Jewish Insider's Daily Kickoff: March 15, 2018

What's holding up the Taylor Force Act in Congress | Bolton joining the Trump admin? | The Qatar ransom that reshaped the Middle East

Richard Stanton

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HEARD TODAY AT JEWISH FUNDERS IN TEL AVIV -- Israeli bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari on why there's still war in the Middle East but not in Silicon Valley: “Much of the world has shifted from valuing materials to valuing knowledge and information. The economy in the Middle East is still an old fashioned one based on material assets like oil and gas. And in the Middle East, it still makes sense, just from an economic perspective, to wage war because you can gain control of the main economic assets to war. It makes sense to try and conquer an oil field. Whereas it doesn’t make any economic sense to try and conquer, for example, Silicon Valley. You will not gain anything by invading Silicon Valley because there are no silicon mines in the Silicon Valley.” 

DEEP DIVE: “How a Ransom for Royal Falconers Reshaped the Middle East: Qatar went to extreme lengths to secure the release of its hunters — including a deadly population transfer in Syria” by Robert Worth: “The story of what happened... entails a ransom deal of staggering size and complexity in which the Qataris paid vast sums to terrorists on both sides of the Middle East’s sectarian divide, fueling the region’s spiraling civil wars. The cost to Qatar wound up far exceeding $360 million, but ultimately cash was less important than the deal’s political dimension. In order to retrieve its hostages, Qatar was made to negotiate a tightly choreographed population exchange in Syria, using the rebel militias it finances to forcibly uproot every resident of four strategically located towns. The transfers advanced Tehran’s larger goal of transforming Syria — along with Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen — into satellite states that will enshrine a dominant Iranian role across the region. The deal was a blow for the Trump administration’s goal of pushing back against Iranian aggression"

“As the Arab Spring uprisings broke out in 2011, Qatar bankrolled the Muslim Brotherhood across the region, seeing it as a sympathetic force for Sunni populism in an increasingly democratic era. That infuriated the Saudis and Emiratis, who — though Sunni, like the Brotherhood — consider the group a threat to their own autocratic model. Qatar made another risky bet by financing Sunni rebel factions in Syria (including the local branch of Al Qaeda), hoping they would win the civil war and show gratitude to their sponsors. Instead, the Syrian war dragged on, the rebels grew more extreme and Qatar was tainted by its association with terrorist groups. In the end, Qatar managed to make enemies on both sides of the worsening sectarian divide.” [NYTimesMag]

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on CBS This Morning: The next leader of Saudi Arabia says his country would quickly obtain a nuclear bomb if arch rival Iran successfully develops its own nuclear weapon. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made the statement to "CBS This Morning" co-host Norah O'Donnell  

O'Donnell: I've seen that you called the Ayatollah Khamenei, "the new Hitler" of the Middle East Why? MBS: “Because he wants to expand. He wants to create his own project in the Middle East very much like Hitler who wanted to expand at the time. Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realize how dangerous Hitler was until what happened, happened. I don't want to see the same events happening in the Middle East.”

O'Donnell: Does Saudi Arabia need nuclear weapons to counter Iran? MBS: “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.” [CBSNews]

“Tillerson’s dismissal may hasten demise of Iran nuclear deal” by Matt Lee: “U.S. officials said American positions have hardened over the past several weeks, notably on Iranian ballistic missile testing and the deal’s provisions that allow Iran to gradually resume advanced atomic work The U.S. focus turned to medium-range missiles after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Trump in Washington earlier this month.” [AP]

After Axing Tillerson, Trump Eyes Sessions, McMaster -- by Gabriel Sherman: “Sources said Trump fired Tillerson partly because Tillerson opposed Trump’s oft-stated desire to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal And three sources told me that the next official likely to go is National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who had advocated for remaining in the deal. Last Tuesday, Trump met with John Bolton in the Oval Office Bolton recalled that Trump said he wanted him to join the administration: “We need you in here, John.” Bolton responded that there were only two jobs he’d consider: Secretary of State and National Security Adviser. Trump said, “O.K, I’ll call you really soon.” Sources added that Trump spent much of the time with Bolton fuming that McMaster was speaking privately with Barack Obama’s former national security adviser Susan Rice. “Trump kept saying, ‘Can you believe it? To Susan Rice? Can you believe it?’” [VanityFair

“Trump Wants to Stock White House Team With Fox News Stars, Loyalists, ‘Killers’” by Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng: “While Bolton’s hyper-interventionist views clash with some of the president’s skepticism of post-9/11 invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, he has also advised Trump on issues such as the Iran nuclear deal. Bolton also happens to be a regular on Fox News. And the president is said to enjoy his commentary.” [DailyBeast]

JAVANKA'S FUTURE -- by Gabriel Sherman: “Then there is the question of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s futures But Javanka are digging in, sources said. “They’ve damaged us so much already. What else can they say about us?” Kushner recently said, according to a person who spoke with him. “And if we go back to New York, they’ll keep attacking. So what do we have to lose?” Sources said that if Kelly is forced out, Jared and Ivanka will fight to stay on.” [VanityFair

"Trump administration dials back Shulkin firing rumors — for now" by Lorraine Woellert and Arthur Allen: "President Donald Trump may be itching to fire him, but Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has the support of GOP lawmakers and veterans, and the lack of a preferred successor may keep him at the agency’s helm at least for now." [Politico]

THE LATEST WITH THE TAYLOR FORCE ACT -- Sander Gerber, known as 'the hedge fund manager behind the Taylor Force Act,' and Stuart Force, the father of Taylor Force, discussed the roadblocks that may be holding back the passage of the Taylor Force Act in Congress during a panel moderated by JINSA’s Michael Makovsky at Lincoln Square Synagogue in NYC: “The hold up is over two things. One thing is floor time in the U.S. Senate. Senator [Mitch] McConnell must allocate the floor time for a stand alone vote. Now, under Senate rules, one Senator like Dianne Feinstein or Patrick Leahy can hold up a whole week of floor time through various procedural aspects that consumes floor time, and McConnell doesn't want to consume floor time, he wants to preserve floor time."

"Roadblock number two is [Rep.] Eliot Engel’s office insisted on this exemption for water treatment totaling $37M. Another exemption is for vaccinations, which is $500,000. Senate Republicans, particularly Lindsey Graham, who I spoke to two nights ago, said, ‘I'm not agreeing to that. No more exemptions.’ If Senate Republicans would agree to the additional Engel exclusions, it would pass the full Senate. However, two Senate committees have already passed versions without those exclusions. We both think that really the Democrats are bluffing that when it comes to filibustering, fighting terror through saving US taxpayer money, who’s going to do that? So it's like a false threat.” [Pic

ANALYSIS: "Does the Palestinian Authority pay $350 million a year to ‘terrorists and their families’?" by Glenn Kessler: "Here are the numbers on the payments, according to data received from the PLO and PA budget documents... About 13,000 Palestinian men and women are beneficiaries of the prisoner payments, which totaled about $160 million in 2017, or an average $12,307 per person... About 33,700 families (19,700 in the Palestinian territories) shared in about $183 million in martyr payments, or $5,430 per family... One can broadly assume that anyone serving a life sentence — currently 526 prisoners... was convicted of terrorism. Separately, 480 are serving sentences above 20 years. Even if one assumes that all are receiving payments at the 25-year imprisonment rate, that adds up to $36 million. Add the extra $10 million going to former members of the security forces, not in the prison budget, and it’s about $50 million. One can certainly come up with other metrics and definitions to adjust these figures upward, to above $100 million or higher. But it is hard to use a broad brush and claim all $350 million goes to reward terrorism." [WashPost]

UN seeks $540 million for Palestinian aid, mostly for Gaza: "The United Nations says about $540 million is needed for humanitarian relief in the Palestinian territories in 2018. Jamie McGoldrick, the top U.N. humanitarian coordinator, said Wednesday that 75 percent of that sum is for Gaza, where "a man-made tragedy is unfolding daily." Half the sum is to support emergency projects by UNRWA, the main U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, after Washington slashed its funding this year. The rest is to fund food, water, health, sanitation, shelter and education projects." [AP

ON THE HILL -- Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) joined House Democrats, Nita Lowey (D-NY), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ted Deutch (D-FL), and Marc Veasey (D-TX) in blasting the Trump administration for silence on Putin’s anti-Semitic remark. “Now, as Putin blames Jews for this attack, the White House’s silence also betrays our country’s long tradition as a leader in the struggle against anti-Semitism,” the Reps. said in a joint statement. “We urge President Trump to condemn Putin’s remarks in the strongest of terms and affirm that the United States will not stand for anti-Semitism, domestically or abroad. To head this response, the Administration must also prioritize the appointment of the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.”

-- Bipartisan criticism -- by Stewart Ain: “We urge the president to condemn Putin for this disgraceful anti-Semitic comment,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. “Since President Trump has been fixated on this issue, we are surprised and disappointed that he has not criticized Putin.” Ron Klein, chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said in a statement “We demand the White House make it clear to Putin and the Russian government that such bigotry is abhorrent to the United States and its government.” [JewishWeek

STATESIDE -- Missouri Senate talks boycott on companies boycotting Israel: "Missouri lawmakers are considering a government boycott of companies that boycott Israel, but the proposal is meeting roadblocks. Debate on the bill to stop public contracts with those businesses ground to a halt Tuesday following pushback from Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf, who said doing so would limit protest rights. Schaaf proposed expanding the bill to cover companies that boycott any country, not just Israel." [AP]

"Tennessee legislators decline to pass resolution denouncing neo-Nazism" by Natalie Allison: "A House committee declined to pass a resolution that stated Tennessee denounces white nationalism and neo-Nazism. The sponsor, Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, didn't receive a second motion to proceed with discussing the resolution in the House State Government Subcommittee on Wednesday... The House Joint Resolution, filed in the Tennessee General Assembly just days after the deadly August “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., stated that white nationalist and neo-Nazi ideology “remain very real threats to social and racial progress."" [Tennessean]

2018 WATCH: "Republicans are in denial on their coming shellacking" by John Podhoretz: "The president may have gotten some Republicans to the polls, but he is depressing Republican enthusiasm overall and creating a counter-movement among Democrats who will drag themselves over broken glass to cast any vote that might be seen as a vote against him. The GOP is the fireworks factory. It’s blowing up." [NYPost]

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Trump’s China whisperer: How billionaire Stephen Schwarzman has sought to keep the president close to Beijing [WashPost]  WeWork to Offer Israeli Investors: Buy Bonds and Get Stock Options [Calcalist] J. B. Pritzker's secret offshore holdings revealed in Chicago duck boat land [ChicagoTribune]  Head of Israel's Biggest Venture Capital Fund Hired PI to Check on Women He Allegedly Harassed [Haaretz]  Ari Emanuel: "It is Imperative" That WME Supports Inclusion Rider [HollywoodReporter]

"How Allan Fried Is Transforming the American Stock Exchange Building" by Rebecca Baird-Remba: "While he was working on 75 West Street (now known as Post Towers), Fried happened to meet billionaire hedge fund pioneer Michael Steinhardt. Steinhardt, a now 77-year-old philanthropist who contributes millions to Jewish causes and co-founded Birthright Israel, is famous for trying to play shadchan (“matchmaker” in Yiddish) to young Jewish couples... Naturally, when Fried approached the investor one night in 2001, Steinhardt tried to pair him off with a woman."

"The match didn’t take, but nine years later, in 2010, Fried and Steinhardt made a marriage of their own and founded GHC Development. They made their first big purchase in February 2011, shelling out $65 million for the American Stock Exchange building at 86 Trinity Place and a neighboring development site at 125 Greenwich Street. Real estate watchers were wary because the Downtown development boom—led by Brookfield Place and the reconstruction of the World Trade Center—hadn’t yet materialized." [CommercialObserver]

"Mandel Family's $1 Billion Foundation to Sell Trophy Artworks" by Katya Kazakina: "Morton Mandel and his older brothers Jack and Joe had built a thriving auto parts business, and the sons of immigrant Jewish parents were feeling flush when they decided to start their charitable foundation in 1953. “I had $7,000 in the bank that I didn’t need,” Mandel, 96, the youngest and last surviving member of the trio, said in a Skype interview. “My brothers and I each had a new car, each had a bank account with money sitting there and no unpaid bills.” The Mandel foundation, which today has about $1 billion of assets, will get a fresh cash infusion: proceeds from the sale of paintings and sculptures by some of the best-known postwar artists, including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Mark Rothko." [Bloomberg]

HEARD THE OTHER DAY -- Randi Zuckerberg recalled the time she sang 'Yerushalayim shel Zahav' to PM Benjamin Netanyahu and the late Shimon Peres in Davos: "Someone came up to me and said, 'We are looking for someone to sing and we heard you are a cantor.' -- I was like, okay, I need to find who that person is because that's false news. But that's okay -- And they asked if I would want to sing. It was Shimon Peres and Bibi, who were both there at the dinner, and it was just this incredible thing. I got to sing Yerushalayim shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold), and to have the opportunity, you know, a young Jewish woman to sing a song like that in front of people who had dedicated their lives to making Israel a reality, it was just an incredible moving spirit. I remember I called my mom and I cried. It was really special." [Video]

PROFILE -- "The Arabic-Speaker Who Might One Day Lead Israel" by Gwen Ackerman: "With [Netanyahu's] future looking shakier than ever, the country’s political class has begun to quietly seek a successor. [Israeli Minister of Finance Moshe] Kahlon is among a handful of names that rises to the top of the list. “I don’t dream, I’m realistic,” he says in his Tel Aviv... “Being prime minister is difficult and carries a lot of responsibility,” says Kahlon... “But I see myself as capable of any job.” The hardest part of leading Israel, of course, is dealing with the Palestinians, and in that Kahlon’s heritage—he grew up speaking Arabic and Hebrew at home—gives him an advantage... Sam Bahour, an adviser at Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka, says Palestinians shouldn’t put a lot of hope in Kahlon as his views don’t differ much from the mainstream of conservative Israeli thought." [Bloomberg]

RISING STAR: "A Fitness Feminist for the Middle East" by Lisa Rabasca Roepe: "As the director of sales and development for electroCore, a medical device company in New Jersey, Jillian Bridgette Cohen traveled often to Malaysia and Jordan. There she noticed women struggling with their weight — in fact, 65 percent of women in the Middle East are either overweight or obese — but unlike women in the U.S., they have very limited access to nutrition and fitness information. “Working out is really difficult for them because of Sharia law,” Cohen says... In 2015, when Cohen founded Virtual Health Partners, an on-demand virtual platform offering live classes on nutrition, fitness and behavior modification, she wanted to make the service available to women living in Middle Eastern countries too." [Ozy]

SCENE LAST NIGHT IN TEL AVIV -- The Marcus Foundation and Amir Elstein hosted a dinner for the Israel Democracy Institute celebrating Israel's 70th Independence Day. The dinner, held at Israel's Independence Hall on Rothschild Boulevard, featured remarks from Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Israeli philosopher Moshe Halbertal, along with a special musical performance from Israeli artist Idan Raichel. [Pic]

-- SPOTTED: Chana Marcus, Karen Davidson, Bill Weidman, Ralph Gerson, Darin McKeever, Kari Alterman, Tina Price, Andrés Spokoiny, Yohanan Plesner, Deena Pulitzer, Amitai Raziel, Jay Moses, Louis Mayberg, Manette Mayberg, Pamela Claman, Abba Claman, Diane Troderman, Susan Silverman, Yosef Abramowitz, Wendy Fisher, Dorothy Tananbaum, Linda Mirels, Betty Grinstein. 

Elsewhere in Tel Aviv, more than 70 ambassadors and senior diplomats from 40 countries took part in a mock Passover Seder hosted by the World Jewish Congress and The Israel Project. The ceremonial Passover meal – complete with a reading of the Haggadah, traditional foods such as matzah and charoseth, and a search for the ‘afikoman’ (found by the first secretary of the embassy Honduras) - was led by Israel’s former ambassador to Britain, Daniel Taub. The Seder was headed by World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer, TIP CEO Josh Block, and Israel’s Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant. [Pic; Video; Video]  

DESSERT -- "Israeli eatery in Philly sparkles at James Beard nominations" by Amy Spiro: "The restaurant, helmed by Israeli native Michael Solomonov, was nominated for two prizes, one for outstanding service, and the other for rising chef star of the year – for Camilla Cogswell... In the outstanding service category, Zahav will be competing against a classic Jewish deli – Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which has been around since 1982... The only kosher eatery to make this year’s semifinalist shortlist – Zak the Baker in Miami – didn’t make the nominations cut. The James Beard Awards have never honored a kosher establishment in their 28 years in existence." [JPost]

BIRTHDAYS: Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a.k.a. "Notorious RBG," turns 85... Theoretical chemist and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, professor emeritus at Harvard University and Director of the Biophysical Chemistry Laboratory in France, Martin Karplus turns 88... Physicist and winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics, inventor of the heterotransistor and an influential member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Zhores Alferov turns 88... Emmy Award and Tony Award-winning actor, active in film, television and on the stage, Judd Hirsch turns 83... Former federal prosecutor (1961-1966), then founder of Baer & McGoldrick (now Schulte, Roth & Zabel), movie producer, now vice-chair of Medici Arts LLC, Thomas H. Baer... UCLA professor, biochemist and biophysicist, David Eisenberg turns 79... First-ever New York City Public Advocate (1994-2001), winner of Democratic primaries for NYC Mayor (2001), the House (1980) and the Senate (1986) but lost each general election, author of 23 books, Mark J. Green turns 73... British billionaire and philanthropist, chairman of retail conglomerate Arcadia Group, Sir Philip Nigel Ross Green turns 66... Animator and director of The Simpsons, David Silverman turns 61... 

Los Angeles-based writer, director and producer, Andrea Blaugrund Nevins... Chief operations officer at Jewish Child & Family Services of Chicago, Wendy Platt Newberger turns 55... CEO and Executive Vice President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis since September 2013, Debra Barton Grant turns 49... Member of the Knesset for the Likud party since 2015, Amir Ohana turns 42... Retired MLB infielder, currently a special assistant to the Chicago Cubs GM Theo Epstein, Kevin Youkilis turns 39... Global business editor for Defense One, Marcus Weisgerber turns 36... Deputy Director of Government Relations, Advocacy and Community Engagement at the DC office of the Anti-Defamation League, Mindy Beth Reinstein turns 35... CEO and co-founder of Bandura Games, a collaboration of American, Israeli and Palestinian gamers, Stanford University graduate, Justin Hefter turns 29... Business reporter at The Jerusalem Post, Max Schindler turns 26... and Max's twin sister, Rachel Schindler, who works in the media partnerships group at Facebook, also turns 26 (h/t Playbook)... Shirley Hoffner... Sam Treynor... Robert Rosner... Ze'ev Bar-El...