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THE ULTIMATE PIVOT? "Trump and his ‘America First’ philosophy face first moral quandary in Syria" by Greg Jaffe: "Trump, during his Rose Garden appearance, was clearly feeling the weight of both of those foreign policy crises... The Syrian chemical weapons attack seemed to awaken Trump’s sense of moral responsibility as leader of the world’s sole remaining superpower. A president who has often seemed indifferent to suffering in faraway countries — including the plight of Syrian refugees — reacted with a natural revulsion. Less clear was whether that revulsion would produce a significant shift in policy." [WashPost]
KAFE KNESSET -- Driving the conversation in Israel: Syria -- by Tal Shalev and JPost's Lahav Harkov: Dozens of Israeli politicians have issued strong emotional statements in recent days, citing the Jewish duty to save endangered people... There is an existing official government plan to absorb 100 orphans from embattled Syria but the plan has been stalled on Netanyahu's desk for weeks... "Netanyahu cannot be the first Israeli PM to turn his back on such a disaster happening behind our fence instead of following Menachem Begin's footsteps who gave shelter to Vietnamese families 30 years ago," Zionist Union MK Ayelet Nahmias Verbin told Kafe Knesset.
Crickets from the Joint List: Often, Joint (Arab) List MKs stir up controversy with the things they say, but today the storm is over what they’re not saying: Most of them will not outright condemn Assad. MK Ahmed Tibi was one of the first Israeli politicians to speak out against the gas attack and his condemnation was unequivocal... But others have had surprisingly little to say on the subject, and when they do say something, it’s usually that Israel is just as bad or worse than Assad. MK Haneen Zoabi, for example, said that Israelis are war criminals, and that if Assad tried to fight for the Golan, Israel would probably gas Syrians. In the Knesset yesterday, in a recess session, Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said that he is pained by all children who are killed, whether in Syria or in Gaza. Read today's entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]
SPOTTED YESTERDAY AT THE FOUR SEASONS -- A group of Jewish and pro-Israel leaders met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi over breakfast in DC to discuss the Middle East. The conversation was off the record and participants' cell phones were taken away prior to the meeting. Spotted: Rudy Giuliani (who had a private four-eyed sit-down with Sisi prior to breakfast), Dennis Ross, Conference of Presidents' Malcolm Hoenlein, AIPAC's Lillian Pinkus and Jeff Snyder, JINSA's Michael Makovsky, Dov Zakheim, CFR's Richard Hass, Walid Phares, Brooking's Martin Indyk, AJC's Jason Isaacson, ADL's Jonathan Greenblatt, WINEP's Rob Satloff, Center for Security Policy's Fred Fleitz, lobbyist Ezra Friedlander, J Street's Dylan Williams, and AJC's Harriet Schleifer.
DRIVING THE CONVERSATION - Why Steve Bannon was removed from the National Security Council -- by Shane Goldmacher: “In recent weeks, Jared Kushner has asked searching questions – sometimes for hours – of inside and outside advisers about the White House's performance and complained about Bannon in particular Kushner has told people that Bannon’s desire to deconstruct the government, is hurting the president. One person familiar with Kushner's thinking says Kushner believes Bannon is more of a problem than Reince Priebus, the chief of staff.” [Politico]
“Bannon’s Role Is Diminished as Other Advisers Blame Him for Setbacks” by Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush: “White House officials said, the ideologist who enjoyed the president’s confidence became increasingly embattled as other advisers, including Mr. Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, complained about setbacks on health care and immigration The shift was orchestrated by Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster Mr. Bannon resisted the move, even threatening at one point to quit if it went forward Mr. Bannon has also been at odds with Gary Cohn, the president’s national economics adviser. Mr. Cohn is close with Mr. Kushner, who has said privately that he fears that Mr. Bannon plays to the president’s worst impulses.” [NYTimes] Republican mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, a longtime Bannon confidante who became a prominent Trump supporter during the campaign, urged Bannon not to resign [Politico]
Dov Zakheim, one of the over 50 top Republican national security officials who signed the anti-Trump letter in 2016, tells us: "I think this is the hand of McMaster. He has put together a very capable National Security Council staff, and I think that without confronting Bannon directly, he's raised the level of the national security discussion that is just beyond Bannon. It's also Trump's recognition that when it comes to national security you are dealing in a very different world than domestic issues and for that, you really do need the experts and he's got them. He's got McMaster, Mattis, and Tillerson, and I think that he's discovering that you don't use amateurs - he's already got Jared Kushner running around doing all kinds of things. I think Trump is starting to look much more - on national security matters - like a conventional American president."
LATE NIGHT: "Trevor Noah Thinks Jared Kushner Is the Real President . . . for Now" by Laura Bradley: "Trump’s son-in-law has a lot on his plate right now. He’s got to broker peace in the Middle East, serving as Trump’s lead adviser on relations with the region, as well as with Canada, Mexico, and China. He’ll also be reforming care for veterans, solving the opioid epidemic, and modernizing technology and data usage across the entire federal government. That’s a lot to handle for a guy with no previous governmental experience. As Noah put it, “Trump is giving Jared Kushner so much to do—and here you were, bitching about your father-in-law asking you to set up the Wi-Fi.” [VanityFair; NYMag]
‘BELIEVE ME’: Trump met with King Abdullah of Jordan yesterday and discussed - among other topics - how to advance the Israeli-Palestinians peace process. “I'm working very, very hard on trying to finally create peace between the Palestinians and Israel, and I think we'll be successful,” Trump said during a joint press conference in the Rose Garden. “I think we’ll be successful. I hope we’ll be successful, I can tell you that.” Trump called Abdullah a “tireless advocate” for a peace settlement “and he's going to help me with that and help me at the highest level. And we will be consulting with him closely in the days ahead.”
Later on, Trump sounded less optimistic about the likelihood of success in resolving the decades-long conflict. “I have to just say, the world is a mess. I inherited a mess. Whether it's the Middle East, whether it's North Korea... I inherited a mess. We're going to fix it.”
King Abdullah, responding to questions directed at him about the matter, asserted that President Trump understands that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is the core conflict” in the Mideast region. "The president's early engagement in bringing the Palestinians and Israelis together has been a very encouraging sign for all of us," Abdullah said. “The President understands the nuances and the challenges. I think he has the courage and the dedication to be able to do this And the President understands that if we don’t solve this problem, how are we going to win the global fight against terrorism, which is his number-one priority? So this is a core issue that he understands, and I think he has the commitment and he has my full support for this, as he does from many, many countries in our region.”
Trump on the Iran deal: “I will do whatever I have to do. They have a deal. It was, some people say, not done properly even in the form of its finalization. There was no vote from Congress. There was no real ratification. But I will do whatever I have to do with respect to the Iran deal.” [YouTube]
CFR’s Robert Danin on CNN: “Up until now, he has continued to criticize the Iran nuclear deal, but he has yet to come up with an alternative policy. He stood up with Prime Minister Netanyahu and even then did not say anything about the deal. The focus of the administration since coming to power has been on challenging Iran per se, but not on undoing the deal. And even today he gave no indication of what that might be. I don’t see any reason to believe that it’s (ripping up the deal) going to happen.”
John Podhoretz : “Trump today: Changed his mind on Syria; will kill off ISIS; trashes Iran. At 3 pm he's going to sign that never-Trump foreign policy letter.” [Twitter]
ON THE HILL -- House Members Dispute Abdullah's Assertion Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 'Core' Regional Issue -- by JI’s Aaron Magid: “I have a hard time seeing that. When you talk about some Islamic terrorists like ISIS, they could care less,” Congressman Brian Babin (R-TX) told Jewish Insider. “They want to wipe Israel off the map, of course, just because the Palestinians worked it out with the Israelis doesn’t mean that ISIS is going to give up and go home.” Added Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), “Iran has sort of taken over the rest of the region... The Palestinian issue needs to be resolved for sure but I don’t think it is the most volatile right now.” Rep. James McNerney (D-CA) told Jewish Insider, “Obviously there are bigger issues too: the Shia and the Sunni divide and the de-stabilization of the area by ISIS. Ranking it as the top issue, no. Clearly, in my opinion it is not.”
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), however, agreed with King Abdullah, saying that Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “core and fundamental” while adding that resolving the decades-long dispute is “essential for peace in the Middle East.” [JewishInsider]
"Trump’s Push for Mideast Deal Perplexes Israeli Right" by Yaroslav Trofimov: “There is nothing more sustainable than the current situation that has already existed for 50 years and that is getting better all the time,” said retired Brig. Gen. Effie Eitam, Israel’s former minister of national infrastructure and housing who now runs a private intelligence company in Jerusalem. That’s why Mr. Trump’s ambition to resolve the intractable dispute—a solution that would likely require Israel to accept Palestinian statehood and give up most of the territory it has occupied since 1967—has confounded Israel’s right-wing coalition just months after it celebrated the U.S. election as divine deliverance from international pressure." [WSJ]
“U.S. Envoy Pushes Israel, Arab States for Economic Aid to Gaza Ahead of Talks” by Barak Ravid and Amir Tibon: “[Jason] Greenblatt raised the conditions in Gaza during his first meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem last month, and once again three weeks ago when a delegation of Netanyahu’s senior advisers visited the White House. Last week Greenblatt met in Washington with Deputy Minister Michael Oren, a former ambassador to the U.S. who is responsible for coordinating Gaza reconstruction efforts with the international community on Netanyahu’s behalf. Prior to that, Greenblatt brought up Gaza’s plight in his meetings with a number of Arab foreign ministers at the Arab League summit in Jordan.” [Haaretz]
HEARD YESTERDAY in NYC -- IDF Brigadier General (Res.) Michael Herzog said during a panel on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with Jibril Rajoub, Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee, that one of the reasons the 2016 regional peace initiative fell apart was because the Obama administration didn't want to be part of it. "I think they did not believe that this would yield results. To my knowledge, both sides - the Israelis and Palestinians - did not trust the [Obama] Administration to be the leading part of that initiative." The event was hosted by the Israel Policy Forum and moderated by Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
Rajoub, after expressing regret at some of his past statements and promising to be more cautious in the future, said the Palestinians need to "seize this opportunity" with the Trump Administration to renew peace talks. Asked if the Palestinians would agree to enter into negotiations without a full settlement freeze, Rajoub told JI's Jacob Kornbluh, "The settlements, believe me, brother, its existence is a threat to the state of Israel. We are talking about two states - with two territories. Why expand it? Listen, I think it's the time to freeze all settlement activities. Believe me, it's a benefit to the Israelis like it's a benefit to the Palestinians."
Herzog: "I think the Palestinians will demand a freeze. I believe that if the Trump Administration pushes them to enter negotiations even with Israel just restraining settlement activity, I don't think they have an alternative. I do think Trump has leverage over them. You don't want to mess with him. And since he prioritizes the peace process and wants a deal, he has leverage on them. They will have to do with some kind of restraint, and if he pressed them they will follow."
2018 WATCH: "George Soros, Jane Fonda, Norman Lear help Dem Andrew Gillum governor bid" by George Bennett: "Billionaire George Soros gave $100,000 last week to [Tallahasee Mayor Andrew] Gillum’s Forward Florida committee and son Alex Soros chipped in another $50,000. TV producer and People For The American Way founder Norman Lear gave $50,000 to the committee and actress Jane Fonda contributed $7,000." [PalmBeachPost]
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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Edgar Bronfman Jr., Len Blavatnik and Ynon Kreiz haven’t ruled out another Time Inc. bid [NYPost] BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith: Trump has 'breathed new life' into media [CNN] Construction resumes on NJ American Dream mall megaproject [ConstructionDive] Lakewood rabbi: Yeshiva shopping center plan on hold [APP] Inside Aerin Lauder's Family Home in Palm Beach [ArchitecturalDigest] Michael Bloomberg the biggest charity donor in New York... also on the list: billionaire hedge funder Steven A. Cohen, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, Sanford and Joan Weill, and Ronald Perelman [NYPost]
“At 93, Henry Kissinger is still doing deals and courting controversy in China” by Heather Timmons: “Kissinger’s alliance with the Trump administration isn’t unexpected, since he’s made overtures to successive US administrations to act as a bridge-builder with China. Hillary Clinton relied on his counsel as secretary of state and said she considers him a “friend,” which drew outrage from the left. His presence has been a hard one to dismiss for many presidents, including former president George W. Bush, who controversially put him in charge of the 9/11 commission, a post he soon resigned from Kissinger’s 600-page 2011 book “On China” is a bible for foreign businessmen and diplomats trying to work out political and trade deals in China, and it reads like the antithesis of the Trump administration’s approach to China so far, and a clue, perhaps, to Xi’s stance.” [Quartz]
PROFILE: "A Day In the Life of Sports Agent Jeff Schwartz" by Andrew Beaton: "Jeff Schwartz doesn't recognize himself in Hollywood’s classic portrayal of sports agents—the ones who scream into their phones or race between endless parties. Still, he understands why others would: Schwartz, 53, represents the biggest arsenal of National Basketball Association superstars in the world. And his New York–based firm, Excel Sports Management, which also works with athletes in baseball, football and golf, boasts a roster of recognizable talents including Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter. But Schwartz’s unfussy Midtown office, which features minimal memorabilia from his impressive career, illustrates his more restrained approach, giving hardly any clue to the influence he wields in the industry. He acknowledges, though, that there’s no way to avoid the frenetic nature of his profession. “If you want a set schedule, don’t get into sports,” he says. “If you want to do well, you have to live this job.”" [WSJ]
PASSED OVER: "Group accuses Hilton of ruining Passover plans" by Ian Mohr: "Organizers of a Passover getaway for 700 New Yorkers say they feel passed over after a California hotel allegedly canceled their stay despite a $1 million deposit. Joseph Allaham, of kosher steakhouse Prime Grill, has organized Passover trips under his Prime Experience brand since 2014. This year, his lawyer Mark J. Heller claims, Allaham booked a 10-day event at the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines in San Diego back in November, but “the Hilton organization refuses to honor their commitment to host this event or to return the proceeds they received as an advance.” He says one family paid $230,000 to bring all their kin on the April trip meant to include guest speakers, rabbis, a kids’ camp and entertainers. Heller told us, “Just as the pharaohs in ancient days caused the Israelites to suffer and endure starvation, the Hilton management in La Jolla . . . has chosen to ‘pass over’ . . . [guests] by refusing to welcome them.” The dispute is now headed to arbitration in California." [NYPost]
SPORTS BLINK: "Weinstein Back In U.S. After WBC As Yard Goats Ready For Season Opener" by Jeff Jacobs: "Septuagenarian Yard Goats manager Jerry Weinstein has been involved in international baseball for a long time... "To beat Cuba in an important game was significant for me," said Weinstein, who managed Team Israel to a stunning 4-2 finish in the World Baseball Classic. "The press conferences were humungous. There were hundreds of reporters and camera people. The guy from the newspaper Granma [the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party] said, 'Isn't this really the U.S. No. 2 team?' "I go, 'No, this is an Israeli team. And the fact of the matter is none of these guys would have been considered as the backup guys for the USA team. You got beat by a bunch of minor leaguers and ex-big leaguers who played together as a team and still have game.'" Weinstein laughs." [HartfordCourant]
BIRTHDAYS: Philanthropist Jeanie Schottenstein... Shanghai-born, raised in Switzerland, resident of Seattle since 1950, professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington, 1992 winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine, Edmond H. Fischer turns 97... Israeli lawyer and judge, born in Danzig, Poland, former justice of the Supreme Court of Israel (1981-1993), aunt of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Shoshana Netanyahu turns 94... Educator often considered the founder of the modern small schools movement, senior scholar and adjunct professor at NYU, winner of a MacArthur genius fellowship in 1987, Deborah Meier turns 86... Biochemist and molecular biologist, long-time professor and now professor emeritus at Hebrew U, Aharon Razin turns 82... Born in Amsterdam, survived the Holocaust, moved to Israel in 1978, visual artist, textile designer and art teacher, Helen Berman turns 81... Chemist, writer and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NYU's Tandon School of Engineering, Mark Mordecai Green turns 80... Baltimore-born Academy Award-winning best director for Rain Man (1988), produced and directed many films including Diner (1982), Good Morning Vietnam (1987), Bugsy (1991) and Wag the Dog (1997), Barry Levinson turns 75...
Santa Monica-based poet, critic and teacher, earned her Ph.D. studying Jewish American women authors, Nancy Shiffrin turns 73... Founder and chairman of Cognex Corporation, a provider of machine vision systems, earned a Ph.D. from MIT, major donor to Technion, on the board of FIDF, Robert J. Shillman turns 71... Founder and CEO of Emmis Communications, a media conglomerate and owner of radio stations and magazines across the US, former owner of the Seattle Mariners (1989-1992), Jeff Smulyan turns 70... Political activist, artist and author, adopted as a youg child by philanthropist Max Fisher, known for her speeches at the Republican National Conventions in 1992 and 1996, Mary Fisher turns 69... Movie director, producer, writer and editor, winner of two Academy Awards for best documentary feature, Rob Epstein turns 62... Scholar of ancient and medieval piyyut (Hebrew poetry), head of the Fleischer Institute for the Study of Hebrew Poetry, Shulamit Elizur turns 62... Director, screenwriter and producer of television comedies, Steven Levitan turns 55...
Screenwriter, producer, actor, director, best known for creating, producing and writing the HBO television series Entourage, Douglas Reed "Doug" Ellin turns 49... Attorney and serial entrepreneur, co-founded Demand Media company in 2006, built, operated and sold over $1.3 billion of Internet media companies, Richard Rosenblatt turns 48... Israel's Consul General in New York from 2007-2010, now CEO of Israeli private equity fund Amelia Investments, Asaf Shariv turns 45... Actor, director, comedian, screenwriter and producer, best known for his role on the television series Scrubs (2001-2010), Zachary Israel "Zach" Braff turns 42... Mandolinist and teacher, has performed with symphony orchestras in Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and in Europe, teaches classical mandolin at Mannes College in NYC, Joseph Brent turns 41... Senior editor focused on special projects for 70 Faces Media, Gabrielle Birkner turns 38... Chef, best known as the winner of the second season of the Bravo television network's reality series Top Chef, currently hosting a cooking competition show called Knife Fight, Ilan Hall turns 35... AIPAC's senior development director for New York and founder of its real estate division, Jay Haberman... Minneapolis-based Midwest regional director and senior policy analyst at The Israel Project, Jacob Millner... Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Hong Kong-based Oasis Management Company, Seth Hillel Fischer... Playwright, performer and teacher of autobiographical storytelling, Stacie Chaiken... Deborah Granow... Philip Seal...
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