite him to the seder? Bannon and Jewish staff

Watercooler chat plus
: Bannon brought into the White House a host of staffers, among them Jewish Breitbart alumni like Julia Hahn, who is a special assistant. He reportedly is close to Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was the National Security Council staffer responsible for coordination with the intelligence community. McMaster removed Cohen-Watnick from the NSC, reportedly in part because his views on Iran were too hawkish.

Watercooler chat minus
: Bannon clashed with Jared Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law and a senior adviser, reportedly calling him a “globalist” — seen in some quarters (see above) as coded language for Jews. Ditto Trump’s senior economic adviser, Gary Cohn. Breitbart, still believed to be influenced by Bannon, has recently taken to surrounding Cohn’s name with globes in its headlines.

Some of his best friends

The human factor plus: Bannon’s former Jewish staffers at Breitbart swear by him as an understanding boss. Joel Pollak, a former editor in chief at the news site, told NPR that Bannon not only encouraged him to take off Jewish holidays, he would wish him a “Shabbat Shalom” on Friday afternoons.

The human factor minus: One of Bannon’s ex-wives said in a sworn declaration that he made anti-Semitic remarks while they were searching for a private school for their girls. Bannon has denied the claim, although at least one third party has corroborated part of her account.

White House: Stephen Bannon is out as chief strategist

Stephen Bannon at the White House on June 1. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Stephen Bannon is leaving his position as White House chief strategist.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Friday was Bannon’s last day in the role.

“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” Sanders said. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

The statement came shortly after The New York Times reported that President Donald Trump had decided to remove Bannon. Two administration officials told the Times on Friday about Trump’s decision.

A source close to Bannon told the Times that the decision was his idea and that he had submitted his resignation to Trump over a week ago. The source claimed that the unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, delayed the process.

Bannon’s position in the administration has been intensely scrutinized over the past week. At a news conference, Trump was ambivalent about Bannon’s status, saying “We’ll see” about his future in his strategist role.

On Thursday, the liberal American Prospect magazine published an interview with Bannon in which he mocked members of the administration and criticized Trump’s posturing with North Korea.

Bannon has also feuded for months with other members of the Trump administration, including senior adviser Jared Kushner and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

Bannon, the former head of the right-wing site Breitbart News, has been under fire since he began working for the Trump campaign last year. He has been criticized for calling Breitbart a platform for the “alt-right,” a far-right and white nationalist movement that includes anti-Semitic figures and followers.

Bannon has denied he is anti-Semitic, and supporters point out that Breitbart  is pro-Israel. This week he welcomed the president’s divisive comments on a far-right rally in Charlottesville, saying that as long as Democrats are focused on race and identity, the Republican Party will crush them in the polls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Miller in running for White House communications director

Stephen Miller arriving at Trump Tower in New York, Jan. 9, 2017. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

White House policy adviser Stephen Miller reportedly is under consideration to be White House communications director.

He would replace Anthony Scaramucci, who was let go in part because of an obscenity-laden interview he gave to The New Yorker magazine late last month. Scaramucci wasn’t set to formally take the job until Aug. 15, but had been working in the position for 10 days when he was effectively fired.

The effort to find a successor to Scaramucci is still in the name-gathering process, and Miller is not the only top contender, the news website Axios reported Saturday.

Miller raised his profile last week after telling CNN’s Jim Acosta during a White House news conference that a famous poem by Jewish writer Emma Lazarus praising the Statue of Liberty as a beacon for new immigrants “doesn’t matter” since it was attached to the site years after the statue was erected.

Axios reported that White House top strategic adviser Stephen Bannon likes the idea of Miller for the job, and said Miller was the hero of the West Wing after he attacked Acosta as a “cosmopolitan” for his views on immigration.

Miller, who is Jewish and the descendant of immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island, is known as a proponent of what Bannon calls “economic nationalism.”

Miller has been called “one of the chief architects” behind the executive order that temporarily banned citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees from entering the United States. He also has ties to David Horowitz, founder of a right-wing think tank that “combats the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values and disarm this country as it attempts to defend itself in a time of terror.”

Jared Kushner speaks — and the internet is obsessed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish groups lambaste Trump’s pullout from climate accords

President Donald Trump on Thursday said he will withdraw the United States from the landmark 2015 global agreement to fight climate change, earning statements of dismay from critics, including Jewish groups who regard the pullout as a diplomatic and environmental disaster.

Speaking Thursday at ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, Trump said the so-called Paris accords, signed by every country except for Syria and Nicaragua, place “draconian” financial and economic burdens on American businesses and taxpayers and give other countries a trade advantage over the United States.

“As someone who cares deeply about our environment, I cannot in good conscience support a deal which punishes the United States,” he said. “The Paris accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States.”

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued a statement on behalf of the Reform movement saying the announcement was “an abdication of responsibility to address global climate change and is both physically dangerous and morally reprehensible.

“The decision disregards vitally important environmental efforts to protect both our planet and the population, with consequences that will reverberate for generations,” wrote Pesner. “Reneging on the agreement diminishes U.S. leadership and undermines longstanding alliances, placing an undue burden on other nations to address climate change.

American Jewish World Service, which advocates for people in developing nations, said such countries would bear the brunt of the severe storms, flooding, droughts and famine that a scientific consensus regards as the already apparent signs of the effects of man-made global warming.

“The longer the U.S. denies climate change and fails to take responsibility for its outsized contribution to global warming, the greater the risk posed to the entire world, especially the poorest people on Earth,” said Robert Bank, president and CEO of AJWS, in a statement.

Added Banks: “We stand proudly as Jews who cherish the Earth to object in the strongest terms to the President’s shortsighted and damaging decision. As American Jews, we will continue to raise our voices in solidarity with the people worldwide who have done the least to cause global warming but who suffer the most.”

Vatican officials also signaled their dismay with Trump’s decision. The Catholic church strongly supported the climate accords. Last month, the Union for Reform Judaism, AJWS and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life joined 20 other religious groups in urging Trump to adhere to the agreement, which was reached in 2015 and signed in 2016.

The 195 countries that signed the Paris Agreement pledged to adopt nonbinding plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Republicans largely applauded Trump’s decision to pull out of the accords, although reports indicated that there was opposition among some of his closest advisers, including Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council; Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and unpaid adviser, and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.

Neither Ivanka Trump nor her husband attended the announcement ceremony, which fell on the second day of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Both are observant Jews.

Toward a renewed Middle East peace process

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President Donald Trump at he White House on May 3. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Momentum is building toward resumption of the dormant Middle East peace process. The efforts by presidential envoy Jason Greenblatt, the successful visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House last week, and President Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank all signal that, for now, the Trump administration is serious about promoting peace. Can it succeed where others have failed?

Optimists believe things could be different this time around. An alignment of interests between Israel and key Arab Sunni states seeking to contain Iran’s regional ambitions and to confront Islamic extremism has made these countries ready to embrace ways to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict behind them. Pessimists warn, however, that except for the new U.S. administration, not much has changed.

The truth is probably in the middle. A changing regional setting coupled with a renewed interest in the conflict on the part of an unconventional U.S. president could open a window of opportunity. But rather than overpromising to achieve the ultimate deal, a promise that would likely backfire, the administration could take concrete steps that might pave the way toward resumption of an earnest peace process. Here are four steps that could help get there:

• The president could state a clear vision, while setting realistic benchmarks, and remain committed for the long haul. Speaking generally about “peace” and implying indifference between the two-state and one-state options may suffice for first meetings, but the Trump administration could articulate that in the absence of another feasible option, it is committed to a two-state solution that allows the peaceful existence of a Jewish democratic Israel alongside a demilitarized Palestinian state.

But promising to end the conflict in an unrealistic time frame could dim the chances for success. In this part of the world, when it’s all or nothing, it usually is nothing. It would make more sense to move forward with concrete measures and achievable goals to gradually help set the stage for a two-state solution.

In addition, Greenblatt is perceived in the region as directly executing the president’s wishes. This credibility could be crucial for regional leaders.

• Second, the administration could promote a three-pronged approach combining bilateral, multilateral and unilateral processes. Traditionally, the U.S. role in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts focused on bringing the two sides to the negotiation table hoping that with a little help, they would reach a peace deal. Focusing solely on a bilateral approach has not worked before and it is unlikely to work now.

In parallel to resuming peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, the U.S. could promote a multilateral approach by bringing in the Arab Sunni states to help back the Palestinians and incentivize Israel. Unilateral independent steps could include pushing Israeli and Palestinian leaders on issues that are hard for them politically at home.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s move to curb settlement construction in the West Bank is a welcome start, but Israel could be encouraged to do more to rein in settlement expansion.

While too sensitive to push for during a highly publicized hunger strike of Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons, the Palestinian Authority (PA) could be prodded to stop generously paying prisoners convicted of terrorism. This could send an important signal to Israel and to the world that the Palestinians are serious about peace.

  • Third, the U.S. could continue efforts to stabilize the Gaza Strip, while at the same time seeking to help strengthen the PA. The Gaza Strip is on the verge of collapse and the winds of war are blowing again between Israel and Hamas. This administration has been following the footsteps of its predecessor in an attempt to stabilize Gaza. Building on these efforts, Trump could use his leverage to coordinate with Israel and push the Gulf States — maybe during his visit to Saudi Arabia before he heads to Israel — to follow through on their pledges to help stabilize Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s move to curb settlement construction in the West Bank is a welcome start, but Israel could be encouraged to do more to rein in settlement expansion.

Efforts also could focus on providing Gaza’s residents with clean drinking water, proper sanitation, a regular supply of electricity and improved freedom of movement for people and goods. It is crucial, though, that efforts in Gaza do not bolster Hamas at the expense of the PA.

Trump gave a much needed boost to the weak PA by meeting with Abbas, calling it an “honor,” tweeting about the meeting and not asking Abbas publicly to make any compromises.

• Finally, the administration could sign the waiver forestalling the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem so close to the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War could shatter any chance of peace and risk plunging Jerusalem and the whole region into turmoil.

Such steps may not bring about the ultimate deal. Despite regional dynamics and a new energy from the White House there are still plenty of obstacles to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Without a clear, consistent plan that delivers quick, tangible results to both Israelis and Palestinians and helps restore trust between the two sides, the newly created window opportunity to addressing this conflict will close again.


Shira Efron is a policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corp., a special adviser on Israel with Rand’s Center for Middle East Public Policy and a professor at the Pardee Rand Graduate School.

White House: Trump will reinforce strong alliance, talk peace on Israel trip

President Donald Trump, right, reaches to greet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a joint news conference at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President Donald Trump will visit Israel later this month after visiting Saudi Arabia, his first foreign trip since taking office in January.

“Tolerance is the cornerstone of peace,” Trump said during an event in the White House’s Rose Garden. “That is why I am proud to make a major and historic announcement this morning and share with you that my first foreign trip as president will be to Saudi Arabia, then Israel, then the Vatican in Rome.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

A senior administration official said the planning started shortly after the elections after being approached by Saudi Arabia wanting to reset warm relations with the U.S. Administration.

Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, according to the WH official, will focus on trying to reach an understanding with Arab leaders on joint “long-term” goals to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East.

In Israel, Trump will “reinforce the strong alliance that we have with the Israeli people, and then we are going to talk a little bit about the peace process with the Palestinians and how we plan to go forward.”

The official did not provide any specific details and refused to say whether or not Trump will work to arrange a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas while on the trip. “We are hoping to achieve peace between now and then,” the official said. “We will approach it with a lot of humility. The President is very involved in [discussing] a lot of ideas.”

In a statement, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump will discuss with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu “a range of regional issues, including the need to counter the threats posed by Iran and its proxies, and by ISIS and other terrorist groups” and “discuss ways to advance a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

Trump will also meet with Abbas “to discuss ways to advance peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as efforts to unlock the potential of the Palestinian economy,” Spicer said.

House members divided about Trump’s optimism on Middle East peace

President Donald Trump welcomes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House on May 3. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Similar to almost every appearance by President Donald Trump, his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday afternoon was met with great anticipation and a sense of unpredictability. “I will do whatever is necessary to facilitate the agreement… And we will get this done,” asserted Trump.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Representative Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) was not convinced that the real estate mogul turned Commander in Chief will bring a resolution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arizona lawmaker told Jewish Insider, “This is not a real estate deal you are putting together. An effort without content and just blowing smoke is a huge mistake given his reversal of positions on foreign affairs, it begs the question whether he can handle it or not.”

On the other hand, Republican House Members expressed appreciation for the President’s commitment and handling of the issue. “Like everyone else, I want to see peace there. I think the President deserves a chance,” noted James Comer (R-KY). “He’s our leader and does things a different way and maybe that’s what we need in foreign policy. As a leader of the strongest nation of the world, he is an appropriate negotiator.”

While Abbas called for an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital during his White House remarks, Trump declined to endorse the two state solution, just as he refrained from doing so when meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MS) explained, “That has been our policy across Democratic and Republican administrations. It has served us well. Saying the opposite could stir up the hornet’s nest. I would hope that as usual — the President just forgot.”

Putting aside the question of a two state solution, Robert Aderholt (R-AL) believes the President offers a unique perspective. The Alabama lawmaker told Jewish Insider, “I know this is an issue that is very near and dear to his heart because Israel is one of those issues he talked quite a bit about during the campaign.” Hosting both Netanyahu and Abbas during the first few months of his presidency “sends a strong message that he is interested in moving forward and try to get a peace agreement,” Aderholt added.

While repeatedly pushing for a “deal,” Trump did not mention any of the thorny final status agreements that have long divided the parties including East Jerusalem, refugees, or borders. The Republican leader did find the time to praise Abbas. “That seems to be consistent with his (Trump) foreign relations strategy to get people to like him. That might work with a few Members of Congress, not many of them. That’s not going to work (here),” emphasized Cleaver.

When asked if he agreed with Trump’s proposal for the “ultimate deal,” Aderholt responded, “It’s important to what the deal says. Did he elaborate on what was in the deal? That really is the $64,000 question.” The US President did not offer any details on Wednesday. Noting the ongoing violence that has resulted from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Cleaver warned, “Moses would have great difficulty getting a deal as would Abraham so this is not a business deal. This is the Middle East and it involves people who have been at war for almost a millennium.”

Pence at Israel Independence Day event: Jerusalem embassy under ‘serious’ consideration

Vice President Mike Pence in Washington, D.C., on May 1. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Vice President Mike Pence celebrated Israel’s independence and touted the Administration’s unapologetic support for the Jewish State at a White House reception to mark Israel’s 69th Independence Day on Tuesday.

Pence told the crowd that in a phone call a short while ago, he wished Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “Happy Independence Day.”

“Under President Trump, if the world knows nothing else, the world will know this – America stands with Israel,” Pence said to applause. “President Trump is a lifelong friend and a supporter of the State of Israel. President Donald Trump stands without apology for Israel, and he always will.”

Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process amid growing “momentum” and the understanding that Israel will be required to undertake compromises, the Vice President assured the Jewish leaders, “President Donald Trump will never compromise the safety and security of the Jewish State of Israel, not now – not ever. Today, America’s support for Israel’s security is at record levels.”

Pence added that – “as we speak” – the President is “giving serious consideration to moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

The event took place in the Indian Treaty Room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, Senators Orrin Hatch and Ted Cruz, Rep. Lee Zeldin as well as Democratic House Members Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Ted Deutch and Brad Schneider attended the event, among others.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman delivered opening remarks and served as emcee. According to Friedman, this marks the first time the White House hosted an event on Israel’s Independence Day. He thanked President Trump and Vice President Pence for “initiating what we hope will be a joyous annual event for many years to come.”

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman

 

President Donald Trump will host Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House tomorrow. “The President’s ultimate goal is to establish peace in the region,” WH Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Monday. “That’s obviously the goal and the discussion that he’s going to have with the head of the Palestinian Authority. But that’s going to be a relationship that he continues to work on and build with the ultimate goal that there’s peace in that region between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

5 reasons why Sebastian Gorka may be on his way out of the White House

Sebastian Gorka. Screenshot from YouTube

Sebastian Gorka, who advises President Donald Trump on counterterrorism, reportedly is leaving the White House for a role elsewhere in the administration.

Gorka has been an object of Jewish attention since he was photographed at an inaugural ball sporting a medal of the Vitez Rend, a movement founded by the anti-Semitic pre- and World War II-era Hungarian leader, Miklos Horthy. Gorka has said he wore the regalia as a tribute to his late father, who battled the communists as an adult after the war. The Jewish Daily Forward has reported that he retains deeper ties to a reconstituted version of the movement.

So why after barely three months in government is Gorka leaving a plum job on the National Security Council? We won’t know for a while, if ever. His defenders told the Washington Examiner that the position was temporary in any case, and in his new role he will be better positioned to engage in the “war of ideas.”

There are plenty of theories out there. Let’s assess:

It’s anti-Semitism.

Horthy was an anti-Semite and, for a time at least, a Nazi collaborator. The State Department lists his Vitez Rend as having been under Nazi direction. The most explicit calls for Gorka’s dismissal — or at least for an investigation into his ties to the far right — have come from influential Jewish lawmakers and groups.

But Gorka denies membership in any current manifestation of Vitez. (The Forward quotes leaders of one of two namesakes as saying he is a member, but there is no smoking gun evidence.)

Gorka says he wore the medal as a tribute to his father, who was awarded the honor in 1979 for his struggles against the Hungarian communist regime. The order by then had come to be identified with resistance to communists.

No one has uncovered any anti-Semitic writings or pronouncements by Gorka. In fact, he reportedly co-founded a Hungarian political party in 2006 in part out of disgust with the anti-Semitism of other parties on the right.

It’s a smear.

Gorka’s defenders, particularly at Breitbart News, where like some other Trump administration officials he was employed, say leftists out to get Trump are seeking blood. These defenders note the lack of hard evidence (outlined above) that Gorka has a formal relationship with Vitez, and of any evidence that he is an anti-Semite. (They also quote Gorka’s late father as saying in a book that his family protected Hungarian Jews during the Nazi occupation, although they have not produced corroborative evidence.)

But the Vitez’s Nazi associations may not have been preeminent for Gorka, or his father, or the fellow resisters to communism who gave him the award. The Nazi taint remains, though, for Jews with even a passing acquaintance with Horthy and the Vitez.

Political involvement is bruising, and insensitivity to appearances costs, career wise. Were a Southern politician to sport a Confederate tribute to honor an ancestor, however dedicated the politician was in the present day to racial healing and reconciliation, he would face political repercussions, at least until he delivered a public apology.

George Allen, a Virginia senator once touted as a presidential hopeful, saw his career go down in flames in 2006 after he used a racial slur, “macaca,” that he may not have realized was a racial slur. His failure to apologize in real time, combined with his subsequent denial that his mother was Jewish, cost him – and he now acknowledges mishandling the scandal.

Perhaps Gorka did not realize that wearing a Vitez medal would bring up painful associations for Jews and other victims of the Nazis, no matter how the group reconstituted itself. He may not be an anti-Semite, but he’s not exactly warm and fuzzy when it comes to Jewish sensibilities: He dismissed as “asinine” criticism of a Trump statement on the Holocaust that omitted reference to Jews, even though attempts to suppress the particularity of Jewish suffering during World War II is now at the center of nationalist politics in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe. That exacts a price.

In 2008, Daniel Kurtzer, an Orthodox Jew who had served as ambassador to Israel, campaigned for Barack Obama hoping for a position in the administration. That summer he made what may have seemed to him a routine trip to an academic conference in Syria. The McCain campaign seized on the trip to embarrass Obama, and Kurtzer spent the next eight years in academe. Notably, some of the same conservatives who targeted Kurtzer are now defending Gorka and still hope to wound Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the Democratic National Committee’s deputy chairman, for associations he has long since repudiated.

It’s the security clearance.

Gorka reportedly still doesn’t have one, which means he has to sit out meetings requiring a clearance – and attending those meetings pretty much defines being employed by the National Security Council.

But — there’s not much of a but here. Lacking a security clearance is the likeliest reason Gorka is leaving the NSC. Trump, however, reportedly enjoys Gorka’s combative TV personality and has given a pass to other staffers who do well on camera but otherwise seem to be flailing. (See Sean Spicer, spokesman.)

Why the security clearance no-go? It’s the fabrications or the gun.

BuzzFeed last week outlined how Hungary’s security agencies denied Gorka clearance in 2002, supposedly because Gorka had exaggerated the importance of his prior experience in the British military.

Gorka also was arrested last year for bringing a handgun through airport security. A judge this year dismissed the charges, and Gorka said the incident was a mistake.

But the reason for the reported denial of a security clearance may be straightforward and have little to do with Gorka’s colorful biography. U.S. security clearances are notoriously hard to secure for folks with deep ties in foreign lands, however innocent those ties may be and however closely allied the foreign countries are to the United States. Gorka was born in Britain, served in its military and was a player in Hungarian politics. Those alignments would likely raise flags for the U.S. national security establishment.

It’s the questionable doctorate.

Gorka’s doctorate in political science from Corvinus, a little-known university in Budapest, has been lambasted both for a dissertation on terrorism that experts in the field have said is vague to the point of parody, and for a report that three of its referees lacked doctorates themselves — and one was a friend of Gorka’s. He claims expertise in Islam, but there is no indication that he speaks Arabic, the language of the Quran, or has lived in Muslim majority lands.

It’s the sweeping generalizations.

Gorka acknowledges peaceful and moderate iterations of Islam, but he also argues that Islam’s holy texts may be used to justify barbarous violence in a way that Christian texts cannot.

But Gorka works for Steve Bannon, who has said “Islam is not a religion of peace,” and Trump, who has said “I think Islam hates us.” Gorka’s is the comparatively nuanced view.

And on his 92d day, he fired the surgeon general

Dr. Vivek Murthy. Photo from Wikipedia

At least I got to thank him for his service while he was still serving.

If you saw the “Diabetic Lesbians and a Blushing Bride” episode of last season’s CBS sitcom “Mom,” an improbably funny series about the struggles of a mother (Allison Janney) and daughter (Anna Farris) in recovery from alcohol and drug abuse, the last five minutes held a shocker for you: a teenager played by recurring guest star Emily Osment dies of a drug overdose.

But then you were in for another surprise: U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy in dress blues, flanked by Janney and Farris, warning that drug overdoses kill more Americans than car crashes.  The families behind these numbers, he tells us, need our compassion. The 30-second PSA ends with a 24/7 Helpline number to call “if you or someone you know needs help.” After it ran, calls to 1-800-662-HELP tripled.

Last week, 48 hours before Donald Trump fired him, Dr. Murthy came to Los Angeles to talk to a roomful of TV show runners, producers and writers. Communicating public health messages is central to the surgeon general’s job, and Murthy understands how powerfully entertainment can influence audiences. When we identify with fictional characters, when we’re transported by their narratives, our knowledge, our beliefs, even our behavior can be shaped by made-up stories.

Murthy’s message to the creative community: Opioid addiction is an epidemic. Everyone knows someone struggling with it. But it’s a chronic illness, a disease of the brain, not a moral failure. He asked Hollywood’s help in depicting it that way, and that when they do, to please depict hope, not just pain; recovery, not just despair.

If the surgeon general knew that two years into his four-year term as a nonpolitical appointee, the president was going to ask for his resignation, or that when that happened, Murthy would refuse, forcing the president to fire him, I saw no sign of it that night.

I was his host. As director of the Norman Lear Center, named for the TV pioneer and philanthropist whose shows have wrestled with cancer, sexual assault, racism, homophobia and so many other realities of American life, I’m especially proud of our Hollywood, Health & Society program run by my colleague Kate Folb. For 16 years, HH&S has provided free expert advice to hundreds of shows on issues of public health, safety and security. We connect writers with top medical and scientific specialists to answer their questions; we bring experts to writers’ rooms to brief them on topics ranging from HIV to climate change to the risk of nuclear war; we invite speakers to tell their personal stories, and to inspire writers with their passion to repair the world.

Murthy told the TV writers that when President Obama nominated him in 2013, a nurse at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he worked said to him, “If you can do one thing, please do something about the addiction crisis.” He recounted some of the stories people told him as he traveled the country trying to do what she asked, like the man addicted to opioids who told Murthy that when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, he actually welcomed the news: He figured that after his surgery, he’d be given painkillers.

Surgeon general Vivek Murthy, right, and Marty Kaplan. Photo courtesy Norman Lear Center

Surgeon general Vivek Murthy, right, and Marty Kaplan. Photo courtesy Norman Lear Center

Cortney Lovell, a 28-year old mom-next-door from upstate New York, told the writers her story as well. She recalled the winter night in her car nine years ago when she deliberately shot an overdose of heroin and cocaine into her veins. She thought death was a better option than the hell of her life. Lovell doesn’t know why she didn’t die that night, but today she’s in long-term recovery from addiction, and she’s helping others prevent and escape from what happened to her.  The writers also heard Gemma Baker, writer/producer and co-creator of “Mom,” and Zoanne Clack, executive producer of “Grey’s Anatomy,” explore the craft of informing audiences while also entertaining them.

And none of us, except perhaps Murthy, had a clue he’d be out the door two days later.

The Senate held up Murthy’s confirmation for more than a year because Republicans held his support of the Affordable Care Act against him, and because the NRA opposed him for calling gun violence a public health issue. Once in office, when he warned that the nicotine in e-cigarettes was harmful to kids’ developing brains, Big Tobacco and right wing groups like Americans for Tax Reform called for Murthy’s ouster. Last week, when he listed the causes of opioid addiction at our event, he included the prescription drug industry’s aggressive pain pill marketing, which made me think he must be on Big Pharma’s hit list, too. With that many strikes against him – to me, badges of honor – it’s amazing he lasted until the Administration’s 92d day.

The farewell message that Murthy, 39, the grandson of a poor farmer from India, posted on his Facebook page is extremely gracious, especially given the circumstances.  I’m not sure I’d be able to pull off being that lovely. But I’m reasonably sure that the nice folks who pulled the trap door under Vivek Murthy are indifferent to the oath known to anyone who’s seen a medical show on TV: First, do no harm.


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

White House denies report it postponed Abbas visit

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on March 27. Photo by Yves Herman/Reuters

A White House official denied a Palestinian media report that the Trump administration postponed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ upcoming visit to Washington.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

The claim, reported Thursday by the Ramallah-based publication Raya Al-Alamiya, cited unnamed Arab diplomatic sources and offered no explanation for the alleged delay.

A White House official, who requested anonymity, told Jewish Insider that the report was “not true.”

In March, Trump phoned Abbas where he informed the Palestinian leader his “personal belief that peace is possible and that the time has come to make a deal,” according to an official White House statement. During the call, Trump also invited Abbas to an official White House visit “in the near future.” The meeting was reportedly expected to take place in mid-April.

The President left the White House on Thursday to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida for Easter weekend.

A Mideast bonfire of the hypocrites

King Abdullah of Jordan. Photo via WikiCommons.

The day after more than 80 of his Arab brethren perished in a horrific gas attack in Syria, King Abdullah II of Jordan stood at a White House press conference and repeated the biggest lie of the past half-century: “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict … is essentially the core conflict in our region.”

For decades, this great lie has been a lifeblood for Arab leaders looking to change the subject from the vicious conflicts of the region and the oppression of their own people. Their countries may be in total meltdown, but if they pivot to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they know the international community and the media will lap it up.

Arab dictators are simply getting a good return on their investment in Jew-hatred. Thanks to their brilliant job of promulgating this hatred for so long throughout their societies, whenever things start to heat up, they can just serve up the perfect scapegoat: “It’s all about the conflict with the Jewish state!”

That is how we ended up with the sorry spectacle of an Arab king telling the world with a straight face that the conflict with the Jews is the key problem in the region.

Never mind that when Foreign Policy (FP) magazine announced its “Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2017,” the top three came from King Abdullah’s very own region, and, needless to say, none of the 10 mentioned Israel or the Palestinians.

The first was Syria and Iraq, where after nearly six years of fighting, an estimated 500,000 people have been killed and some 12 million uprooted.

The second was Turkey, which, as FP reports, “is facing worsening spillover from the wars in Syria and Iraq and a spiraling conflict with the PKK. Politically polarized, under economic strain, and with weak alliances, Turkey is poised for greater upheaval.”

The third was Yemen, where the war has created “another humanitarian catastrophe, wrecking a country that was already the poorest in the Arab world. With millions of people now on the brink of famine, the need for a comprehensive cease-fire and political settlement is ever more urgent.”

You can go down the list and find conflicts throughout the region that make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict look like a therapy session. From rampant Islamic extremism and political turnover to economic stagnation and age-old sectarian hatreds, the region is bursting with volcanoes that have absolutely nothing to do with Israel or the Palestinians.

I’m sure you remember the famous Arab Spring protests of 2011, when tens of millions of Arabs exploded onto Mideast streets because they couldn’t take it anymore. The funny thing is, none of the protestors was screaming about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Instead, they were screaming for basic stuff like human rights, civil rights, freedom, economic opportunities and so on.

In other words, they wanted what their Arab brothers and sisters already have in Israel, where Arab judges have made it all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court. How’s that for dark irony?

That might explain why Arab leaders are so intent on making Israel the biggest problem of the region. They know the truth is the exact opposite — that Israel is not the problem but the solution to the Middle East.

As much as it pains them to admit it, they know their countries would be a lot better off if they were more like Israel. They see how constant innovation in Israel keeps improving the quality of life; how Israel’s open society has created a vibrant and progressive culture; how Israeli Arabs have more freedoms and economic opportunities in the Jewish state than in any country of the region.

If you’re an Arab leader raised on Jew-hatred, how humiliating must that be?

But there’s something else these hypocrites know well — they know the Israeli-Palestinian conflict won’t be solved anytime soon, certainly not with the region in violent turmoil and the prospect that the West Bank would turn into another terror state if Israel left. This is great news for leaders petrified of losing their power. It means their trusted Jewish scapegoat is alive and kicking.

These insecure dictators, who couldn’t care less about the welfare of the Palestinians or of their own people, know that as long as a solution to their favorite conflict remains far, far away, they can keep milking the Big Lie and live to see another day.


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

Where in the world are Jared and Ivanka for Passover? Canada

Photo courtesy of Four Season Resort and Residences Whistler

In a misdirection of sorts, Ivanka Trump posted the following photo on Monday of her family at the White House:

This post led to much of the media including The Jerusalem Post to conclude, “This year, Ivanka and Jared celebrated Passover at America’s first home, the White House, continuing a tradition first started in 2009 by former US president Barack Obama.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

However, Jewish Insider has learned exclusively that the president’s daughter and son-in-law spent the first days of the Passover holiday at the Four Seasons Resort in Whistler, a resort town in British Columbia, Canada.

A Jewish Insider reader shared a photo with us of Ivanka in ski gear filling up a plate of food while chatting on her cell phone a few hours before Monday night’s Seder.

 Ivanka in ski gear at the Four Seasons Resort in Whistler, British Columbia. Photo from Jewish Insider

Ivanka in ski gear at the Four Seasons Resort in Whistler, British Columbia. Photo from Jewish Insider

In past years, Ivanka has joined Jared’s family at the Biltmore in Arizona, at a program near the Mayan Ruins in Mexico, and last year at Ivanka’s own Trump National Doral in Miami.

In fact, Jared first met Avi Berkowitz, now his deputy at the White House, on the basketball courts at the Biltmore Passover program.

Among the featured speakers at the Whistler Passover program this year is Ami Horowitz. Horowitz is a frequent Fox News contributor and is credited with sparking President Trump’s controversial remarks in February that Sweden “took in large numbers” of refugees and was “having problems like they never thought possible.” He told those at the rally to “look at what happened last night in Sweden,” leading to a strong reaction from Swedish officials who said no terrorist attack had taken place there the previous day or in recent months. After the backlash, Trump clarified via Twitter that he first heard about the stories in Sweden from Tucker Carlson’s Fox News segment with Horowitz.

No word yet on whether Ivanka’s friend, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will visit the First Family in Whistler.

From Republican governor to Democratic congressman: Charlie Crist’s journey

When the 2008 economic downturn struck America, Florida was hit especially hard. Charlie Crist — who was then serving as the state’s Governor — received a call from President Barack Obama inviting him to a Fort Myers rally backing the White House’s plan to inject $12 billion in recovery assistance to the Sunshine state. Crist’s staff hesitated. As a Republican, Crist publicly accepting an invitation from Obama could wreak a devastating political blow. But, the Florida Governor agreed and introduced the President since Crist felt the state desperately required economic support and he believed in the importance of honoring the office of the Presidency.

[This profile originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

After his speech, Obama approached Crist and hugged the Florida governor. The moment was caught on camera. The Florida lawmaker told Jewish Insider, “That was the hug that killed me as a Republican. Because some in my party still couldn’t quite get their head around the fact that we had this new first African American President.”

After deciding to run for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010, Crist was collapsing in the polls. Given his ongoing discomfort with what he perceived as a rightward shift among the Republican Party, Crist reached out to Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) for advice. The two became friendly in the 2008 Presidential race; Crist asked the 2000 Democratic Vice Presidential candidate if he should make the switch to Independent and Lieberman responded, “Charlie, if you do it, you’ll feel so liberated.” That same week, the Florida governor left his longtime party and registered as an independent. While he ended up losing the Senate race to Marco Rubio (R-FL), Crist emphasized, “It worked out the way it’s supposed to. Beshert.”

Despite switching parties, Crist has maintained strong support for Israel. He was the first governor to sign a bill that divested Florida’s retirement funds away from Iran collaborating with then-State Senator Ted Deutch (D-FL). He selected the Jewish state as his first trade mission with former Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) joining the trip. “We went to Tel Aviv, which reminded me of Florida because you are right on the coast,” Crist noted. “I love Israel. The food is amazing.”

An avid swimmer, the Congressman heads to the pool every day before work. The former governor’s first call each morning is to his father who Crist describes as “his best friend” and role model. Crist has a unique heritage as his grandmother was born in Lebanon before leaving the Middle East while his grandfather arrived in America when he was only 14 from Cyprus. “I’m 60 and I can’t think about going on a boat by myself around the world. But, he did it,” Crist noted. The Florida lawmaker does not allow Washington’s partisan clashes to constrain him. On the Congressman’s office wall, hangs pictures of both Obama and former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney, who coincidentally served in the exact same office when in the legislative branch.

After completing his term as governor, Crist surprised many when he expressed interest in running for the House of Representatives. “People would say to me – friends – ‘my gosh, you were governor of Florida now the third largest state in the country, why would you want to be 1 of 435?’” Crist said. The Florida lawmaker stressed his passion for public service that has kept him involved in politics and his love for engaging with constituents. “I believe in the same things I always have: not wasting money, a strong defense, a great education, and protecting the environment,” he noted. “My former party changed – just like what I think happened to Ronald Reagan.”

Jewish Insider: Why did you run for Congress?

Representative Charlie Crist: “Well, I have run for Congress before, I ran for the Senate twice and lost. Then you learn a lot. You learn more from losses than you do from victories. It’s good to have both. Basically, it’s because I love to serve, literally. It’s like a calling; it may sound a little weird, but it’s true. It started when I was a junior in high school. My first exposure to politics was through my father. My dad was a family doctor in my hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida. I had the privilege to represent St. Petersburg and Clearwater because of the Florida Supreme Court, they redrew the district lines. I was recruited by the DCCC to run and then a friend Kathy Castor, who is a member here. We had a conversation, and she encouraged me to run because I had no intention of running to be honest. I had recently been defeated for the governorship by Governor Scott by about one point. I thought maybe it was done and then out of nowhere I was reading the paper in July following that November defeat and it said that the districts had been redrawn and it included where I lived.”

“What’s funny is people would say to me – friends – ‘my gosh, you were governor of Florida now the third largest state in the country, why would you want to be 1 of 435? I said it’s because I love to serve. I want to help. It’s what I do. And by the grace of God, we won. I’m very humbled and happy. My father ran for the school board when I was nine and I remember it was a Saturday morning and a fish fry because he really hadn’t campaigned much so the local Republican Party chairman told my Dad, you need to go out and campaign if you want to win. My dad came up to me, he called me arlie because my older sister – God rest her soul – couldn’t pronounce the “Ch” in Charlie so arlie kind of stuck when I was a kid. He goes: Arlie, you want to come to this fish fry with me? I said, yeah. Let’s go see what’s going on. He and I went. There were all these picnic tables around the lake. He gave me a stack of his cards and said Why don’t you go table to table and introduce yourself? We have the same name. I’m junior. And ask them to vote for Pop and I did. And I loved it. I just love talking to people and here where are they from and what they care about.”

JI: When changing political parties, have your views also shifted?

Crist: “Not for me. I haven’t changed at all. I believe in the same things I always have. I believe in being decent to other people, not wasting money, a strong defense, law and order, a great education, protecting the environment: the same things that I always have. I am what I am. My former party changed – just like what I think happened to Ronald Reagan. He was a Democrat and became a Republican. His former party, I assume, changed.”

JI: Why did you change parties?

Crist: “I saw it beginning when I was governor (picture of Obama on his wall, Cheney). It was January 2009 and I met with my economic advisor, Jeremy McDaniel. I said, Jeremy, what’s going on with the economy? And he said terrible. Virtually, money is not coming in. I said, what’s the plan Jeremy? He said the plan is that the President Obama wants to give you $12 billion. I said, I like that plan. We need it badly. He (Obama) said he needs to get it through Congress. I guess a few weeks later, early February, my office in Tallahassee got a call from the White House. The purpose of the call was to let us know that he was going to come to Fort Myers soon and was inviting me to be there with him, if I wanted to be. I said sure. And my staff said, are you sure? I said, yeah. They said, you know he’s a Democrat. I said he’s the President of the United States of America and I am in honor of the office and him, particularly because what he is trying to do for our Florida and our country with the Recovery Act so I went. The President motions to me and says, please have a seat. So, I sit next to him in the back of the big car. And he said, before you go in, I wanted to say something to you. He said: first, thank you. I want to thank you for coming. You are going to pay a political price just for being here today. Since you are here, would you mind introducing me? And I said, that would be an honor too. So, we went up there and I go to the podium and it was loud. I said, please give a welcome to our President? It’s great to have him here. He is here to talk about something that can be very good for Florida and America: The Recovery Act. I said we need to do it in a bipartisan way because it is right for all of America. So, please give a warm welcome to President Barack Obama. Then he comes to the podium and I wait to greet him. When he gets there, he shakes my hand. And then he did it. He pulled me in and hugged me. And somebody took a picture of it. And that was the hug that killed me as a Republican. Because some in my party still couldn’t quite get their head around the fact that we had this new first African American President. I will just call a thing a thing. And that’s sad. Now, not all Republicans, mind you. But there was an element that didn’t like it at all. I heard about it. “

JI: So, you think that race played a significant factor in those opposing President Obama?

Crist: “I would rather characterize it as unfairness. Unfairness and arrogance are the two things that get under my skin. It’s why as Attorney General I fought for civil rights. It’s why as Education Commissioner I fought for higher pay for teachers. It’s why as state senator I wanted to protect the environment and sponsor the net ban to save our fisheries. I was at a rally when I ran for the Senate a second time, 2010. I go up and give my speech and it was politely received until the very end of my speech, there were 500 people there – I’m guessing – towards the back this white guy stands up and he goes, “Go hug Obama again!” I just kind of looked at him and I’m like, “I’m detecting something here that isn’t Kosher. It’s not right.” I continued to see it in little incidents like that. More frequently after a while. It broke my heart. I was seeing elements in my former party that didn’t reflect that to the point that finally I couldn’t tolerate it personally anymore so I became an independent, after talking to Joe Lieberman. I love him to death. He’s been very nice to me. I came close to being picked to run for Vice President with his friend John McCain and I got to know him during this time of my life. I felt comfortable reaching out to Senator Lieberman. I asked him, you’ve been where I think I’m about to go. And I just wanted to seek your advice. So I said, how was it going independent? He said, “Charlie, if you do it, you’ll feel so liberated. I’m paraphrasing, he said if you’re even thinking about it, then you should do it. So, I did. That week. It was April 2010. I was horribly collapsing in the poll anyways so it was kind of convenient being honest. But, it was consistent with my soul and my heart. Partially (it was politically) of course. But, primarily my heart couldn’t take it anymore. Of course, I lost. It worked out the way it’s supposed to. Beshert. Is that the right word?”

JI: Do you believe support for Israel is declining in the Democratic Party?

Crist: “I don’t think it’s dis-unifying. There are always differences of opinion. That’s fine and healthy. I love Israel. I committed in the race for governor, the one I won, that if I won that my first trade mission would be to go to Israel. And so I did that in May, 2007 with Robert Wexler. We went to Tel Aviv, which reminded me of Florida because you are right on the coast. The food is amazing. The people are amazing. Afterwards, we went to Jerusalem. There is no place like it. I love to go there. I think Democrats, and many Republicans, are so strongly aligned and care about the State of Israel. As Floridians, we do particularly. We have an enormous Jewish population in my state and I’m very proud of that. When I became governor, with Ted Deutch, he was Senator Deutch, in the Florida State Senate, a wonderful man, we had a divestment bill that would not have our retirement funds invest anything that would somehow favor Iran. I was the first governor who did that. The State of Florida and the State of Israel have a unique bond. Probably the most moving thing I did on the trade mission to Jerusalem was visit Yad Vashem. I love Judaism, anything that I can do to strengthen, protect and help. It’s a democracy surrounded by a lot of people who may not be all that friendly to Israel.”

JI: In addition to your political views, is there an element to your personality or schedule that many in Washington or your constituents may not know?

Crist: “I swim every morning. Everybody knows that my hair is white. My father’s parents name was Cristodoles. He immigrated from Cyprus. My father’s mother Mary Khoury immigrated from Lebanon from a village north of Beirut around 1912. They met in Pennsylvania. When my grandfather came in, he was only 14. 14. I’m 60 and I can’t think about going on a boat by myself around the world. But, he did it.”

JI: Who is your role model?

Crist: “First and foremost, my father. My best friend. My first call every morning. I love him with all of my heart.”

Trump administration to host White House seder

President Barack Obama celebrates Passover at the White House. Photo by Pete Souza/The White House

The Trump administration is planning to continue the tradition set by President Obama of hosting a Seder at the White House Monday night, White House sources told Jewish Insider.

“Many of our Jewish staff are actually going to be able to spend the holiday with their families. Our tradition is still taking shape but this year it will be an opportunity for observant WH staff that can’t be with their families to celebrate the holiday among friends,” a White House spokesperson confirmed on Monday, following our exclusive report on Friday.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“We’ll also be opening it up for other interested WH staff (Jewish and non-Jewish alike) to take part in a Seder on campus,” the official added.

As of Monday morning, it seems the President will not be attending.

President Barack Obama was the first sitting president to host a Seder in the White House.

Eric Lesser, who was one of the originators of the Obama White House Seder back in the 2008 campaign, and is now a Massachusetts State Senator, told Jewish Insider that he is not sure if the former president will be attending a Seder this year. “I’ll be in Maryland with my in laws for both nights,” Lesser said.

The first and only White House Seder before the Obama era was held in the Indian Treaty Room for 50 WH staffers under President Bill Clinton. It was organized and led by Steve Rabinowitz, now President at Bluelight Strategies.

Stephen Bannon reportedly calls Jared Kushner a ‘cuck’ and a ‘globalist’

Stephen Bannon, left, with Jared Kushner, in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 22. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Pool/Getty Images

A report on emerging tensions between Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, and Stephen Bannon, his top strategist, said Bannon called Kushner a “cuck” and “globalist,” terms familiar to “alt-right” conspiracy theorists.

A Daily Beast report on Thursday detailed Bannon’s alleged use of the pejoratives. “Cuck,” a play on “cuckold,” is the alt-right term for conservatives who allowed themselves to be played by liberals and the establishment.

“Globalist” refers to theories of a conspiracy of elites to maintain control of the global economy. Its use has overlapped with anti-Semitic theories of Jewish financial control, but it is not a term used exclusively by anti-Semites. Kushner is Jewish.

Before joining the Trump campaign last summer, Bannon helmed Breitbart News, a site that he said was a platform for the alt-right, a loose assemblage of anti-establishment conservatives that includes anti-Semites, as well as some Jews and some fierce defenders of Israel.

News of the tensions between Bannon and Kushner, who reportedly were close during the campaign, follow Trump’s order this week removing Bannon from the National Security Council.

Kushner, according to the reports, believes Bannon went too far in pushing for travelers’ bans and in playing hardball with Congress in an attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act. Both initiatives failed.

Bannon, according to the reports, in turn resents Kushner for bringing into the White House figures associated with Democrats, including Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs banker who is Trump’s chief economic adviser, and Zeke Emanuel, a physician who consulted with the Obama administration on the Affordable Care Act and is the brother of Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff. Kushner reportedly has hosted three meetings with Zeke Emanuel. Cohn and Emanuel are Jewish.

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

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

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.

NSC aide Cohen-Watnick said to have leaked intel to back Trump eavesdropping claims

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

A National Security Council aide is reportedly behind a White House leak that is roiling Congress and the Trump administration.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council, was one of two White House aides who leaked information to Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, that Nunes and the White House apparently hoped would vindicate President Donald Trump’s claim that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had eavesdropped on him.

Trump made the claim, without citing evidence, on Twitter earlier this month. Intelligence and law enforcement officials, along with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, responded by saying there was no evidence to show that Obama had wiretapped Trump.

Nunes, who until then enjoyed a cooperative relationship on the committee with his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., initially was part of the no-evidence chorus. But after making a sudden visit to the White House last week, Nunes emerged with a claim that he suggested partially vindicated Trump’s assertion. But the evidence – that U.S. persons were caught up in routine intelligence sweeps of foreign officials – did not implicate Obama personally.

According to the Times, Watnick-Cohen started to review highly classified information after Trump posted his tweet in a bid to substantiate it. He and a colleague, Michael Ellis – formerly a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee – then contacted Nunes, who was on Trump’s transition team.

The affair has opened a rift between Schiff, who is Jewish, and Nunes and halted their committee’s review of allegations that Russia interfered in last year’s election. Top Democrats have called on Nunes to recuse himself from the inquiry, which may implicate Trump campaign officials. He has refused.

Earlier this month, Politico reported that Trump overruled a decision by his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, in order to keep Cohen-Watnick in his position.

McMaster saw Cohen-Watnick as tainted because he had been brought to the NSC by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, who quit after revelations that he had obscured the truth about his conversations with a Russian official. The CIA also perceived Cohen-Watnick as a threat because he shared Flynn’s distrust of the national intelligence community.

Cohen-Watnick appealed to two Trump administration officials with whom he was close, Politico said – Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and Stephen Bannon, his top strategic adviser. Trump sided with them over McMaster.

Cohen-Watnick celebrated his engagement to Rebecca Miller in November at Ohr Kodesh Congregation, a Conservative synagogue outside Washington, D.C., according to a synagogue newsletter.

Spicer: Trump was right not to jump to conclusions about JCC bomb threats

White House spokesman Sean Spicer takes questions during his press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, U.S. January 30, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said President Donald Trump had been right not to jump to conclusions about anti-Semitic threats following the arrest last week of an Israeli-American teen on suspicion of making over 100 bomb threats against U.S. Jewish sites.

“We saw these threats coming into Jewish community centers, and there was an immediate jump to criticize folks on the right, and to denounce people on the right and ask them to condemn them, and it turns out that in fact it wasn’t someone on the right,” Spicer said Monday at a media briefing. “The president from the get-go had said ‘I bet you it’s not someone [on the right]’ and he was right.”

Spicer added that “people on the left” who had blamed the right for the threats had not been held accountable.

“In that particular case, we saw that the president was right and that this rush to judgment by a lot of folks on the left was wrong, and none of them have been held to account on that,” Spicer said.

Last week, an Israeli-American teen was arrested in southern Israel on suspicion of carrying out bomb threats on Jewish institutions in the United States. The 19-year-old, Michael Kaydar, reportedly used advanced technology and voice-altering equipment to call in the threats to more than 100 JCCs, Jewish day schools and other Jewish institutions in the United States.

Many Jewish groups had blamed white supremacists, emboldened by Trump’s campaign, for the bomb threats that plagued Jewish institutions since the beginning of this year. In February, the president reportedly saidthat the threats against Jewish communal institutions may be a false flag “to make others look bad.”

Also in February, when asked about the bomb threats, Trump shouted down a Jewish reporter who asked him about what he planned to do to address the intensification of incidents.

“Some of that anger is caused by people on the other side,” he then told another reporter at the news conference. “It will be by people on the other side to anger people like you.”

Ivanka Trump scores West Wing office, government security clearances

Ivanka Trump (C) has received security clearance. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images (via JTA).

Ivanka Trump, the Jewish daughter of President Donald Trump, reportedly is working out of a West Wing office and is in the process of receiving a government security clearance.

Ivanka Trump’s office is on the second floor, next to senior adviser Dina Powell, who was promoted recently to a position on the National Security Council, Politico first reported Monday evening. Ivanka Trump also is set to receive government-issued communications devices this week.

Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to the president, moved their family to Washington, D.C., when the president took office.

Though Trump does not have an official title and will not draw a salary, she will follow the ethics rules that apply to government employees, Jamie Gorelick, an attorney and ethics adviser for the first daughter, told The Associated Press.

While Trump continues to own her own lifestyle company, which sells clothing, shoes and jewelry, she has turned daily management to the company president and has set up a trust to provide further oversight. She also has barred the business from using her image in advertising to promote the products.

“I will continue to offer my father my candid advice and counsel, as I have for my entire life,” Trump said in a statement while acknowledging that “there is no modern precedent for an adult child of the president.”

Trump had said during the transition that she would not play a formal role in the administration when she moved to Washington. She also said, however, that she would continue to fight for women’s issues, including maternity leave and child care.

On Friday, she participated in a meeting of the president and German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the CEOs of U.S. and German companies to discuss workplace development, sitting beside Merkel during the discussion.

State Dept.: Trump adviser Jason Greenblatt is on ‘listening’ tour of Israel, West Bank

Jason Greenblatt, left, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Israeli Government Press Office)

Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s adviser on international relations, is touring Israel and the Palestinian areas to gauge attitudes to peacemaking and there will likely not be any developments from the trip, a Trump administration spokesman said.

“He’s really there to listen to both sides and how they perceive getting to a peace process,” Mark Toner, the State Department spokesman, said Monday in the daily briefing for reporters. “I don’t expect any big developments out of this trip.”

Trump has expressed an eagerness to bring about a peace deal while retreating from 15 years of U.S. policy backing a two-state outcome to the peace process.

On Friday, Trump spoke on the phone with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, and the White House readout of the call sounded bullish on the prospects for peace.

“The President emphasized his personal belief that peace is possible and that the time has come to make a deal,” the readout said. “The President noted that such a deal would not only give Israelis and Palestinians the peace and security they deserve, but that it would reverberate positively throughout the region and the world.”

Trump on the call invited Abbas to the White House. The U.S. leader met last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

During that visit, Netanyahu appeared to be taken aback by a request from Trump to stop settlement expansion for now. Settlement building was a key point of tension between Netanyahu and Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and both Netanyahu and Trump have said relations would be smoother now.

Toner said settlements would be discussed during the trip, but also cautioned against any expecting any pronouncements.

“Settlements will obviously be a topic of discussion, but I wouldn’t predict there would be any resolution of that issue,” he said. “As we said earlier just a few weeks ago, with respect to settlements, we see them as a challenge that needs to be addressed at some point.”

Greenblatt, a longtime lawyer to Trump, solicited followers this week on Twitter to track his trip.

“Honored to be meeting with Israelis and Palestinians this week as I travel to the region,” he said. “Follow me for updates on the trip.”

Greenblatt, who is an Orthodox Jew, tweeted Monday from a stop in Frankfurt, Germany, that he was saying shacharit, the morning prayer, and called on followers to “pray for peace.”

Netanyahu later posted a photo of their meeting, welcoming Greenblatt.

Greenblatt is also due to meet with Abbas in Ramallah.