Daily Kickoff: UJA visits Saudi + CBC claps back at de Blasio

2022-06-28 12:13:58 By : Ms. Katrina Yu

It’s primary day in Colorado, Illinois, Utah and Oklahoma. There are also runoffs taking place today in Mississippi and South Carolina, and some local and statewide primaries happening in New York.

Illinois’ redistricting has put two sets of legislators on collision courses. Republican Reps. Mary Miller and Rodney Davis will go head-to-head in the state’s 15th Congressional District to see who will likely represent the red, rural district in the next Congress.

And in the 6th District, Democratic Reps. Sean Casten and Marie Newman are locked in a contentious race in the Chicago area that has been on hold in recent weeks following the untimely death of Casten’s teenage daughter. Democratic Majority for Israel spent $540,000 supporting Casten and opposing Newman, who was one of eight Democrats who voted against supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome system last year. Newman is also facing an ethics investigation for allegedly convincing a potential opponent, a Palestinian-American academic, not to run in exchange for hiring him onto her staff to advise on foreign policy issues.

In the state’s 3rd District, state Rep. Delia Ramirez and Chicago Alderman Gilbert Villegasare vying to represent the newly drawn, majority Latino district. DMFI is backing Villegas, while J Street threw its support behind Ramirez.

In Illinois’ 7th Congressional District, longtime Chicago-area Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) is facing a second challenge from activist Kina Collins, who is backed by Justice Democrats. The two are largely aligned on issues relating to Israel, with Davis, who was endorsed by J Street, co-sponsoring legislation to restrict aid to Israel and Collins supporting the conditioning of aid to the Jewish state.

In perhaps the state’s most crowded primary, 17 Democratic candidates are on the ballot today in the effort to succeed Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) in the state’s 1st District. Rush is retiring after more than three decades in Congress representing Chicago and will likely be succeeded by one of three frontrunners: Jonathan Jackson, an activist who is the son of the civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson; Chicago alderperson Pat Dowell; and Illinois state Sen. Jacqui Collins.

In Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, Democrat Adam Frisch is hoping to snag the nomination that will allow him to take on Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) in November.

While New York’s congressional primaries have been pushed to August, voters in the Empire State will head to the polls today to cast ballots in a number of state and local primaries. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is wrapping up her first year in office after the resignation of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is hoping Democrats in the state will back both her and her pick for lieutenant governor, Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY). Delgado is facing off against activist Ana María Archila, who received an endorsement from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) last week. If Archila wins, the Democratic ticket could face tougher scrutiny from Republicans and independents in the state — and from the GOP’s nominee. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) is the frontrunner in that race, where he’s competing with Andrew Giuliani and Harry Wilson.

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday in favor of a high school football coach who was fired for praying on the field with his team, a situation that the school and some parents described as coercive.

Marc Stern, the American Jewish Committee’s chief legal officer, said the decision “strikes a serious blow against the Constitution’s Establishment Clause,” “effectively invites indirect but no less real coercion of students who are attuned to hints from school officials who grade and evaluate them” and “will encourage those who seek to proselytize within the public schools to do so with the court’s blessing.”

In the Bremerton v. Kennedy decision, the court also officially declared it had abandoned the “Lemon test” that it had previously used to decide whether laws concerning religion violate separation of church and state. The court has moved away from that decision in recent cases, but formally overturning it has been a major goal of legal activists in the Orthodox Jewish community. Monday’s decision comes just days after the justices ruled that Maine must include private religious schools as part of a tuition assistance program.

Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Fred Upton (R-MI) are leading an American Israel Education Foundation trip to Israel this week, which will include meetings with high-level Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as meetings with members of the “major parties” in the Knesset, Gottheimer told reporters shortly before leaving for the trip.

Participants on the UJA mission to Saudi Arabia

Against the backdrop of sweeping changes in Israel-Arab relations, a group of 13 American Jewish leaders toured Saudi Arabia earlier this month to learn about Islam and teach the Saudis about Judaism, the first trip of its kind for federation leaders and clergy to the Arab kingdom, Jewish Insider’s Jacob Miller reports. The four-day trip, which ended on June 16 and was organized by American philanthropist Eli Epstein, comes weeks before President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel, where he is expected to push for relations between the two countries in an attempt to expand the number of Arab nations that have normalized ties with Israel over the last two years as a result of the Abraham Accords. The visitors were hosted by the Muslim World League, a Saudi-funded nonprofit dedicated to promoting peace and tolerance.

Talking Points: Eric Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, told JI that he thinks the trip achieved its goal of dialogue, referencing a conversation between one of the trip’s rabbis and a Saudi photographer, in which the two discussed shawarma toppings. “You have a Saudi photographer, who has literally never, ever spoken to a Jew, and the warm interconnection, and the sense of common worldview, where they came together around the best way to eat shawarma with the best topping is something that, you know, will inform his sense of Jewishness forever,” Goldstein said. “And it’s real. It’s amazing.”

Connected Countries: UJA-Federation Executive Vice President Mark Medin commented on the degree of openness in Saudi Arabia. “What struck many of us was our ability to take our phone out of our pocket and read the Times of Israel, or read Jewish Insider, or read the Jerusalem Post or Haaretz,” Medin told JI. “[They have] a totally open web system where any Saudi will connect to the web and any traveler to Saudi Arabia has the ability to follow the news in Israel.” During the trip, Goldstein said he received a phone call from his son who lives in Tel Aviv, and noted that communication between Saudi and Israeli civilians was easy. Goldstein left the country cautiously optimistic about prospects for relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. “This is not inevitable,” he said, “but you can’t walk away [anything] but excited by the potentially tectonic transformation.”

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks onstage during Global Citizen Live, New York on September 25, 2021, in New York City.

Bill de Blasio drew criticism from the Congressional Black Caucus on Monday over recent comments in which the former New York City mayor said he wished a friend and former two-time Democratic House candidate in Cleveland, Nina Turner, had been elected to Congress, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.

Caucus comment: The caucus viewed de Blasio’s remarks as dismissive of a fellow member, freshman Rep. Shontel Brown, who defeated Turner in two consecutive cycles in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, most recently in last month’s Democratic primary. The CBC’s political action committee endorsed Brown over Turner, a former Ohio state senator and progressive stalwart who had cast herself as a future Squad member. “We don’t agree with the comments made by former Mayor de Blasio and think that it diminishes the amazing work that Rep. Brown is doing,” Yolonda Addison, the CBC PAC’s executive director, told JI on Monday. “However, due to her decisive win, she’s able to continue her working on behalf of the people of Northeast Ohio.”

One New Yorker to another: Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), a CBC member who stumped for Brown in the lead-up to last month’s Democratic primary, was even more critical of de Blasio, who is now running for Congress in New York’s redrawn 10th Congressional District. “I find it striking that he would lament the defeat of Nina Turner and, by implication, the victory of Shontel Brown,” Torres said. “He is doing himself no favors by implicitly denigrating a well-regarded member of the House Democratic Caucus, a CBC member for whom the majority whip and the caucus chair campaigned in person.”

Read the full story here.

Teacher reading her pupils a story at the elementary school

Last fall, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin put a bull’s-eye on Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved. It came in the form of an ad that his opponent saw as an attempt to get the book banned in schools because of its vivid portrayal of slavery. Now, the nationwide book-banning debate has come for the Holocaust, but with a twist. A Saturday afternoon panel at last weekend’s conference of the American Library Association in Washington, D.C., sparked controversy over the panelists’ approach to Holocaust denial, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.

Tweet storm: “Today there was a sentiment made by panelists that we even must include Holocaust denial books. Holocaust denial is harmful misinformation,” Kelsey Bogan, a Pennsylvania-based high school librarian, tweeted from the conference, setting off a flood of angry responses from conferencegoers and others who work in the field.

In denial: Bogan was referring to an exchange between Nancy Pearl, a writer and librarian, and New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds, in which the two literary figures appeared to argue that opposing book bans means that no book — even one that promotes false claims about the Holocaust — can be banned, according to a livestream of the panel.

Hate speech “As librarians we’re trained to develop a collection that provides multiple perspectives on a subject or on a topic. So when you’re talking about something like the Holocaust, denial isn’t a perspective. That’s a form of antisemitism, a form of hate speech,” said Matthew Good, a middle school librarian and Holocaust and human rights educator in Lancaster, Pa. “​Libraries have very finite budgets to begin with, and so wanting to spend money on something that denies a factual historical event is, in my view, unconscionable.”

Bigger picture: The discussion at the ALA conference came one year after April Powers, the Jewish diversity chief at a prominent publishing nonprofit, stepped down from her position following a barrage of criticism from anti-Israel writers over a statement she wrote condemning antisemitism, sparking a conversation about bias against Jewish authors in the world of children’s literature, or “kidlit.”

Change of heart: Pearl later walked back her remarks, telling JI in a statement: “If I were buying books for a library I would not buy books that deny the Holocaust.” A spokesperson for Reynolds did not respond to a request for comment. Liza Wiemer, an award-winning author whose book The Assignment addressed the teaching of the Holocaust, told JI that she had a productive conversation with him about his comments. “Under no circumstances does Jason Reynolds support inclusion of Holocaust denial books for Holocaust education, nor does he support including Holocaust denial books in libraries,” she said.

Read the full story here.

Reps. Sean Casten (D-IL) and Marie Newman (D-IL)

After high-profile spending in a few early primary races that garnered headlines — and controversy — United Democracy Project and Democratic Majority for Israel PAC, both pro-Israel super PACs, have turned their focus to a few upcoming primaries, injecting significant capital into a new set of Democratic races, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.

Illinois intrigue: Ahead of Tuesday’s primaries in Illinois, Democratic Majority for Israel has spent $540,000 opposing Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL) and supporting Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL). The group also spent $157,000 on digital ads and mailers supporting Chicago City Council member Gilbert Villegas and opposing Illinois House member Delia Ramirez.

Ethics attack: DMFI’s ad against Newman highlights the ongoing congressional ethics investigation into the first-term Chicago-area congresswoman, which is focused on her alleged effort to keep a potential primary rival out of the race by offering him a highly paid job. That individual, who remains an advisor to Newman’s campaign, had also demanded broad control over her Middle East policy. DMFI also sent a mailer touting Casten’s accomplishments in office.

Maryland matters: Next month’s Democratic primary in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District between former Rep. Donna Edwards and former Prince’s Geoge’s County state attorney Glenn Ivey is emerging as the next major battleground between the United Democracy Project super PAC, an AIPAC-linked group, and J Street PAC. The two groups clashed in a number of high-profile races in May, with UDP spending $6.4 million in Democratic primaries that month, and more than $10 million total this year.

Big money: As of June 23 — nearly a month ahead of the July 19 primary — UDP had spent nearly $1.9 million on attack ads targeting Edwards. J Street is spending $100,000 on digital ads supporting Edwards, but a J Street spokesperson told JI that the ads have not yet gone live. Pro-Israel America and DMFI have also lent their support to Ivey, and AIPAC’s PAC has directed at least $160,000 in donations to him.

Up next: As for UDP’s future plans: “We are assessing a significant number of races, including Republican primaries, to ensure that Congress has the broadest possible bipartisan pro-Israel coalition,” the group’s spokesperson, Patrick Dorton, said.

🇭🇺 Crossing Cultures: The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz travels to CPAC conferences in Florida and Hungary to better understand the crossover between conservative politics in the U.S. and in Europe, where Viktor Orban is creating a potential blueprint for right-wing activists around the world. “[Hungarian think tank director Miklos] Szánthó mentioned ‘Jewish-Christian heritage,’ but there aren’t many practicing Jews left in Hungary. Orbán, in his speeches, often uses the phrase ‘Christian democracy,’ which he portrays as under continual existential threat. Given that the vast majority of Hungarians, apparently including Orbán, do not attend church regularly, it seems plausible that his audience hears the word ‘Christian,’ at least in part, as code for something else. ‘If we manage to uphold our country’s ethnic homogeneity and its cultural uniformity,’ he said in 2017, ‘Hungary will be the kind of place that will be able to show other, more developed countries what they lost.’ His constant theme is that only he can preserve Hungary for the (non-Muslim, ethnically Magyar) Hungarians — about as close as any European head of state will come to an explicit rejection of ethnic pluralism in favor of state-sanctioned white nationalism. For many of his American admirers, this seems to be a core element of his appeal.” [NewYorker]

✈️ Weighing In: Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, currently a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, considers the challenges and opportunities presented by President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip to Israel, which will take place weeks after the collapse of the country’s government. “The true missed opportunity with the collapse of the government is to meet the coalition leaders themselves. A meeting with the leaders of the eight parties in the coalition — representing diverse elements of Israeli society — would have given Biden a chance to express his admiration for the efforts they made to bridge gaps and find common ground — a theme he often returns to in this era of political tribalism and challenges to liberal democracy. Particularly meaningful would have been a handshake with Mansour Abbas, the leader of the first Arab party to join an Israeli coalition. As a symbol of minority integration in a society riven by conflict and a political leader who took significant risks to help his community and his country, Abbas is undoubtedly someone Biden wanted to recognize.” [AtlanticCouncil]

🥫 Mansaf Melee:The New York Times’ Ben Hubbard and Asmaa al-Omar explore what happened after a Jordanian entrepreneur created a fast-casual version of mansaf, a popular national dish. “‘People were surprised at first,’ recalled Mr. Taher, 52. But tasting was believing, and he said some customers gushed: ‘Bless you for feeding us something that we’ve been craving for so long.’ Not everyone hailed his culinary innovation, however, in this conservative Arab monarchy where traditions like mansaf are tightly bound to national identity. Copycat restaurants popped up, cutting into Mr. Taher’s profits, even as traditionalists accused him of debasing the national dish and eroding the cultural foundations of the nation itself.” [NYTimes]

📺 Eye on 2024: Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is running ads on religious freedom in Iowa and South Carolina, two of the first states to vote in the 2024 presidential primaries.

🤝 Washington Moment: Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow who fled the country earlier this year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, met with Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. antisemitism envoy, in Washington.

🎵 Lennon Lemon: The latest episode of Amazon Prime Video’s “The Boys” pokes fun at Gal Gadot’s much-panned rendition of “Imagine,” which she released early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

⚖️ Delayed Justice: A German court convicted a 101-year-old man of being an accessory to murder for his role as an SS guard at the Nazis’ Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and sentenced him to five years in prison.

🍄 Shroom Saga: The Guardian spotlights the case of a Colorado rabbi who founded a multifaith nonprofit and is facing felony charges relating to using psychedelic mushrooms with his congregants.

☢️ Wheels Down in Doha: U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley is in Qatar for talks on reviving the stalled nuclear negotiations with Iran.

📜 Teamwork: A joint statement released by the Negev Forum Steering Committee — comprised of the U.S., Israel, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates — at the conclusion of talks in Manama, Bahrain, announced the creation of working groups and goals for the committee’s future work.

📡 Tech Reveal: Israeli officials plan to showcase the country’s “Iron Beam” laser-defense system during President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip to the region.

✍️ Roe Response: Israel eased the regulation of abortion access in the country, in what Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said was a response to last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision.

⚽ Soccer Stars: The New York Times looks at the meteoric rise of Maccabi Bnei Reineh, a  soccer team formed six years ago from an Arab village outside Nazareth that is currently ranked among the best in the country.

🌐 Gone Offline: A cyberattack on a major Iranian steel company and two other plants halted production at the facilities.

🇮🇷 Application Pending: Iran applied to join BRICS, the group of emerging economies that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

☠️ Tragic Accident: At least 12 people were killed and hundreds injured when a container carrying chlorine gas fell from a crane and exploded in Jordan’s port of Aqaba.

💼 Transition: Journalist Alex Wagner will succeed Rachel Maddow, who previously hosted a nightly program on MSNBC.

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog (Credit: Shmulik Almany)

Representatives from more than 40 Israeli companies mingled last night with officials from federal, state and local governments at the Israeli Embassy last night, seeking opportunities to grow their businesses into the United States, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. The embassy and Amb. Michael Herzog (pictured) hosted the reception for the 42 companies selected by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides for Israel’s delegation to the Department of Commerce’s SelectUSA summit, which began over the weekend. The conference seeks to promote foreign direct investment in the U.S.

The participants pitching their businesses to the U.S. officials included a range of cutting-edge firms, such as a genetics company specializing in livestock, a military and civilian drone manufacturer, a technology company aimed at assisting first responders, clean energy producers and pharmaceutical companies.

Read the full story here.

U.S. special envoy for Holocaust issues, Ellen J. Germain turns 60…

Emmy-, Grammy-, Oscar- and Tony Award-winning actor, movie director, composer and comedian, Mel Brooks (born Melvin James Kaminsky) turns 96… Laguna Woods, Calif., resident, she is a retired hospital administrator, Saretta Platt Berlin… Owner of NYC’s United Equities Companies and retired chairman of Berkshire Bank, Moses M. Marx… Former member of Congress for 16 years and now a distinguished fellow and president emerita of the Wilson Center, Jane Harman turns 77… Political consultant, community organizer and author, he is married to Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Robert Creamer turns 75… Novelist, journalist, conservative commentator and senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, Mark Helprin turns 75… Author of crime fiction for both adults and children, Peter Abrahams turns 75… Documentary producer and adjunct associate professor at USC, James Ruxin turns 74… West Orange, N.J., resident, Saralee Rosen… Professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, Kenneth Alan Ribet turns 74… Shareholder in the Tampa office of Carlton Fields, Nathaniel Doliner turns 73…

Rabbi and historian, he is the author of a 2017 book Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court: From Brandeis to Kagan, David G. Dalin turns 73… Former member of the California State Senate, Martin Jeffrey “Marty” Block turns 72… Retired partner at Chicago-based accounting firm of Morrison & Morrison, Mark Zivin… Founding partner of NYC law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres, Marc Kasowitz turns 70… Writer for Haaretz, Amira Hass turns 66… Chairman and CEO of Comcast Corporation, Brian L. Roberts turns 63… Rabbi of the Har Bracha community, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed turns 61… Principal of GPS Investment Partners and chairman of Chiron Investment Management, Marc Spilker turns 58… Actress and singer, Jessica Hecht turns 57… Diplomatic correspondent for Al-Monitor based in Washington, D.C., Laura Rozen… Novelist and short story writer, Aimee Bender turns 53… Israeli actress residing in Los Angeles, Ayelet Zurer turns 53… Centibillionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk turns 51… Former member of Knesset for the Labor Party/Zionist Union, Michal Biran turns 44… Toltzy Kornbluh… and her twin sister, Chany Stark… UAE-based founder and CEO of NY Koen Group, Naum Koen turns 41… Judicial law clerk for a federal judge in D.C., Molly Rosen… Mark Winkler…

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