Jewish Insider's Daily Kickoff: August 17, 2018

The 37-year-old Republican Jewish woman running for Congress ■ Michigan's Rashida Tlaib shifts position on Israel ■ Trump and Putin agreed that Iran should exit Syria

JI Staff
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
JI Staff

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ROAD TO THE MIDTERMS — The 37-year-old Republican Jewish Woman running for Congress: Meet Michigan’s Lena Epstein — by Jacob Kornbluh: If elected in November, Epstein would be the only Jewish Republican woman in Congress. Epstein is a third-generation owner and general manager of Vesco Oil Corporation, the business her grandfather Eugene Epstein founded in Southfield, Michigan in 1947.

Epstein is vying for the seat of retiring Congressman David Trott, a two-term Republican, who handily won his reelection bid in 2016. President Donald Trump carried the 11th Congressional District in the last presidential race and RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel lives in the district. Nonetheless, the seat is rated "toss-up" by Cook Political Report.

“I believe that I am being called to be the champion of the relationship between the United States and Israel once elected to the United States Congress,” Epstein declared in a phone interview with Jewish Insider when asked why she’s leaving the business world. “I am an unapologetic Republican Jewish woman who loves Israel, who loves the Jewish community, who is a business owner and a job creator.”

Epstein served as the Trump campaign co-chair in Michigan. Similar to Trump, Epstein has had her own share of Twitter controversy. Last year, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon circulated screenshots showing Epstein’s Twitter account to have “liked” posts by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke that praised the Charlottesville white-nationalist rally. Epstein claimed her account had been hacked and demanded an apology from Dillon.

In June, Epstein made headlines after a Michigan country club canceled a scheduled fundraiser to be held for her at the club. As a fourth generation member of the Franklin Hills Country Club, Epstein says she was deeply hurt by the decision. According to Epstein’s account, she was informed about the cancelation by phone on Friday night.

“The club’s board of directors’ representative was screaming into the phone at me and he said, ‘Your event has been canceled. It is because of your political views.’ And I said, ‘It’s Shabbos. Is there an emergency?’ He said, ‘What does Shabbos have to do with this?’ And I said, ‘It’s Shabbos. I’m holding my baby daughter in my arms. I just finished a Shabbos dinner with my family. I observe Shabbat, and I’m very uncomfortable that we’re on the phone right now, and I would ask that you treat me with kindness and respect.’ And he just repeated, ‘Your event has been canceled, and it’s been canceled because of your political views.’ He would not allow my campaign manager to join us on the call.” Read the full interview here [JewishInsider]

-- We asked Epstein for her thoughts on her fellow Congressional candidate from Michigan Rashida Tlaib who has been making waves recently for her comments on opposing U.S. aid to Israel if elected to Congress.

-- Epstein told us, "I don't know a lot about that race. I have been focused entirely on Michigan's 11th District. I am not speaking today on any other race. I've been advised by the people who love me and care for me and want my success the most to focus on my own race so that I can be the champion of the Jewish cause. I can't... I don't know enough about the race."

From Two States to One: Michigan's Rashida Tlaib Shifts Position on Israel — by Allison Kaplan Sommer: "J Street’s Senior Vice President of Public Engagement Jessica Rosenblum told Haaretz the organization is “currently seeking clarification from Rashida Tlaib’s campaign regarding her recent comments on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” .. According to Rosenblum, “support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” was the most important considerations in the group agreeing to offer its endorsement." [Haaretz]

DRIVING THE DAY — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the creation of a new task force yesterday to coordinate all "Iran-related activity" across the State Department and the federal government and counter Iran’s “malign” activity in the Middle East. “Our hope is that one day soon we can reach a new agreement with Iran, but we must see major changes in the regime’s behavior both inside and outside of its borders,” Pompeo said in remarks at the State Department.

The Iran Action Group will be headed by Brian Hook, who has now been named Special Representative for Iran. "We will continue to build on those areas where we are in agreement with our allies and partners around the world and we will work to find consensus on those areas where we are not," Hook told reporters. Hook also indicated that the U.S. would issue waivers from sanctions to countries that have made efforts to reduce their Iranian oil purchases.

HOW IT PLAYED: A New U.S. Post to Pressure Iran, and a Stark Challenge Ahead — by David Sanger: In an interview before his post was to be announced on Thursday, Mr. Hook conceded that the administration’s withdrawal from the accord has strained relations with Europe. But he argued that it also opened new avenues of diplomacy." [NYTimes]

-- "Mark Dubowitz, who heads the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the Iranian regime was counting on “a distracted Trump administration to lose focus on Iran.” “They will be sorely disappointed,” he said." [BuzzFeedNews]

"Dennis Ross... said Hook's new post might be a bureaucratic maneuver to try to inject more clarity into Washington's policy toward Tehran. "It creates an address within the administration for ... making the approach a more coherent one, with someone being given broader responsibility across departments to try to shape the policy," said Ross..."The real question is ... is the policy going to continue to be just, basically, strong tough rhetoric and sanctions ... or is it going to be something more to curtail what Washington sees as Iran's destabilizing actions in Syria, Yemen and Iraq?" he added." [Reuters]

THE SYRIA DEAL: Trump and Putin Agreed That Iran Should Exit Syria, Official Says — by Justin Sink: "President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s July summit in Helsinki was largely dominated by discussion of the crisis in Syria and Iran’s role in the conflict, according to a U.S. administration official... The two leaders agreed in principle that Iran should exit Syria... Russian leadership, however, said accomplishing Iran’s withdrawal would be difficult... Trump and Putin also discussed... disputes over Golan Heights... Both arms control and Syria are expected to be on the agenda as White House National Security Adviser John Bolton meets with Russian officials next week in Geneva." [Bloomberg]

TRUMP TURKEY: In Trump’s standoff with Turkey, two tough-guy leaders and a deal gone wrong — by Anne Gearan: "President Trump on Thursday appeared to publicly acknowledge for the first time that his administration helped negotiate the release of a Turkish national being held in Israel as part of a broader deal that would have freed an American pastor jailed in Turkey. “We got somebody out for him,” Trump said, referring to Erdogan. “He needed help getting somebody out of someplace; they came out.” “They want to hold our wonderful pastor,” Trump added. “Not fair. Not right.”

"The Washington Post reported on July 26... that Trump had directly intervened with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to win the release last month of a Turkish woman accused of being a smuggler for... Hamas... Trump’s July 14 phone call to Netanyahu came two days after the close of the NATO summit, where he singled out Erdogan for praise and fist-bumped the grinning Turkish leader."

"Trump took the collapse of the negotiation as a personal slight, and is furious at the appearance that the United States was duped, U.S. officials said. Trump has complained that Erdogan is trying to make him look “weak,” one official said." [WashPost; WSJ]

THE BIG DEAL — Egypt finalizing details of long-term Hamas-Israel truce: source — by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Ali Sawafta and Jeffrey Heller: "Egypt is finalizing details of a long-term truce deal between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, an Egyptian security source said on Thursday... “We are putting the final touches to the terms of the truce that will be signed by all sides, and we expect to announce the terms next week if Fatah helps us to do so,” the source said... A Palestinian source in Ramallah said... Abbas had informed Egypt that Fatah representatives would join the Cairo talks later this week or next week." [Reuters]

Barak Ravid reports: Israel's Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with Qatari envoy for Gaza reconstruction Mohammed Al-Emadi in Cyprus on June 22 to discuss the Gaza stabilization deal. Al-Emadi briefed Lieberman about Qatar's proposals to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the return of captive Israeli civilians and fallen soldiers. The proposals were later rejected after the Egyptians refused to accept any Qatari involvement in talks over a long-term settlement. While accepting Egypt as the sole mediator with Hamas, Israel, the U.S. and the UN continued to talk with Qatar over funding.

REPORT: Ambassador David Friedman tells Israeli MK ‘no reason to evacuate settlements’ in peace deal — by Jacob Magid: "In a meeting with several settler leaders Wednesday, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that he saw “no reason to evacuate settlements” in a peace deal... MK Yehudah Glick, who organized the sit-down with Har Hebron Regional Council chairman Yochai Damari, recounted the statement to the Times of Israel and said that the ambassador was “very explicit” in his remark." [ToI]

Israeli minister sees end to 'stupid' airport grilling of leftists — by Dan Williams: “This is stupidity,” Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said when asked about the airport interrogations of left-wingers. “It cannot be explained. It is folly, ridiculous. I am certain that now there will be someone who stands there and will check that such stupidity does not recur." [Reuters]

BUZZ ON BALFOUR — Israeli police again question PM on corruption allegations: "Israeli police are again questioning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as part of their investigations into corruption allegations. Two police vehicles arrived on Friday at Netanyahu’s residence while protesters at the entrance waved a large banner reading “crime minister” and chanted slogans calling for justice." [AP]

Why Wasn't Netanyahu Invited to Inauguration of New Adelson-funded Medical School in West Bank? — by Judy Maltz: "A new Israeli medical school, located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, will be inaugurated on Sunday. It will be named in honor of American-Jewish casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who donated $20 million towards its construction. Conspicuously absent from the event, however, will be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was not invited. His exclusion is all the more glaring considering that he was the guest of honor just over a year ago at the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the school." [Haaretz]

STATESIDE — Florida gubernatorial hopeful Jeff Greene pledges to stand against bigotry, racism, hatred — by Scott Powers: "Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene said Thursday that his Jewish identity triggers revulsion for the levels of tolerance President Donald Trump exhibited toward rising hate groups... Greene was speaking before a gathering at the Roth Jewish Family Center in Maitland... “With the president saying, ‘There’s good people on both sides,’ it made me sick to my stomach,” Greene said. “I have a very, very deep and strong Jewish identity, and I can tell you if I’m governor of Florida, I would never tolerate any kind of bigotry, racism or hatred in this state.” ... Greene faces Democrat Philip Levine, who’s also Jewish... in the Aug. 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary." [FloridaPolitics]

2020 WATCH — Los Angeles mayor: Trump doing ‘racist things’: "Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, considering a 2020 presidential run, said Thursday that President Donald Trump has done “plenty of racist things” to divide the nation... In an interview with The Associated Press, the two-term Democratic mayor said he intends to make a decision on his candidacy by March..." [AP]

HAPPENING TODAY -- President Trump is heading to Southampton for a campaign fundraiser hosted by Manhattan real estate developer Howard Lorber. The event is expected to raise about $3 million for the Trump Victory Committee. Rep. Lee Zeldin is expected to join the president on his visit to the Hamptons, according to a spokesperson.

TOP HEADLINE: "Trump, the Only Thing That Could Make Hamptons Traffic Worse, Is Heading to the Hamptons" [VanityFair]

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Powerhouse agent Ari Emanuel pays $12M for neighbor’s house [TheRealDeal] Kushner buys more Long Branch beachfront properties [APP] Philanthropist couple Audrey and Martin Gruss donates $25K prize to charity [NYPost] Israel’s Bank Hapoalim Delays Dividend Amid U.S. Tax Evasion Probe [BNA]

DOJ Sues Ivanka’s Ex-Business Partner for Massive Fraud -- by Ben Schreckinger: "The suit, which seeks more than $60 million in unpaid tax liabilities, was brought in the Southern District of New York by lawyers in the Justice Department’s tax division. It alleges that [Moshe] Lax, his sister Zlaty Schwartz, and his late father, Chaim Lax, engaged in a series of complex “sham transactions” designed to fraudulently evade tax liability. The government alleges the family members undertook 10 separate schemes “designed to hide the Lax family assets from the IRS and other creditors and make it appear as though the Estate was insolvent.” ... Though the complaint does not mention Trump... Madison Avenue Diamonds, the business that Trump helped run for years under the name Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, figures prominently in the government’s case." [PoliticoMag]

Soros foundation to quit Hungary by end-August: "The foundation run by US billionaire George Soros said Thursday that the last of its operations in Hungary would cease by August 31, with its activities being transferred to Berlin... "There are still some colleagues working here in the office, but we will have closed for good by 31 August," the Open Society Foundations (OSF) spokesman in Budapest Daniel Makonnen told AFP." [AFP]

Top Jewish Agency Executive Outside Israel Quits -- by Judy Maltz: "In the Jewish Agency's first shake-up since its leadership change, Joshua Fogelson, the CEO for international development, has stepped down. Fogelson, who is based in New York and served as chief fundraiser for close to three years, tendered his resignation this week during a visit to Israel. He was the most high-ranking Jewish Agency official in North America." [Haaretz]

ACROSS THE POND: Anti-Semitism is so bad in Britain that some Jews are planning to leave — by Laura Smith-Spark: "Yigal Palmor, communications director for the Jewish Agency for Israel, told CNN that 213 Jews had moved from Britain to Israel between January and June, up 9% compared with the same period last year... Palmor said the agency's UK office had also received more calls and that more people had opened files than last year but cautioned that this would not necessarily translate into more people moving to Israel... Nonetheless, he said, "Aliyah has become a popular conversation theme among many British Jews and many more are talking about it."" [CNN]

DESSERT: Chamblee’s Tip Top Kosher Market has a hidden Israeli restaurant in the back — by Jennifer Zyman: "Israelis David Malka and Yehonatan Hazot opened Tip Top Kosher Market last August. Tip Top sells hard-to-find treats such as crunchy Bamba, a peanut-flavored bagged snack, and fun items like kosher Doritos. The real treasure is in the back of the store, where there’s a kosher restaurant you might mistake for a stockroom if you didn’t know it was there." [AtlantaMagazine]

REMEMBERING: The Secret Jewish History Of Aretha Franklin — by Benjamin Ivry: "To understand the close ties between the singer Aretha Franklin, who has died at the age of 76, and Jewish musicians, writers, and performers, one need not have seen the 1982 TV special starring Rodney Dangerfield (born Jacob Cohen) in which the comedian who famously got no respect feigns singing backup on Franklin’s 1967 recording of the song “Respect.” ... Franklin’s choice to cover “Respect" ... was due to the American Jewish producer Jerry Wexler (1917–2008), born in the Bronx of Polish and German ancestry." [Forward]

WEEKEND BIRTHDAYS — FRIDAY: Co-founder of Oracle Corporation, Larry Ellison turns 74... Former CEO and current Chairman of J.Crew Group, he was previously the CEO of Gap Inc. and a director at Apple Inc. (1999 to 2015), Millard "Mickey" S. Drexler turns 74... US Senator from Minnesota from 2003 until 2009, currently chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Norm Coleman (family name was originally Goldman) turns 69... Chairman, president and CEO of Continental Airlines at the time of its merger into United Airlines in 2010, he then held those same three roles at United until 2015, Jeffery Alan "Jeff" Smisek turns 64... Founder and managing partner of SBNY, a first and second stage venture capital firm, he is a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo, Jordan Levy turns 63...

Communications coordinator at Temple Beth El in Longmeadow, Massachusetts since 2013, Deborah Peskin turns 57... Member of Knesset since 2015 for the Zionist Union party, Revital Swid turns 51... Israeli journalist who serves as the Arab affairs correspondent and head of the Arab desk at Israeli News Channel 10, he also anchors a program on Channel 20 related to Judaism and spirituality, Zvi Yehezkeli turns 48... Former program coordinator in AIPAC's NYC office (2015-2017), now in investor relations at MSD Partners, Amanda Horwitz turns 26... Deputy regional political director at AIPAC for the Southern Pacific region, Aaron Taxy... Sonya Culler... Eli Diamond... Gabriel Berger... John Kohan...

SATURDAY: President of Baltimore's Seabark Insurance Agency, Jerome Seaman turns 85... Teacher of Talmud at Jerusalem's Yeshiva Torat Shraga, Rabbi Noam Gordon Ph.D. turns 74... Former two-term mayor of San Diego (the first Jewish mayor of San Diego), now CEO of the Child Abuse Prevention Foundation in San Diego, Susan G. Golding turns 73... Judge of the Montgomery County (Pennsylvania) Court of Common Pleas, Gary S. Silow turns 67... President at Benefit Connections, Raphael Schwartz turns 63... Labor law attorney representing employers, he is a partner in the Los Angeles office of Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart, Stuart Douglas Tochner turns 59... CEO of the Future of Privacy Forum, a DC-based think tank and advocacy group focused on issues of data privacy, he was previously a member of the New York State Assembly (1994-1997), Jules Polonetsky turns 53...

Professor at Harvard's Kennedy School, he served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration, Jason Furman turns 48... Sarah Bronson turns 46... Washington director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, he was previously a partner in the law firm of Covington & Burling and general counsel of the House Armed Services Committee, Roger Zakheim turns 41... Born in St. Catharines, Ontario, he made aliyah in 2008, he is now a fellow at The Jewish People Policy Institute, Noah Slepkov turns 37...

SUNDAY: 42nd President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton turns 72... One of the first venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, Arthur Rock turns 92... Member of the South Dakota House of Representatives (2001-2005) and then a member of the South Dakota Senate (2005-2007 and 2009-2013), Stanford "Stan" M. Adelstein turns 87... Retired as president of Ono Academic College in Israel, she was the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations (2008-2010), Gabriela Shalev turns 77... Co-founder of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management, Marc J. Rowan turns 56... Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (2009-2013), he was a law clerk for Justices William J. Brennan Jr. and David H. Souter, now a Managing Director at the Carlyle Group, Julius Genachowski turns 56... Managing editor of The New York Times, Joseph Kahn turns 54...

Partner and talent agent in the motion picture department at William Morris Endeavor, Dan Aloni turns 54... Former member of Knesset (2003-2006), he is the son of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Omri Sharon turns 54... Actress and producer, best known for her starring role as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson on the TNT crime drama "The Closer," Kyra Sedgwick turns 53... Borough President of Queens since 2014, she was previously a member of the New York State Assembly (1994-1999) and the New York City Council (2002-2009), Melinda R. Katz turns 53... Founder and CEO of NYC-based government advocacy, public relations, media relations and political event management firm, The Friedlander Group, Ezra Friedlander turns 50...

Businessman and investor, he and a partner successfully managed a hedge fund for his father Carl Icahn, Brett Icahn turns 39... Managing partner of Handmade Capital and founder of Liveset, a digital platform for streaming live concerts, Ross Hinkle turns 39... Private equity investor, he holds leadership roles in numerous Jewish organizations, Yehuda L. Neuberger... Communications manager at Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Cassandra Federbusz... Jerry Epstein...

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