Jewish Insider's Daily Kickoff: December 21, 2017

Trump's recent generosity towards Jewish community continues | Congress on Trump's UN threat | Manischewitz is popular... in Caribbean

President Donald Trump speaks about tax reform in the Grand Foyer of the White House, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, in Washington
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

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TOP TALKER -- President Donald Trump’s decision yesterday to commute the sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, the former Chief Executive of Agriprocessors slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, sparked a spontaneous outburst of celebrations across the Orthodox Jewish community in New York. Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) called it a "real Hanukkah miracle." Celebrations were held in Monsey, Upstate New York [Pic; Video], in Borough Park, Brooklyn [Pic; Video], and at Chabad HQ on 770 Eastern Parkway [Pic; Video]  Trump flags were being waved outside 770 [Pic; Pic; Video]  

Close to midnight, Rubashkin arrived to greet his parents at their home in Borough Park. Thousands gathered outside to welcome him. JI's Jacob Kornbluh was on the scene. Watch a replay of his live broadcast [Periscope

WHITE HOUSE STATEMENT: “The President’s review of Mr. Rubashkin’s case and commutation decision were based on expressions of support from members of Congress and a broad cross-section of the legal community,” the White House said in a news release. "This action is not a Presidential pardon. It does not vacate Mr. Rubashkin’s conviction, and it leaves in place a term of supervised release and a substantial restitution obligation, which were also part of Mr. Rubashkin’s sentence." 

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz told Jewish Insider that he wrote a personal letter to the President following the decision, thanking him for the commutation of Rubashkin. “I told him what the Talmud says, ‘He who saves a single human life it is as if he has saved the entire world,’ and he has saved many human lives by doing this. He saved the life of Sholom Rubashkin and of members of his family who were having a terrible time without him. It’s long overdue Tzedek (justice), and I think the President should be commended for finally doing what others were supposed to do. He has served far too long. This is the right result, and I am very happy he did it.”

Dershowitz said he had advocated for Rubashkin’s release in his conversations with President Trump. “I had the opportunity to lay out my case for commutation to the President, particularly the business aspect of it,” he said, adding that Trump was sensitive to the case being a businessman and understanding that “the government manipulated the price of the company down in order to raise the sentence.” [JewishInsider]

Maggie Haberman tweets: "In a recent meeting, Trump polled attendees about whether he should make this move" [Twitter]

HOW IT PLAYED -- "Mr. Rubashkin made national headlines nine years ago after federal agents arrived by helicopter at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, and detained nearly 400 undocumented immigrants, including several children, who were working there... He was later convicted of bank fraud in federal court... Many Jewish leaders have rallied behind Mr. Rubashkin, whose treatment they said was unfair, perhaps even anti-Semitic, and whose sentence they considered unduly harsh and out of line with what other white-collar criminals received." [NYTimes Trump issues his first commutation [CNN]  Trump commutes sentence of kosher slaughterhouse boss who was in the clink for financial crimes [DailyNews]

"How Trump came to commute an ex-meatpacking executive’s 27-year prison sentence" by Derek Hawkins: "His supporters included five former attorneys general, including Michael Mukasey, who headed the DOJ when Rubashkin was charged... Dozens of members of Congress and 80 former federal judges raised similar issues in letters to the DOJ and the White House in the years after Rubashkin was sentenced. The White House posted a ream of those documents online Wednesday." [WashPost]

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a letter dated August 14, 2017, wrote: "By an equitable measure, Mr. Rubashkin's sentence is unduly harsh and does not meet the goal of our criminal justice system." [Doc]

FLASHBACKS -- Samantha Michaels: "I spent months investigating a wild backstory to this case—the judge involved put hundreds of immigrants behind bars while her husband invested in private prisons." [Twitter]

WORTH NOTING: -- “Jared Kushner, who faced the harrowing experience of seeing his father incarcerated, has supported organizations like the Aleph Institute that works to ensure Jewish prisoners can see a rabbi, and also advocates for sentencing reform.” [TheMarshallProject]

"Hundreds of Thousands in Donations Tie Kushners and Trump to Chabad Movement" by Judy Maltz: "A Haaretz examination has revealed that Charles and Seryl Kushner have been major benefactors of Chabad over the years. Between 2003 and 2013, their family foundation donated a total of $264,500 to various institutions and projects associated with the movement, their tax records show... It turns out that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has also contributed to the movement – even before his daughter, who converted to Judaism, was married. Altogether, the Donald J. Trump Foundation has donated $11,550 to three Chabad institutions." [Haaretz]

Question on the mind of some JI readers: To what extent was the commutation -- and the recent announcement on Jerusalem -- an isolated decision and coincidental timing vs. part of a larger grand strategy? And, if you believe the President has transactional tendencies, could there be a cost attached to Trump's generosity as some experts -- including Dennis Ross -- floated after the Jerusalem move? The Jewish leaders who replied last night on-the-record were not buying the speculation. 

Dershowitz: "They are not favors. What he did on Jerusalem was designed to undo what Barack Obama had done, namely to change the status quo. Obama changed the status quo by allowing the UN resolution (UNSC 2334) to go through that declared the Kotel to be illegally occupied territory. So it wasn't a favor to anybody. It was the right thing to do. And this (Rubashkin commutation) was done because it is just, it was the right thing to do." 

Councilman David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn), and a supporter of Hillary Clinton in 2016, tells us... “I don’t believe that this is an 'Orthodox Jewish' political strategy. Quite frankly, Trump is already popular with this constituency. The fact is that both of these decisions (Jerusalem and Rubashkin) were correct based on the objective facts. I think this speaks more to Orthodox Jews having access to the President and being able to make their case directly to him. That’s the hardest part - just getting the President to hear you out.”

Dov Zakheim: "The Orthodox Jewish community already supports him. In fact, it's the only part of the Jewish community in America that supports him. Maybe this is his way of saying thank you, that's possible. But the fact of the matter is, on its merits, he did the right thing. Frankly, Obama should have done it before he left office. In this case, the President was simply righting a wrong. Rubashkin should have been convicted, he should have gone to jail, but you would have thought eight years in jail was enough. And, frankly, you would have thought seven years in jail was enough. Trump did the right thing, and Obama did the wrong thing."

Abe Foxman: "The standard should always be whether it was merited on the facts and circumstances and not on the politics of it. I recall the prosecution may have been overzealous and therefore the sentence may have been overly harsh. If this is accurate, then a commutation would be welcome and appropriate. I don’t believe it should result in a due bill from the Jewish community. A respectful thank you should be sufficient if justice was delivered or repaired.

David Lobl"If you think that POTUS pardoned Rubashkin to pander to vast swaths of the Orthodox Community after the Jerusalem announcement- you don’t get orthodox politics." [Twitter]

Jeff Ballabon emails us from Jerusalem: "The President is a man of his word and a man of honor. Instead of looking over his shoulder at what his critics will say - and they will always say something - he is showing America and the world what it means to be a leader and they are getting the message. I'm also proud that the Orthodox community overall saw past the outrageous attacks on Donald Trump and voted overwhelmingly for him. I know it's been Chanuka, but I keep thinking of Purim: 'LaYehudim Hoiso Orah V'simcha V'sosson V'ikor.'"

ALTERNATIVE TAKE -- Bethany S. Mandel"He’s not a good guy. The fact that he’s out isn’t really a thing to celebrate or even fight for. There’s others worthy of our efforts. Yeah the sentence was excessive given sentences for similar crimes. But given how many mitzvot he broke not sure why anyone went to the mat." [Twitter]

DRIVING THE DAY -- The United Nations General Assembly is expected to adopt a resolution rejecting U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Speaking at a cabinet meeting yesterday, Trump threatened to withhold U.S. aid from countries who would be voting in favor of the resolution. “Let them vote against us,” he said. “We’ll save a lot. We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars. We’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer.”

-- "It is difficult to see how Mr. Trump can make good on that threat because it could involve cutting off financial assistance to the country’s most strategic allies in the Middle East. Some of those programs, like Egypt’s, are congressionally mandated. While the president can hold up aid unilaterally as a form of leverage, canceling it would require new legislation... Egypt received $77.4 billion in foreign aid from the United States from 1948 to 2016, according to the Congressional Research Service, including about $1.3 billion in annual military aid." [NYTimes]

Aaron David Miller: "Trump's threat to cut aid is -- to paraphrase Seinfeld a show about nothing. More serious is that Administration thought they were defusing Jerusalem issue; they've now put it at top of the international agenda." [Twitter]

ON THE HILL -- House members on Trump’s threat to cut aid over UN vote -- by Aaron Magid: “Screw the UN and those countries,” Representative Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) told Jewish Insider. “Israel is our ally and it’s our prerogative to do that. I totally support the President. We don’t need them. We don’t need them to be constantly defying U.S. interests, Israeli interests.”

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH): "The UN is out of control and has to respect our decision. If they are not going to be supportive of us at the UN - we supply more than 20% of the funding to the UN - I would be open to being supportive of [cutting aid]."

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL): “It doesn’t seem like a very well thought out strategy. We are one country in a very large world. His constant threats and lack of diplomacy: they’re not helping the U.S. It seems to me that we ought to work with our allies and improve our standing in the world as opposed to always picking fights."

Rep. David Price (D-NC): “I do not think it is very wise to threaten other countries to cut off their aid if they vote against us at the UN. If that were to be consistently applied, we’d be in trouble constantly with every country in the world because nobody gives us 100% agreement. As a tactic, I think it is questionable.”

"Senior Saudi prince says Trump's Jerusalem move threatens stability" by Rania El Gamal and Katie Paul: “It is a very bad decision. The consequences will be more bloodshed, more conflict rather than peaceful resolution,” Prince Turki, a senior royal family member and a former ambassador to Washington, told Reuters in an interview... But Saudi Arabia stopped short of calling for any Arab action against the decision. Palestinian officials say Riyadh has been working for weeks behind the scenes to press them to support a nascent U.S. peace plan. “The reaction here was total surprise,” said Prince Turki." [Reuters

HEARD YESTERDAY -- Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on CNN's Connect the World with Oren Liebermann: " I think that now after this historic declaration, we have to think how we continue from here. We are not going to disappear. The Arabs are not going to disappear. We have to start looking for serious solutions... I think when the times will come and the Palestinians will be able to compromise the way we are able to compromise... it will be possible to resolve. We have proven that we are always ready for peace agreements. I don't think there's anything to compromise on Jerusalem. If it ain't broken, don't fix it. The statement of the Americans is very important even if it doesn't go into specific details of the future of the city." [CNN

TOP TALKER: "Pence’s Christmas Pilgrimage Is Canceled. His Next Mideast Move Is Complicated" by Declan Walsh: "In Bethlehem — where the Abbas-Pence meeting had been scheduled to take place, according to Palestinian officials — banners that read “Bethlehem refuses US vice president’s visit,” now hang over Manger Square, near the Church of the Nativity... In Jerusalem itself, the patriarchs and leaders of 13 Christian churches said in a Christmas message on Wednesday that Mr. Trump’s decision “tramples on the mechanism that has maintained peace throughout the ages,” and warned it “will lead to a very dark reality.” ... The public snubs from Christian leaders are a sign of the deep ideological gulf between American evangelicals like Mr. Pence, whose support for Israel is rooted in biblical prophesy, and the Christian communities that have lived in the area since the time of Jesus himself." [NYTimes]

** Good Thursday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

SPOTLIGHT: "After the Disney-Fox deal, smaller players like Paramount and MGM face pressure to bulk up" by Meg James and Ryan Faughnder: "The most obvious corporate pairing, many analysts say, would be CBS and Viacom Inc. because both are controlled by the Sumner Redstone family. Shari Redstone, the ailing mogul’s daughter, now is the chief decision maker. Last year, she favored a plan to rejoin the two companies (they were separated in 2006), but she abandoned the effort when CBS balked at the price that Viacom’s board was seeking for Viacom’s shares... “What does Shari do? She looks like a small fry and the family has badly lagged the market in wealth creation over the decade,” said media analyst Michael Nathanson. Viacom’s shares have fallen more than 60% in the last five years, and currently hover around $31 a share." [LATimes]

"How Facebook Handled A Fake Photo Of Mark Zuckerberg In A Nazi Uniform" by Alex Kantrowitz: "Earlier this year, a simple Facebook search for Mark Zuckerberg’s name returned an unexpected result: an image of the Facebook founder in Nazi uniform presented at the top of his photos, directly underneath his verified profile... Facebook did not delete the image. Instead, it left it up on the platform. The image no longer appears in the top results for searches of "Mark Zuckerberg," and a spokesperson said it was pushed down in Zuckerberg's search results in a sitewide update meant to improve relevance." [BuzzFeed]

MEDIA WATCH: "Glenn Thrush, Suspended Times Reporter, to Resume Work but Won’t Cover White House" by Sydney Ember: "The New York Times said on Wednesday that Glenn Thrush, one of the paper’s most prominent political reporters, would remain suspended until late January and then be removed from the team covering the White House  after he faced allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior... In a statement, [Dean] Baquet said the company had completed its inquiry and found that Mr. Thrush had “behaved in ways that we do not condone.” “While we believe that Glenn has acted offensively, we have decided that he does not deserve to be fired,” Mr. Baquet said." [NYTimes]

TALK OF THE TOWN: "Is the Museum of the Bible that tourist-destination evangelicals have been waiting for?" by Karen Heller: "Officials hope that the museum will become as much of an attraction for faith-based group tours as the Capitol or the Library of Congress... To stay competitive with the city’s panoply of free attractions, such as the Smithsonian, the Bible museum does not charge admission, although it suggests a $15 individual donation for adults and $10 for children. In a city with costly lodging and budget-conscious tourists, it might remain more of a suggestion than a reality." [WashPost]

DESSERT: "Manischewitz Wine: A Kosher Drink Popular In Caribbean Communities" by Nadege Green: "Just over a year ago I was scrolling through Instagram when I saw a picture of  a billboard in Haiti advertising Manischewitz wine. The kosher wine has been a constant in Jewish homes for Passover seders and sacramental occasions, but in Jewish circles, while admittedly nostalgic, it’s typically scorned and made fun of. Yet the very sweet Manischewitz wine is a hit in some Caribbean communities where it is met with respect and praise, especially around Christmas.  "It's the immigrant's fine wine," explains Carla Hill. Her mom, who is originally from Trinidad, is a Manischewitz wine aficionado. Hill is not." [WLRN]

BIRTHDAYS: United States Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin turns 55... Former Chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in the Bush 43 and Obama administrations, Stephen Friedman turns 80... Producer of over 90 plays on and off Broadway for which she has won seven Pulitzer Prizes and ten Tony Awards, Daryl Roth turns 73... Member of Knesset since 1999 for the Likud party, he serves as Minister of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services, Haim Katz turns 70... Former member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (1994-2014) following an equally long tenure on the Los Angeles City Council (1975-1994), Zev Yaroslavsky turns 69... CEO of WndrCo (created in 2017 to invest in new media), he is the former CEO of DreamWorks Animation (2004-2016) and chairman of Walt Disney Studios (1984-1994), Jeffrey Katzenberg turns 67... NFL insider for ESPN since 2009, previously on the NFL Network (2004-2009), Adam Schefter turns 51...

Member of the Knesset since 2015 for the Kulanu party, Rachel Azaria turns 40... Founder and president of Junction Investments, a platform for investment in major motion pictures, and formerly a producer at CBS Evening News, Brian Goldsmith turns 36... Chief Investigative Reporter at KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, IA, after a stint at New Haven, CT's WTNH News 8, Josh Scheinblum turns 29... VP in the financial services practice at NYC-based Bliss Integrated Communication, Julia Mellon turns 28... Political reporter for the Boston Globe since 2013, previously in DC for ABC News and the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, Joshua Miller... Marta Skipper...

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