Jewish Insider's Daily Kickoff: February 28, 2018

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Jared Kushner, U.S. President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser. November 1, 2017.
Jared Kushner, U.S. President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser. November 1, 2017.Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
JI Staff

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Ed note: In celebration of the holiday of Purim, there will be no Daily Kickoff tomorrow. Happy Purim! 

THE DAILY KUSHNER -- "Kushner Cos. in Talks to Buy Remaining Stake in 666 Fifth Ave." by Peter Grant: "Kushner, formerly held by Jared Kushner, is in talks to buy the 49.5% stake in the 39-story tower from Vornado Realty Trust... The Kushner talks with Vornado could still fall apart. Vornado could opt to sell its stake to a third party, or the two partners could cut a deal under which they would put the entire office building up for sale... If Vornado sells its stake, the most obvious buyer would be Kushner, because others might be reluctant to get involved in one of most closely scrutinized buildings in the world. Also, Charles Kushner might be willing to pay more because he knows the building so well.” [WSJ]

"Kushner’s overseas contacts raise concerns as foreign officials seek leverage" by Shane Harris, Carol Leonnig, Greg Jaffe and Josh Dawsey: "Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience... Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico..." [WashPost]

TOP TALKER -- "Jared Kushner’s Security Clearance Downgraded" by Michael Shear and Katie Rogers: "Jared Kushner... has been stripped of his top-secret security clearance after months of delays in completing his background check... was reduced to the level of secret and his official portfolio inside the West Wing, especially with regard to his globe-trotting foreign affairs work on behalf of President Trump, is expected to be sharply reduced." [NYTimes; Politico]

HOW IT PLAYED -- "Kushner's security downgrade will hinder but not halt his Mideast peace role" by Jeremy Diamond: ""The intelligence was not a big factor when it came to doing the negotiations themselves," said Dennis Ross... "The fact that he is the son-in-law of the President gives him a lot of cachet in the region," Martin Indyk said. "I have no doubt that he can still do his job -- and of course his aides will have access." ... Elliott Abrams said in an email he believes Kushner "will be fully capable of continuing to oversee American involvement in the peace process" because his secret-level clearance will allow him "to see 100% of the diplomatic reporting." ... Aaron David Miller said he worried that Kushner's diminished access to classified information will put him at a disadvantage in speaking with Israeli and Arab officials with the latest classified intelligence... "In any negotiation, the devil's going to be in the details at the end of the day. The President doesn't need to know all those details, but your negotiator does because the other parties do know them," said Daniel Kurtzer." [CNN

Norman Eisen, former White House ethics czar, emails us... "Kushner may claim that he can do his job with a downgraded security clearance but, having worked in the White House and in diplomacy, that is false. He will be hampered in his work, and it is also embarrassing and weakens his hand. He will have to get up and leave some meetings where certain documents or information needs to be discussed, or cannot even attend them. For all those reasons, I believe it will shorten his tenure, and so Ivanka's as well." 

Axios quotes a White House official: “Javanka and Kelly are locked in a death match. Two enter. Only one survives.” [Axios]

"Colbert Gleefully Mocks Kushner Downgrade: “How Will He Fix the Middle East Now?!”" by Laura Bradley: "As Stephen Colbert opened The Late Show Monday night, his audience cheered at the news that... Jared Kushner had lost his top-secret security clearance... Colbert feigned dismay at his audience’s reaction. “What is wrong with you people?!” he scolded. “How will he fix the Middle East now?! He was so close to starting!” ... Trevor Noah pointed out on The Daily Show, “Kushner will have to learn about the nation’s most sensitive secrets just like the rest of us—wait for Trump to tweet them out.”" [VanityFair]

"Josh Raffel leaving White House" by Jonathan Swan: “Raffel has been telling friends and colleagues including Jared and Ivanka over the past two months of his plans. He has told them he has to deal with family obligations back in New York and will return to the private sector Raffel’s final day will be sometime over the next two months.” - See statements by Ivanka Trump, Jason Greenblatt, and Gary Cohn [Axios

WHY IT MATTERS: “Raffel had become a point person internally for some of the most sensitive matters, as well as the Middle East peace process. He functions as a spokesman for assistant to the president Ivanka Trump and Kushner but his portfolio is far more expansive, including foreign and domestic policies and day-to-day crisis management The announcement of Raffel's exit... is likely to prompt speculation about Kushner's status within the White House.” [WashPost

-- "The news that Jared Kushner had lost his high-level security clearance, on Tuesday... is precisely the sort of story that Josh Raffel knew how to spin." [VanityFair]

2020 WATCH -- "Trump’s 2020 Campaign Announcement Had a Very Trumpian Rollout" by Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman: "Another part of Mr. Trump’s announcement — that Brad Parscale, his 2016 campaign digital director, would be elevated to campaign manager — signaled a more complicated political maneuver on behalf of the president’s family, and specifically Jared Kushner... Mr. Kushner was close to Mr. Parscale during the 2016 campaign, and putting him in an expanded role was widely seen as a power play by the president’s son-in-law. It was first breathlessly reported by the Drudge Report... Matt Drudge, the website’s proprietor, is in frequent contact with Mr. Kushner." [NYTimes

TRANSITION -- On the first day in his new role as campaign manager, Brad Parscale announced the appointment of Michael Glassner as the Chief Operating Officer of the 2020 campaign. Glassner previously served as the Executive Director of the campaign committee since early 2017 and had several roles in the 2016 campaign. Glassner also previously worked at AIPAC as the group's Southwest Regional Political Director. 

HEARD YESTERDAY -- "Starbucks founder says he's not running for president" by Dan Primack: "Starbucks founder and executive chairman Howard Schultz this morning batted down speculation that he plans to run for president, in an interview on Fox Business Network... FBN's Maria Bartiromo: Are you going to run for president in 2020, Howard? Schultz: “No I’m not – here we are sitting at Starbucks because of my day job as executive chairman on the heels of opening the most successful Starbucks store in our history in China, now we’re opening reserve stores. I’m trying to do everything I can to benefit our shareholders as executive chairman and I think as a private citizen..." [Axios]

REPORT -- U.S. team coming to Israel next week to begin embassy movement plans: "The delegation is expected to address all the legal barriers of the process, as well as to tour the area of the proposed embassy... In addition, Israel’s Hadashot News reported that the Americans asked the Jerusalem municipality for a larger area in the capital rather than the proposed ‘Diplomat’ hotel, but the municipality explained that there are no such land reserves." [JerusalemOnline; Mako]  Nikki Haley praises Honduras for supporting Jerusalem embassy move [ToI]

Abe Foxman, who suggested the gradual relocation of the embassy back in 2016, tells us “Whether Trump took my advice or not, the gradual approach makes sense. The world and moderate Arab countries will gradually accommodate. It also shows that President Trump is serious in seeking progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

"Trump peace plan could recognize Palestinian state – report" by Khaled Abu Toameh: "The Trump administration’s plan for peace... may include US and international recognition of a Palestinian state and acceptance of East Jerusalem as its capital, the London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported... The plan... calls for placing the Old City of Jerusalem under “international protection.” The report quoted “knowledgeable Arab diplomatic sources” in Paris as saying that the US is planning to present its plan in the framework of an international conference that would be held in one of the Arab capitals, most likely Cairo, with Israelis in attendance." [ToI]

INTERVIEW -- “Israel’s justice minister Ayelet Shaked explains why Trump is good for her West Bank plan” by Ruth Eglash: “Today, Israeli sovereignty in Area C and a confederation in area A and B with Jordan looks like a bizarre option to the international community, but this is something we will continue to talk about and explain. I believe that in three years from now, the international community will understand this is the right solution." Q: Does this idea look even more possible now that President Trump is in the White House? A: "Of course. With the Obama administration, this issue was more difficult. The White House is [now] more open, and I think Trump is a very brave president. He thinks outside the box and is not tied to the State Department’s old paradigms.” [WashPost

THE CONVO AROUND TOWN -- “What is AIPAC’s role in the age of Trump?” by Ron Kampeas: "Trump, on the one hand, has delivered on much of AIPAC’s agenda... At the same time, much of the Jewish community reviles Trump for his perceived bigotries and postures on a range of issues... His approval ratings among Jewish voters remain bargain-basement low — 28 percent according to Gallup in January. That was after Trump had announced the embassy move and made clear his positions on the other issues that AIPAC favors. AIPAC also has always claimed to speak for the American Jewish community on matters relating to Israel. But can the center hold when its delegates are so deeply divided — sometimes against themselves?"

“It’s a real delicate balance,” said Neal Sher, who helmed AIPAC as executive director for a period in the mid-1990s before Howard Kohr assumed the post he still holds “The conference this year, they’re going to be going nuts, it’s going to be like Trump at CPAC,” Sher said “That’s going to be a problem when you look at Jewish demographics,” he said “The impact of Jews in politics is mostly in campaign contributions,” said Steve Rosen, a former AIPAC foreign policy chief “If the future of AIPAC depends on becoming an organization of donors, that means looking to the Orthodox over time, who also happen to be more conservative politically.” [JTA]

FLASHBACK -- RELEVANT TO TRUMP-BIBI ERA? From Connie Bruck's 2014 story in the New Yorker... "In 1999, Ehud Barak, also of the Labor Party, became Prime Minister, and, as Rabin had, he grew friendly with [President Bill] Clinton. “AIPAC flourishes when there is tension between Israel and the U.S., because then they have a role to play,” Gadi Baltiansky, who was Barak’s press spokesman, told me. “But the relations between Rabin and Clinton, and then Barak and Clinton, were so good that AIPAC was not needed. Barak gave them courtesy meetings. He just didn’t see them as real players.” [NewYorker]

ON THE HILL -- Following a trip to Israel and the Middle East last week, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chris Coons (D-DE) called yesterday for an increase in defense aid to Israel above the $38 billion limit in the 10-year MOU (memorandum of understanding), citing recent tension and Iran's action in Syria. In a gaggle with reporters, Graham argued that provisions in the agreement phasing out an arrangement in which Israel could spend U.S. funds on its own defense industry and the provision of just $500 million in missile defense funding were “short-sighted.”

During the 2016 election, Ambassador David Friedman -- then serving as an advisor to the Trump campaign -- told Jewish Insider that the United States “will not be limited in its support for Israel by the terms of the MOU.” 

“Lindsey Graham Warns Iran Is Testing Trump and Israel Is Preparing for War” by Steven Dennis and Roxana Tiron: “Southern Lebanon is where the next war is coming... They’ve told us in no uncertain terms that if this threat continues -- they keep making rockets that can hit the airport and do a lot of damage to the state of Israel -- they are going to have to go in,” Graham said... "They (Iran and Hezbollah) are testing Trump,” Graham said... Graham said the major request from Israel in a meeting with that country’s leaders was “ammunition, ammunition, ammunition” and for diplomatic support if Israel strikes civilian targets in Lebanon where it believes Hezbollah is located.” [Bloomberg]

Sen. Coons: “It was abundantly clear in our briefings [in Israel] in their view that the administration is not doing enough to push back on Iran, both specifically in Syria and in the region.” [WashExaminer

"New satellite photos show Iran establishing another base in Syria" by Jennifer Griffin: "Exclusive satellite images from ImageSat International obtained by Fox News show what is believed to be the new Iranian base, eight miles northwest of Damascus, operated by the Quds Force." [FoxNews]  Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman casts doubt on ‘new’ Iranian base in Syria [ToI]

"Top U.S. General: Iranian Regional Meddling Has Increased Since Nuclear Deal" by Jenna Lifhits: “What it took 20 years for Iran to do in Lebanon with the Lebanese Hezbollah, they’re attempting to do in about five years with the Houthis in Yemen,” General Joseph Votel told lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee... Asked whether Iran has reduced, maintained, or enhanced its investment in their proxy forces since the birth of the nuclear deal, Votel said, “I would characterize it as an enhanced investment in their proxies and partners.” [WeeklyStandard]

"The Rise of the World’s New Emperors—with America’s Help" by Robin Wright: "This weekend, China announced it is abolishing term limits, enabling President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely. Next month, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will compete in farcical Presidential elections without meaningful opponents because they have been arrested, banished, or intimidated into silence. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has consolidated power... After seven years of war, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has reclaimed physical control over most of his country and reëstablished his draconian political dominance... The United States shares a big chunk of the blame, according to career diplomats as well as both Republicans and Democrats who have helped craft American foreign policy for decades." [NewYorker]

David Horovitz writes “The weakening of Israeli democracy: Israel has always rightly touted its unique place as the Middle East’s only democracy The nature of the suspicions against the prime minister and his alleged efforts to cement himself in power, the intervention in and (partly self-)compromising of our media, the sullying of our legislature, the efforts to weaken our already overstretched and troubled police force, and the discrediting of our judiciary, including by its own hand — these all suggest that the weakening process is well underway.” [ToI

2018 WATCH -- "Sheldon Adelson, wife to donate millions to GOP hopefuls" by Brian Schwartz: "Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, are on the verge of spending millions of dollars on Republican causes for the upcoming elections... "They'll be engaged,” a source close to the Adelson’s said. “They just haven't gotten engaged yet this cycle. It's going to be like any other cycle. This year we are just waiting to see where the needs will be.”" [FoxBusiness]

"Pritzker’s $171,000-a-Day Campaign Costs Him in Illinois Race" by John McCormick: "In his run for Illinois governor, billionaire J.B. Pritzker is investing an average of about $171,000 a day from his fortune to try to win a job that pays $177,412 a year and comes with major headaches... Rivals are pointing to his fortune to suggest the Hyatt hotel heir is out of touch with average voters. One opponent, State Senator Daniel Biss, has created an online calculator that pictures Pritzker in a tuxedo and asks visitors to enter their salary to see how quickly his team would spend that amount." [Bloomberg]

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: After a London Cab Ride, Comcast’s Brian Roberts Set His Sights on Sky [WSJ Dina Powell, a Former Trump Adviser, Returns to Goldman Sachs [Axios] Israel's Bezeq names Yaakov Paz as acting CEO during police probe [Reuters] Barry Sternlicht's Starwood Capital raises $290M in Tel Aviv [RealDeal]  Chemi Peres on the growing technology sector in Israel [FoxBusiness]  With conspiracy-peddling sites under the microscope, Adam Singolda's Taboola yanks its content ads off Infowars [Digiday]  Amazon is buying Jamie Siminoff's Ring, a business that was once rejected on 'Shark Tank' [CNBC]

STARTUP NATION -- "Framingham cybersecurity startup with Israeli roots raises $18M" by Kelly O'Brien: "CyberX, a security company that focuses on protecting industrial networks, has raised an $18 million Series B round led by Silicon Valley-based Norwest Venture Partners. CyberX is one of many cybersecurity companies in the Boston area with Israeli roots. Omer Schneider and Nir Giller, two former members of the Israeli intelligence forces founded the company in 2013." [Bizjournals]

“Meet the Mueller Risk Index, Wall Street's newest fear gauge” by Matt Egan: “GeoQuant, a New York start-up that analyzes political risk in real time, launched a first-of-its kind gauge on Tuesday to measure the risk to the Trump administration from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe Currently, the Mueller Risk Index is sitting at its highest level since GeoQuant began tracking on March 2 "It's been creeping up," said Mark Rosenberg, a political economist who co-founded and leads GeoQuant GeoQuant is backed by $4 million of seed funding from two venture capital firms: Israel-based Aleph Venture Capital and XL Innovate, a Silicon Valley fund that invests in products for insurers.” [CNNMoney; Bloomberg

"The Parkland Teens Fighting For Gun Control Have The Backing Of These Huge Organizing Groups" by Mary Ann Georgantopoulos and Brianna Sacks: "Everytown for Gun Safety — bankrolled mostly by Michael Bloomberg — recently secured a $1 million donation from entrepreneur and philanthropist Eli Broad." [Buzzfeed]

Shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz had swastikas on ammunition magazines: "Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz had swastikas ammunition magazines he brought into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, a federal law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the investigation told CBS News... Cruz had 180 rounds of ammunition left." [CBSNews]

Addressing new report of dramatic rise in anti-Semitism, ADL's Jonathan Greenblatt tells Jewish Insider's Jacob Kornbluh: "It's hard to draw distinct parallels between the current state of our political discourse and prior moments in recent history. I've only been here for a couple of years, but my veteran staff tell us they've never really seen a time like this, ever. That being said, it is worth noting that for more than 20 years anti-Semitic incidents have basically been on the decline. Suddenly they start to spike in the last two years. That is what the data tells us... Public figures have a responsibility to say when there are acts of hate committed. Whether it's against the Jewish community or other communities for that matter. Whether it is the PTA president, or a university president, or a company president, or the president of the United States, people in positions of authority have an obligation to use that authority to represent our shared values of diversity and respect and tolerance." 

TALK OF OUR NATION: “Women in Jewish fundraising say harassment is pervasive” by Debra Nussbaum Cohen: “A closed Facebook group urging women to share their experiences is called #GamAni, the Hebrew translation of #MeToo. It currently has 590 members Several people interviewed noted that unlike the Hollywood and media scandals, the accusers in the nonprofit world have neither the fame nor the professional security to put their names forward. Rather than “out” accused sexual abusers, a growing number of female professional leaders and funders are taking a different tack: directing time and money to changing organizational culture. A preliminary group of 30 funders, organization heads and abuse experts met in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 29. Lisa Eisen, vice president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, organized the group. ” [JTA]

SPORTS BLINK: "Maccabees soaking up spotlight after earning 1st NCAA berth" by Zach Braziller: "[Yeshiva's] Coach Elliot Steinmetz’s phone hasn’t stopped buzzing since. Alums from decades ago have reached out to him. Athletic director Joe Bednarsh has heard from people in Thailand, South Africa, Argentina, Israel, and England. Television stations have come by campus for stories. Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked the Maccabees to stop by City Hall on Wednesday. Fans have attended practices like they’re playoff games... “We do it because we love the sport, we love playing and we love playing for each other,” said [Simcha] Halpert." [NYPost]

PIC OF THE DAY -- Actor Ben Platt, dressed up as an employee at Russ and Daughter in New York, enjoys a slice of lox: "When you get fired for eating the merchandise." [Pic]

BIRTHDAYS: Counsel in the NYC office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a former New York State Assemblyman (1957-1962) and New York state judge (1970-1993), Bentley Kassal turns 101... Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1972, Professor of Science at Brown University since 1958, Leon Cooper turns 88... Professor emeritus of Mathematics at the University of California, San Diego, Linda Preiss Rothschild turns 73... Screen, stage and televison actress and singer, Ilene Susan Graff turns 69... Former State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism during the Obama administration, Ira Niles Forman turns 66... NYTimes op-ed columnist and 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, author of more than 20 books, Paul Krugman turns 65... Professor of medicine and chairman of the Center for Human Nutrition and Obesity and Gerontology at Washington University in St. Louis, and brother of ZOA president Morton Klein, Samuel Klein, MD turns 65... Stand-up comedian, actor and voice actor, Gilbert Gottfried turns 63... Self-described as "America's most notorious lobbyist," at the center of an investigation that led to 21 convictions, Jack Abramoff turns 59... Editor-in-chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Andrew Silow-Carroll turns 57... Jerusalem-born businessman and philanthropist, worked as a NYC taxi driver after completing his IDF service, started and sold several companies in the automotive field, Mordechai (Moti) Kahana turns 50... Deputy director general for international affairs of all local governments in Israel, she formerly served as advisor for Shimon Peres, Ruth Wasserman Lande turns 42... Mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey, first elected in 2013 and re-elected in 2017, Steven Fulop turns 41... Commercial and constitutional litigator in the Los Angeles office of Latham & Watkins, he is vice chair of the LA branch of the American Constitution Society, Adam Sieff turns 29... Risk assurance associate in the Boston office of PwC, Li-dor David turns 28 (h/ts Playbook)... Executive Director of the Montreal chapter of ORT, Emmanuel Kalles... Samantha Friedman...

FEB 29TH BDAYS: President of the Global Markets Institute at Goldman Sachs where she was the long-time Chief Investment Strategist, Board Chair at Jewish Theological Seminary (2009-2015), Abby Joseph Cohen turns 66... Member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Paul D. Rosenthal turns 58... Former US Supreme Court law clerk and now UCLA law professor, Eugene Volokh turns 50...

THURSDAY BDAYS: Hollywood executive, CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, Chairman of Dick Clark Productions, and a co-owner of both the LA Dodgers and Golden State Warriors, Peter Guber turns 76... Film and television actor, best known for his role as James T. West in the 1965-69 television series "The Wild Wild West," Robert Conrad (born Conrad Robert Falk) turns 83... Painter, sculptor, filmmaker and author, his illustrations have appeared over 500 times on the covers of various national publications including Time and Newsweek, Robert Grossman turns 78... Real estate developer, was part owner of MLB's Kansas City Royals (1983-1991) and three sports franchises in Memphis, Tulane's basketball arena is named in his honor, Avron B. Fogelman turns 78... Professor emeritus of Jewish Studies at Los Angeles Valley College and the editor of "Shofar," a peer-reviewed academic journal of Jewish Studies, Zev Garber turns 77... Member of the Knesset for the Likud party, he is a son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Ze'ev Binyamin ("Benny") Begin turns 75... Librarian at the Anti-Defamation League's NYC HQ, Marianne Benjamin turns 74... Israeli historian, author and journalist, Tom Segev turns 73... Cantor at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, Congregation Beth Tikvah, Sam Weiss turns 68... Adam E. Beren turns 57... Director of Major Gifts at Baltimore's Kennedy Krieger Institute, Dara Schapiro Schnee turns 47... Chief Strategy Officer for Bend the Arc, a Jewish Partnership for Justice, Jonathan Lipman turns 41... Member of the US national soccer team since 2004, played in England for 14 years and in 2017 joined Major League Soccer's Orlando City, Jonathan Spector turns 32... VP of Special Projects at ASAPP, a NYC-based software technology company, Joshua Lachter turns 31... Harvard Law School student who was on the Surrogates and Strategy team in the Hillary Clinton campaign, Hannah Klain turns 27... Kevin Golden...