Jewish Insider's Daily Kickoff: December 15, 2017

HBO’s Richard Plepler has a stellar Shimon Peres imitation ■ AIPAC, J Street call out Abbas ■Rabbi Sacks onJews and Economics

JI Staff
HBO CEO Richard Plepler speaks in New York, Nov 13, 2017
HBO CEO Richard Plepler speaks in New York, Nov 13, 2017Credit: Bloomberg
JI Staff

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PODCAST PLAYBACK -- Richard Plepler, Chairman and CEO of HBO, on The Atlantic Interview with Jeffrey Goldberg: It took several attempts throughout the interview but, towards the end of the episode, Goldberg finally convinced Plepler to share his quite accurate imitation of the late Israeli political leader Shimon Peres.

Plepler: “Shimon Peres was a transcendent figure on the world stage. The story is that the then Consul General in New York, Ido Aharoni, asked whether I would host a dinner for the [Israeli] President when he was here, and I said, ‘My wife and I, it would be our pleasure; we would be honored.’ I said to Ido, ‘Who do you think he wants to come?’ Ido thought and said, ‘Well, let's set up a call, and we'll ask the President who he'd like.’ So we arranged the call, and I said, ‘Mr. President, who would you like to come? Would you like David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker? Would you like Jeff Goldberg, a noted and eminent American journalist? Would you like the President of CNN, Jeff Zucker? Who would you like to come?’ Without missing a beat, he said (Plepler imitating Peres), ’Those people are fine, but I like the girl from The Sex and The City.’ I said, ‘Oh, Sarah Jessica Parker.’ ‘Sarah Jessica Parker would be good to have.’... So I said to him, ‘Alright, that's fine. Would you like Tom Friedman, Fareed Zakaria? Which public intellectual we can talk about the future of Israel with?’ (Plepler imitating Peres) ‘I don't care. Do you know Seinfeld?’ I said, ‘Yes, as a matter of a fact.’ (Plepler imitating Peres) ‘I like Seinfeld to come. Ask big old Seinfeld.’

“So when I walked into my own home that evening very excited, he was already there, and there was an Israeli film crew there that, of course, was going to film him with Sarah Jessica and with Jerry. At the beginning, we said to him, ‘Well, we're so honored you're here. Talk about the history of Israel.’ Then he was (Plepler imitating Peres), ‘Before we begin, how many seasons of the Sex and The City will continue, and when will HBO come to Israel?’ Those were his fundamental questions... It ended up being a wonderful, memorable evening. But those were his priorities.” Listen to Plepler’s imitation at the 29:27 minute mark here [TheAtlantic]

Plepler on how a documentary about the first Intifada led him to HBO: “I had an idea right after the first Intifada started - in 1988) - as somebody who cared deeply about Israel - that the coverage of the Intifada was reductive, and that all you were seeing on American television screens was the imagery of young Palestinian kids throwing stones, and Israelis firing back at them. The idea that I had was that only by bringing context around this complicated story could you illuminate for an American audience, a European audience, how deeply emotion this conflict was, but how potentially insoluble it was because you had these two competing narratives of history. I decided that it might be a good idea to make a documentary”

“I went around trying to see whether anybody had any interest in doing this, and I came to Peter Kunhardt, who is now one of the most successful and prolific documentary filmmakers -- he does a tremendous amount of work for HBO -- and I said, ‘Listen, I don't know anything about documentary filmmaking. I know a little bit about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and I think I have an idea for the way they tell the story.’ We teamed up and we made this documentary for public television called, A Search for Solid Ground: The Intifada Through Israeli Eyes, and it was nicely reviewed and that really was a catalyst for bringing me to HBO because the then CEO of HBO, a gentleman named Michael Fuchs, was intrigued by what I had done.” [JewishInsider]

DRIVING THE CONVO -- AIPAC, J Street call out Abbas for 'inflammatory' remarks on Israel: In a rare rebuke of the Palestinian leader, J Street issued a lengthy statement rejecting "the divisive and inflammatory rhetoric used by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas" in his recent speech to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and for "his unacceptable failure to acknowledge any historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem." The statement echoed similar sentiments stated by AIPAC earlier in the day. "Abbas has embarked on a dangerous course bound to inflame tensions and instigate violence. His remarks will only harm the chances for peace," AIPAC said. At the same time, J Street said it shared international frustration over Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital: "That sudden move showed a complete lack of concern for the complexity of Jerusalem as a final status issue or for the Palestinian position... The harmful actions of President Trump can be overturned by future administrations and leaders."

Seemingly undeterred, the Palestinian Authority doubled down on the Trump administration yesterday. Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Abbas, said the Palestinian leadership "rejects and deems incorrect" the White House statement about Abbas standing in the way of peace. "These statements are entirely wrong since President Abbas always reiterates that he is committed to a just peace on the basis of international legitimacy," he said. European diplomats who have been in touch with the Trump administration's peace team told Haaretz that they sense the Trump peace initiative is now stuck. A senior White House official dismissed the claim. "We have said what we have said all along - the President remains as committed to peace as ever and we are not surprised by reactions which have the potential to result in a temporary cooling off period."

“Tax reform gets in the way of Pence’s Jerusalem victory lap” by Matthew Nussbaum and Seung Min Kim: “Vice President Mike Pence began planning a Christmas trip to Jerusalem weeks before President Donald Trump decided to upend decades of U.S. policy by formally recognizing the city as Israel’s capital. The visit was designed not just as a move to reaffirm ties with a key ally but as a victory lap for Pence, who was instrumental in lobbying Trump to stick with his campaign promise on Jerusalem Natan Sachs, the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, called it an “extremely rare case” that the Palestinians would refuse to meet with the vice president. Trump likely would have fared better on such a trip, he said, as Trump remains an enigma on the issue. “Pence, on the other hand, is very much a known quantity in this regard,” he said. His first official visit there offers Pence a chance to remind evangelical voters why they supported Trump in 2016. For these voters, the Jerusalem announcement represents the fulfillment of a long-held goal.” [Politico] Despite Trump’s Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital, Pence’s Visit to Western Wall Expected to Be 'Private' [Haaretz]

"Erdogan says Turkey seeking to annul Trump decision on Jerusalem at U.N." by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay: “We will work for the annulment of this unjust decision firstly at the UN Security Council, and if a veto comes from there, the General Assembly,” [Turkish President Tayyip] Erdogan told crowds gathered in the central Anatolian city of Konya... Asked about the criticism during an interview with Israel’s Makor Rishon daily, [David Friedman] the U.S. ambassador to Israel said... “President Trump...does not intend to reverse himself, despite the various condemnations and declarations.” [Reuters]

Wall Street Journal editorial... "Beauties and the Beasts: A selfie with Miss Iraq and Miss Israel generates ugly threats: [Sarah] Idan posted a note clarifying that the photo with Miss Israel was not a political statement, and that it did not mean she endorsed the policies of the Israeli government. But [Adar] Gandelsman says her friend says she does not regret posting the photo. She pointedly has not removed it from her Instagram account. Good for Ms. Idan. In a region where Israeli athletes are often slighted... Miss Iraq has shown a better way forward. How much better everyone in the Middle East would be if politicians in the region had the decency and resolve that these two young women do." [WSJ]

IRAN DEAL: "U.S. Accuses Iran of U.N. Violation, but Evidence Falls Short" bu John Ismay and Helene Cooper: "At a military base in Washington, Ms. Haley stood in front of pieces of what defense officials said were Iranian-made Qiam missiles, including one that was fired by Houthi militants at an airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia... Ms. Haley said that the weapons on display were declassified by the Pentagon so that the Trump administration could rally other countries to crack down on Iran. Without saying exactly what the administration is seeking, she vowed that “you will see us build a coalition to really push back against Iran and what they’re doing.” Her accusations were the latest step by the Trump administration’s effort to punish Iran for its ballistic missile program and destabilizing actions throughout the Middle East... “The nuclear deal has done nothing to moderate the regime’s behavior in other areas,” Ms. Haley said. “It’s hard to find a conflict or terror group in the Middle East that does not have Iran’s fingerprints all over it.”" [NYTimes]

ON THE HILL -- The House of Representatives passed legislation (252-167) yesterday that could block the sale of commercial aircraft to Iran. Introduced by Representative Roger Williams (R-TX), the bill orders the Treasury Department to certify to Congress that its licenses for commercial aircraft don't pose a risk for terrorism, money laundering, or benefit an Iranian military presence in Syria. The Senate version of the legislation introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and David Perdue (R-GA), is currently stalled in the Banking Committee and it remains unclear if the legislation will ever receive a floor-wide vote.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), one of only four Democrats to oppose the nuclear deal, signaled his skepticism towards the bill. Sean Bartlett, a spokesman for Cardin told Al-Monitor, “Sen. Cardin is not supportive of legislation that would violate the U.S. obligations under the JCPOA, which this bill would appear to do since the civilian aircraft issue was specifically called for in the agreement. Though he opposed the original agreement, since it was entered into, he has repeatedly called for rigorous US oversight and compliance.”

House committee advances Jordan MOU amidst rare Congressional critique of Amman -- by Aaron Magid: "The House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed legislation yesterday that would re-authorize a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to strengthen U.S. defense ties with Jordan. While Amman generally enjoys bipartisan support due to its 1994 peace treaty with Israel and the country’s fight against ISIS, multiple members of Congress issued critiques of the Hashemite Kingdom for its treatment of approximately 50,000 Syrian refugees trapped on the country’s border where they have been denied proper food for five months.

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (R-CA) offered an amendment that specifically called on the Jordanian government to assist the besieged refugees in Rukban amidst the larger military cooperation. [JewishInsider]

Elliott Abrams tells us... “Israel has a long border with Jordan. No one can remember the last time a terrorist crossed that border from Jordan into Israel and committed an act of violence. That is because there is excellent anti-terror cooperation between Jordan and Israel and that’s an important aspect of Israel’s security. Anyone who speaks to Israeli security officials would hear that Jordanian security is important for Israel’s security.”

REXIT UPDATE -- Trump allies say Tillerson has ‘not learned his lesson’ and cannot continue in job for long” by Josh Dawsey and Anne Gearan: “Inside the White House... there are fairly regular conversations about who will replace Tillerson even as he remains in the job. CIA Director Mike Pompeo may no longer be the leading choice because it means he would not brief Trump every day, and the president likes him in that role One senior official said Trump will sometimes commend senior policy aide Stephen Miller for the time he clashed with Tillerson Tillerson has sought out Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) as an ally, frequently meeting with him for breakfast. And Corker has tried to solidify Tillerson’s standing by vouching for him to Trump and senior aides. But after Corker went on television and praised Tillerson, Trump complained to aides that Corker was defending the secretary of state. For now, Trump has told advisers that he is not firing Tillerson.” [WashPost]

Lawmaker uses famous Breslov quote at House hearing -- by Ron Kampeas: “Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., who is a cable news favorite for his confrontational posture toward President Donald Trump and who is not Jewish, quoted Rabbi Nachman in advising Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to stay the course however hard the times “Mr. Deputy Attorney General, your investigation is a very narrow bridge,” Swalwell said. “The important part, I believe for our country is for you to not be afraid. In these trying times, we need you to be fearless” I asked Swalwell about the quote’s origins. “It’s a quote from Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav,” he said in an email. “Occasionally, it comes to mind.”” [JTA]

2018 WATCH: "Steve Bannon holds Manhattan fundraiser for Rep. Lee Zeldin” by Matthew Chayes: “The fundraiser comes two days after a Bannon-backed Senate candidate, Roy Moore, lost to Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Evan Lukaske said in a statement Thursday: “Next year, Zeldin will have to explain to voters why he’s partnering with a man who supported an alleged child molester.” Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said Thursday “I don’t like Bannon but a person has to do what they feel is best. “Lee, I guess, knows him better than I do.”” [Newsday] Freedom Caucus leader Jim Jordan helps Zeldin fundraise after Paul Ryan cancels help [Politico]

Emily Ngo: “Sponsorship levels for Lee Zeldin fundraiser today headlined by Steve Bannon are: Shining Star: $1,000 Mensch (!): $2,700 Co-host: $5,400.” [Pic]

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SPOTLIGHT: "Bob Iger is the undisputed king of Hollywood" by Paul R. La Monica: "Iger has now built a massive movie and TV empire that is rivaled by nobody else in Hollywood. Under Iger's watch, Disney has scooped up "Toy Story" and "Finding Nemo" animated studio Pixar, Marvel Entertainment and its stable of superheroes from "The Avengers," and Star Wars owner Lucasfilm. The purchase of the Fox (FOXA) film studio, along with some regional sports networks, cable channels FX and National Geographic and Fox's stake in streaming video network Hulu, is yet another move by Iger to make Disney a content company that literally has entertainment brands that can hook boys and girls from cradle to grave." [CNNMoney]

MEDIA WATCH: “A.G. Sulzberger, 37, to Take Over as New York Times Publisher” by Sydney Ember: “The ascension of the younger [Arthur Gregg] Sulzberger, who is known as A. G., comes just over a year after he was named deputy publisher of The Times...The elder Mr. Sulzberger, 66, who will stay on as chairman of The New York Times Company, has been the publisher since 1992. “This isn’t a goodbye,” [Arthur Ochs] Sulzberger said in a note to Times employees on Thursday. “But, beginning in the new year, the grand ship that is The Times will be A. G.’s to steer.” “I am an unapologetic champion for this institution and its journalistic mission,” A. G. Sulzberger said. “And I’ll continue to be that as publisher.”” [NYTimes]

COMING SOON: “Curb Your Enthusiasm returning for 10th season” by Dan Snierson: “HBO announced on Thursday that it has renewed Larry David’s misanthropic comedy for a tenth season. Season 10 is expected to begin filming in the spring. “As I’ve said many times,” said David in a statement, “when one has the opportunity to annoy someone, one should do so.” [Jeff] Schaffer also said that that entire cast will return and hinted that perhaps they will be able to “catch up with a few more old friends from the Curb universe.”” [EW]

“The Uncomfortable Truth About Swedish Anti-Semitism” by Paulina Neuding: "Today, entering a synagogue anywhere in Sweden usually requires going through security checks, including airport-like questioning. At times of high alert, police officers with machine guns guard Jewish schools. Children at the Jewish kindergarten in Malmo play behind bulletproof glass. Not even funerals are safe from harassment. Jewish schoolteachers have reported hiding their identity A spokesman for Malmo’s Jewish community put the situation starkly. You “don’t want to display the Star of David around your neck,” he said. Or as spokesman for the Goteborg synagogue put it, “It’s a constant battle to live a normal life, and not to give in to the threats, but still be able to feel safe.”” [NYTimes]

Columnists’ Book Club -- From Roger Cohen to Bret Stephens: "There’s nothing like good old-fashioned reporting, and that’s what Dan Ephron did to produce his very fine book “Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel.” It’s fascinating how avoidable and at the same time how inevitable the assassination was. With time it has become clear that Yigal Amir succeeded — a terrible outcome." [NYTimes]

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on Jews and Economics: “It began with Joseph who, in this week’s parsha, became the world’s first economist. Interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, he develops a theory of trade cycles – seven fat years followed by seven lean years – a cycle that still seems approximately to hold. Joseph also intuited that when a head of state dreams about cows and ears of corn, he is probably unconsciously thinking about macro-economics God wants us not to accept but to heal, to cure, to prevent. So Jews have tended to become, out of all proportion to their numbers, lawyers fighting injustice, doctors fighting disease, teachers fighting ignorance, economists fighting poverty and (especially in modern Israel) agricultural technologists finding new ways to grow food in environments where it has never grown before. All of this is brilliantly portrayed in this week’s parsha. First Joseph diagnoses the problem. There will be a famine lasting seven years. It is what he does next that is world-changing. He sees this not as a fate to be endured but as a problem to be solved. Then, without fuss, he solves it, saving a whole region from death by starvation.” [RabbiSacks]

SCENE LAST NIGHT -- in DC: Bluelight Strategies' Steve Rabinowitz and Aaron Keyak hosted their 23rd annual Latkes and Vodkas Hanukkah party at their Woodley Park offices. [Pic]

SPOTTED: Rev. Mark Morozowich, Alan Gross, Joan Nathan, Hadar Susskind, Noam Neusner, Tevi Troy, Jeff Berkowitz, Matt Nosanchuk, Dan Arbell, Ira Forman, Mark Mellman, Chris Jones, Josh Cohen, Rabbi Batya Glazer, William Daroff, Abby Cable, Jim Gerstein, David Lachmann, Jay Feldman, Daniel Schere, Matt Berger, Laurie Moskowitz, Omri Nahmias, Josef Palermo, Amy Rutkin, Danny Schwartz, Corey Jacobson, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Sarah Arkin, Tricia Enright, Michael Wilner, Rabbi Haiym Shafner, Sara Winkelman, Liz Leibowitz, Avigail Goldgraber, Ron Kampeas, Ben Weyl, Josh Handelman, Adam Eidenger, Josh Lederman, Felicia Schwartz, Chanan Weissman, Aaron Weinberg, Azis Fahmy, Frank Chi, Professor Ethan Porter, David Lauter, Annj Gumbiner, Mohamed Abubakr, Rabbi Ken Cohen, Rabbi Jan Carryl Kaufman, Aviva Kempner, Debra Rubin and Daniel Solomon, and Rick Silber.

WEEKEND BIRTHDAYS -- FRIDAY: Polish-born violin prodigy who lived in London and then Miami, recording artist, performer and teacher, Ida Haendel turns 89... Member of the New York State Assembly (1983-1993), Attorney General of New York (1994) and member of the New York City Council (2002-2013), Oliver Koppell turns 77... Senior rabbi at Congregation Mt. Sinai in Brooklyn Heights, EVP of of the New York Board of Rabbis and co-host of a radio show on religion since 1982, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik turns 71... Film, stage and television actress and voice artist, best known for her role in the 1990s Fox sitcom "Parker Lewis Can't Lose," Melanie Chartoff turns 67... Russian oligarch, a friend of Vladimir Putin since childhood, owner of the largest construction company for gas pipelines in Russia, Arkady Rotenberg turns 66... Associate Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Wyoming, where he has been teaching about Islam and the Middle East since January 2003, Seth Ward turns 65... CEO and founder of BizBash, a resource marketplace for event organizers, David Adler turns 64... Leader of the opposition in the South African National Assembly (1997-2007), then South African ambassador to Argentina (2009-2012), Tony Leon turns 61... Actress and singer, and songwriter, appeared in the title role of the 1984 film Supergirl," Helen Slater turns 54... Television and movie producer, screenwriter and executive, producer of the first eight seasons of the Pokémon TV series and writer of most of the Pokémon films, Norman J. Grossfeld turns 54... Fresno resident, Paul Gordon turns 47... Investment banker and co-founder of the hedge fund Eaglevale Partners, he is the husband of Chelsea Clinton, Marc Mezvinsky turns 40... Actor, writer and musician, he has appeared in dozens of movies and televison programs, he is best known for his role as Seth Cohen on The O.C., Adam Brody turns 38... Account manager at GumGum, previously a digital senior account executive at TMP Worldwide, Julie Winkelman turns 27...

SATURDAY: Israeli-American pianist and Distinguished Professor of Music at Indiana University, Menahem Pressler turns 94... British chemist and Research Professor at the University of Nottingham, Sir Martyn Poliakoff turns 70... Partner in the downtown Denver law firm of Silverman & Olivas, formerly Chief Deputy District Attorney for Denver, Craig Silverman turns 62... Ray Watts turns 53... First OMB Director in the Obama administration (2009-2010), former CBO director, now Vice Chairman of investment banking and Managing Director at Lazard, Peter R. Orszag turns 49... Astrophysicist and Professor at Johns Hopkins University and the Space Telescope Science Institute, Adam Riess turns 48... Senior Vice President at CRC Public Relations since 1998, previously Communications Director at U.S. Term Limits, Adam Bromberg turns 46... Melissa Wisner turns 35... Reporter for Politico and co-author of Politico's Playbook, Jake Sherman turns 32... Chairman of the St. Andrews Chapter of Republicans Overseas UK in Kirkcaldy, United Kingdom, Drew Liquerman turns 21... Manager of Government Relations and Public Policy at Google, former White House intern (2004), Jesse Suskin... President and co-founder of The New Agenda, an organization helping women and girls succeed, following a career at Morgan Stanley and Wasserstein Perella trading bank debt, Amy Siskind... Deputy National Director of AIPAC's synagogue initiative, Rabbi Eric Stark...

SUNDAY: Member and former Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Shirley Abrahamson turns 84... Washington attorney and Vice Chair of The American Jewish International Relations Institute, Stuart Sloame turns 78... VP of Strategic Planning and Marketing at Queens, NY based NewInteractions, Paulette Mandelbaum turns 70... Founder and CEO of LionTree LLC, an independent investment bank located in NYC, Aryeh Bourkoff turns 45... Israeli soccer goalkeeper who played 386 matches for Maccabi Haifa (1994-2013) and 51 matches or the Israeli national team (1998-2010), now a coach for the national team, Nir Davidovich turns 41... Chief executive of Upworthy, formerly the board president of MoveOn and a co-founder of Avaaz, Eli Pariser turns 37... Assistant Online Editor of "Commentary," Noah Rothman turns 36... Deputy CFO/COO for Martin O’Malley's 2016 presidential campaign, then a Regional Operations Director at Hillary for America, Daniel Ensign turns 27... Actor Nat Wolff turns 23... Life-long advocate on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers for the International Rescue Committee and KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), Sheppie Glass Abramowitz turns 81... and Sheppie's son, Director of the Committee on Conscience, which conducts the genocide prevention efforts of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Michael Abramowitz turns 54...

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