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GROUNDED, FOR NOW: Tax reform vote forces Pence to delay Israel trip -- by Oren Liebermann and James Masters: "Vice President Mike Pence has delayed his upcoming visit to Israel for several days... The delay comes as Congress prepares to vote on a sweeping tax reform bill... Pence holds the tiebreaking vote in the event of an even split. Pence's office confirmed he will now leave Washington on Tuesday, stopping in Egypt for a brief visit before arriving in Israel for a multi-day visit. His schedule includes an address to the Israeli Knesset on Thursday." [CNN]
Pence was initially scheduled to light the Hanukkah menorah at the Western Wall. "U.S. officials say Pence is still likely to visit the Western Wall and light Hanukah candles there," according to a report. However, "according to the current schedule... Israeli officials say Pence is due to arrive from Cairo on Wednesday evening." The last night of Hanukkah is Tuesday.
The Vice President’s spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said in a statement: “Yesterday the White House informed Senate Leadership that due to the historic nature of the vote in the Senate on tax cuts for millions of Americans, the Vice President would stay to preside over the vote.” [Twitter]
LAST NIGHT -- U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman lit the second candle at the Western Wall. "It is a great honor for me, and I am very excited to stand here in this holy place and light the second candle of Hanukkah in Jerusalem - the capital of the State of Israel," the ambassador remarked in Hebrew. Friedman was joined by Jerusalem's Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Rishon Lezion Shlomo Amar, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, and Deputy Minister Michael Oren. [Video; Twitter]
DRIVING THE WEEK -- Following President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and the decision by the Palestinian Authority to protest to move by boycotting the Trump administration, regional and European leaders are seeking to either replace the U.S. as the chief broker of Mideast peace talks and/or to push for unilateral action on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yesterday, King Salman of Saudi Arabia condemned Trump’s decision “because of its great bias against the historical and permanent rights of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem” and called for a "political solution" to resolve the Palestinian issue.
According to a report by Channel 10 News correspondent Barak Ravid, France and Belgium are pushing for a joint statement to be issued on Friday by EU members against Trump's move and possibly call for Jerusalem to be shared between Israel and a future Palestinian state, while urging the Israeli government to take active steps to relaunch the peace process. The White House responded yesterday by saying, “We will continue to work on our plan for peace that we hope will offer the best outcome for both peoples, and look forward to unveiling it when it is ready and the time is right.”
HEARD THE OTHER DAY -- Elliott Abrams on a conference call hosted by JCRC of NY: "If you are a Palestinian and your goal is a deal that gives you a Palestinian state, the U.S. is indispensable for that. The U.S. is the only country that is really trusted by Israel, that has really significant influence with the government of Israel. So I think we are irreplaceable as a participant in that process... One answer to 'Oh, this (Jerusalem move) could kill the peace process' is: What peace process? The fact is that there have not been serious negotiations since the Olmert-Abbas negotiations in 2008... So if we are putting off moving the embassy to Jerusalem until the Palestinians are ready for peace, you may be putting it off for a very, very, very, very long time."
"Israel Says Jared Kushner's Middle East Peace Plan Will Fail Without Saudi Arabia's Help" by Cristina Maza: "Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said any peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians needs Saudi help... “I suggest that Saudi Arabia, as the leader of the Arab world, take upon itself this initiative and go to the Palestinians and offer their patronage. [The Palestinians] are too weak, they need someone to help them.” ... “The Saudis have long sidelined Palestinian interests, but historically they’ve done it quietly, behind closed doors. Now, with the rise of Mohammad bin Salman, those doors have been flung open,” Chris Meserole, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, told Newsweek. “It’s hard to imagine Kushner and the Israelis being this public about a Saudi role in the peace process if they hadn’t already gotten strong support for it from Mohammad bin Salman himself,” Meserole said." [Newsweek]
DEEP DIVE -- Trump's reluctance on Iran-Russia sanctions bill -- by Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker: “Trump’s frustration had been building as the [Russia-Iran sanctions bill] approached a final vote. He saw the bill as validation of the case that Russia had interfered, as an encroachment on his executive authority and as a potentially fatal blow to his aspirations for friendship with Putin In the final days before passage, Trump watched MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program and stewed as hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski declared that the bill would be a slap in the face to the president. “He was raging,” one adviser said. “He was raging mad.” After final passage, Trump was “apoplectic,” the adviser recalled. It took four days for aides to persuade him to sign the bill “Hey, here are the votes,” aides told the president, according to a second Trump adviser. “If you veto it, they’ll override you and then you’re f---ed and you look like you’re weak.”” [WashPost]
IRAN DEAL: "UN chief: Iran may be defying UN on missiles, OK on nukes" by Edith Lederer: "[UN] Secretary-General Antonio Guterres... says in a report to the Security Council that the United Nations is investigating Iran’s possible transfer of ballistic missiles to Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen that may have been used in launches aimed at Saudi Arabia on July 22 and Nov. 4.... In the report, Guterres stressed that the nuclear deal remains “the best way” to ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. He said President Donald Trump’s Oct. 13 decision not to certify the agreement under U.S. law created “considerable uncertainty” about its future. But, he added, “I am reassured that the United States has expressed its commitment to stay in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for now."" [AP]
HAPPENING TODAY AT 11:30 AM ET: U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley to hold a press conference at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, DC to highlight the UN report, offer "irrefutable evidence that Iran has deliberately violated its international obligations," and outline Iran’s “destabilizing activities in the Middle East region and elsewhere in the world.” [Livestream]
ON THE HILL -- The House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday (289-135) that requires the Treasury Department to issue an annual report of funds held in the US and foreign financial institutions that are controlled by sanctioned Iranian individuals tied to the country's ballistic missile program and human rights abuses. Introduced by Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), H.R. 1638 also mandates that the report detail "new methods used to evade anti-money laundering and related laws, including recommendations to improve techniques to combat illicit uses of the U.S. financial system by each such official."
The Iranian Leadership Asset Transparency Act notes that the findings must be accessible to the public in Arabic, Farsi, Azeri and English. Several amendments were tacked onto the legislation including one by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) that orders the Treasury Department to assess the effectiveness of sanctions against Tehran. “We should be using every tool in our toolbox to make clear to Iran that its human rights abuses are unacceptable and hold the regime accountable,” Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) added.
SCENE LAST NIGHT -- in DC: Approximately 100 members of Congress, Capitol Hill staffers and members of the DC Jewish community gathered for a bipartisan Hanukkah party cohosted by Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). Held at the Library of Congress, the event also included a performance by Kol Sasson, the Jewish a-cappella group from the University of Maryland. While recounting the story of Hanukkah, Wasserman Schultz said, "We cannot help but note the alarming rise in anti-Semitism that we have seen in recent years particularly in the United States. On this holiday, let us vow that the US will not tolerate bigotry or hate at home or abroad." Zeldin added that it was his first time in the Members Room of the Thomas Jefferson building and quipped, "My team doesn't let me out much." One of only two Jewish Republicans in Congress, Zeldin emphasized, "All of you are here on the Hill due to your passion and love for country and wanting to make a difference."
SPOTTED: VA Secretary David Shulkin, Reps Ted Deutch, Brad Schneider, Jamie Raskin, Jacky Rosen, John Yarmuth, Don Beyer, Jared Polis, Nita Lowey Alan Lowenthal, Brenda Lawrence, and Susan Davis; Chanan Weissman, Steve Rabinowitz, Aaron Keyak, William Daroff, Arie Lipnick, Jeremy Blumstone, Aaron Weinberg, Steve Paikowsky, Mark Hetfield, Lori Weinstein, Hadar Susskind, Sarah Arkin, Ron Klein, Dana Klein, Rabbi Michael Safra, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Joshua Karp, Dorian Karp, Matthew Ellison, Jesse Hunt, Emma Nelson, and Matt Gorman.
Earlier in the evening, Rabbi Levi Shemtov of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) held a Hanukkah party in the Capitol Building with Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) attending. [Pic]
SPOTLIGHT: "Nadler steps up in fight over Mueller probe" by Kyle Cheney: "[John] Conyers' resignation made [Jerry] Nadler the senior Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee — just as Republicans on the panel have begun hauling top Department of Justice Department officials to the Capitol to scrutinize potential anti-Trump bias in Mueller’s investigation... It's left Nadler in the position of getting his bearing as ranking member while simultaneously carrying the Democratic message in a fight that could lead to a constitutional crisis... Nadler said he believes Republicans are helping Trump lay the groundwork to fire Mueller..." [Politico]
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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Mike Bloomberg Eyes Danish Offshore Wind Farm and Sees New York’s Future [NYTimes] Israeli drugmaker Teva to cut quarter of global work force [AP] Patrick Drahi's Altice abandons effort to lay its own fibre technology across France [Reuters]
TOP TALKER: "Disney chief Bob Iger signals he won't run for president in 2020" by Meghan Keneally: "Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said today he is extending his contract with the company through 2021. The timing would effectively put off any 2020 presidential run... Iger appeared to put that to rest during an appearance on "Good Morning America" today when he announced the planned acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets by Disney, which owns ABC News. "I'm sticking around until the end of 2021 so you do the math," he said... When asked whether the deal takes a presidential run off the table, Iger said, "I hadn't made any decisions about what my future was going to be. ... I enjoy this job immensely and I'm looking forward to doing it for a few more years."" [Yahoo; WSJ]
"His Plans Gone Awry, Rupert Murdoch Divides His Spoils" by Amy Chozick: "The Disney deal would leave him without a seat at the Dolby Theater for the Academy Awards... but Mr. Murdoch would maintain his seat at the White House. In August, the family patriarch had a private dinner with President Trump; Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, a senior White House adviser; and the White House chief of staff John F. Kelly. Mr. Murdoch talks regularly with Mr. Kushner, who knows a thing or two about tiptoeing around powerful family business dynamics. People close to Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Kushner described them as friends, but others saw a transactional relationship." [NYTimes]
ANOTHER 2020 POSSIBILITY: "How Howard Schultz went from living in Brooklyn public housing to growing Starbucks into an $84 billion business" by Kate Taylor: "In December, he announced plans to step down as CEO, saying he would instead be focusing on Starbucks' "social missions" as chairman. Since then, he's blasted Trump's attempt to bar refugees from entering the US, written in the Financial Times about national identity after white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, and launched the second season of "Upstanders," a series committed to highlighting people making a difference in their communities... With Schultz's dedication to social issues, rumors have swirled that he may enter politics himself, now that he is no longer CEO. "He always had an interest in politics and always surrounded himself" with politically minded people, a former Starbucks employee who worked closely with Schulz for close to a decade, told Business Insider. "But very quietly."" [BusinessInsider]
"Security detail loses Wilbur Ross in Hamptons takeout joint" by Ian Mohr: "It was the case of the missing cabinet member in the Hamptons last week when — well-heeled sources tell us — Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross seemed to lose his security detail leading to an awkward search at a tony takeout joint. A source tells Page Six that guests grabbing grub at the Golden Pear cafe in Southampton were taken aback on Friday when agents entered asking if anyone had seen the secretary." [NYPost]
“We tried to find the rabbi Roy Moore’s wife said they’re friends with. Here’s what happened” by Devra First: "Sorry, it's not me," one rabbi said. "I have not had any contact with Roy Moore or his wife," e-mailed another, who mentioned he had just seen the movie "Spotlight." "Most of the Jews here are liberals," another told me. Everyone's best guess for the rabbi to whom Kayla Moore was referring was a man named Noson Leiter, who believed Roy Moore would face off against "the gay terrorists" and that Moore has a track record of fighting for public policy based on "biblical values and not perversion." [BostonGlobe]
REMEMBERING: "Vera Katz, Mayor Who Oversaw Portland’s Flowering, Dies at 84" by Sam Roberts: "Vera Katz, a refugee from Nazi Germany and a former Brooklynite who became a feminist force in Oregon and a three-term mayor of its largest city, Portland, as it grew from an unremarkable port and timber town into a liberal bastion of visionary urban planning, died on Monday... She was born Vera Pistrak on Aug. 3, 1933, in Düsseldorf, Germany, to Jewish parents who had been Mensheviks, socialists opposed to Bolshevism, and had fled Russia after the revolution of 1917." [NYTimes]
DESSERT: "Pop-up Jewish Deli celebrates Jewish traditions" by Mary Kate Paquette: "The Chabad Jewish Community Center of Bakersfield is preparing for its second pop-up Jewish deli, after the success of the first pop-up in October... More than 200 people will fill the center Thursday night for a dinner featuring lots of Jewish food like sandwiches stuffed with pastrami or corn beef, salads, Hanukkah doughnuts and Knish." [KernGoldenEmpire]
BIRTHDAYS: Founder of the Center for Class Action Fairness, established to combat abusive class-action settlements, now a division of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Ted Frank turns 49... Member of Knesset, first for the Kadima party (2006-2012) and more recently for Likud (since 2015), he chairs the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Avi Dichter turns 65... Co-founder of several companies, including Beanstalk, Sixpoint Partners and Vringo, author of NYTimes bestseller "Let There Be Water," Seth 'Yossi' Siegel turns 64... Hedge fund manager and philanthropist, he earned $4 billion in 2007 by buying credit default swaps against the subprime mortgage business, John Paulson turns 62... Dean Emeritus at Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and long-time leader of the Young Israel of Mosholu Parkway (Bronx, NY), Rabbi Zevulun Charlop turns 88... President of George Washington University (1988-2007), he is now a partner in the DC office of international law firm Rimon Law P.C., Stephen Joel Trachtenberg turns 80... Jerome Varon turns 78... Co-founder and Chairman of Creative Artists Agency (1975-1995), then President of the Walt Disney Company (1995-1997), philanthropist Michael S. Ovitz turns 71...
Music director of the American Symphony Orchestra and conductor laureate of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, he is the president of Bard College since 1975, Leon Botstein turns 71... Retired SVP at Warner Brothers, a pro-Israel advocate on the Platform Committee of the Democratic party on the national and state levels, Howard Welinsky turns 68... Director of government affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Robin Schatz turns 66... Owner of Bundles of Boston, Sheree Boloker turns 61... Martina Yisraela Rieffer turns 59... Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (2009-2012), Michele Flournoy turns 57... Senior Rabbi of the Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills, California, Kalman Topp turns 45... Safety and special teams player for the NFL's New England Patriots since 2012 and member of two Super Bowl-winning teams, Nathan “Nate” Ebner turns 29... Matt Kosman...
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