Jewish Insider's Daily Kickoff: May 29, 2018

House Dems accuse Trump administration of 'effort to politicize' support for Israel | Did Trump ask Bibi to go on Harvey Levin's show?

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A Gaza City photo shows smoke billowing in the background following an Israeli air strike on the Palestinian enclave, May 29, 2018.
A Gaza City photo shows smoke billowing in the background following an Israeli air strike on the Palestinian enclave, May 29, 2018.Credit: THOMAS COEX/AFP

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JI EXCLUSIVE -- Dems accuse Trump administration of 'dangerous effort to politicize’ support for Israel -- by Jacob Kornbluh: In a letter sent to U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Monday, and obtained by Jewish Insider, Democratic members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- Reps. Eliot Engel, Ted Deutch, Brad Sherman, Albio Sires, Brad Schneider and Tom Suozzi -- criticized the White House for not inviting any Democratic members to the opening ceremony of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem earlier this month and cited “a dangerous effort to politicize the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

During a recent interview with News 10’s Barak Ravid, and published by Axios last week, Friedman insisted that the snub was not intended. “We didn’t specifically invite anyone,” Friedman claimed. However, according to these Democratic House members, “on many previous occasions of importance to the U.S. and Israel such as funerals or other national ceremonies, the White House has organized bipartisan participation of members of Congress. Unfortunately, this was the not the path taken by the Administration for the embassy dedication in Jerusalem.”Read the full letter here [JewishInsider]

2018 WATCH -- "How Israel emerged as an issue in N.J.'s hottest congressional races" by Jonathan Salant: "President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal has given embattled New Jersey House Republicans another way to try to stave off a Democratic wave this fall. Both Reps. Tom MacArthur and Leonard Lance quickly embraced Trump's decision, part of their effort to attract pro-Israel voters who might otherwise go elsewhere in a state where a recent Monmouth University Poll gave Trump a 35 percent job approval rating." [NJAdvance]

“Could Charles Koch become the George Soros of the right?” by Eric Cortellessa: “[Ron] Klein, a former Florida congressman, insisted that he doesn’t want to undermine bipartisan support for the Jewish state. But at the same time, his group [the Jewish Democratic Council of America] plans to assail GOP figures who associate with the Koch brothers, pinpointing their funding efforts that discredit US-Israel ties... Others think the association is less significant... “A lot of Republicans get donations from Koch brothers right now and the Republican Party is still fervently pro-Israel,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington." [ToI]

2020 WATCH -- “Three Younger Veterans Stake a Generational Claim on the Democratic Party” by Michael Tackett: “The assembled at the Country Lane Lodge looked a lot like the typical Iowa voter: old and white. But the Democrats of Dallas County who had gathered for their spring fund-raiser were brought to their feet by a lean man from Missouri dressed in standard-issue millennial garb The speaker, Jason Kander, 37, talked about his experience volunteering for deployment in Afghanistan and his new job leading Let America Vote What hasn’t he done? Win a significant office... “We are in open mic night,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama. “We are not even into auditions yet. I think this is the time where people are just trying out their material.”

"Mr. Kander, along with Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., are among a group of younger Democrats — all military veterans — who are making a generational claim on a party that many see as top-heavy with leaders and lawmakers in their late 60s and 70s Mr. Kander’s travels have taken him to dozens of states, and he now delivers a polished version of a stump speech, complete with applause-ready lines.” [NYTimes

PODCAST PLAYBACK -- South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg on the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Passport podcast with Seffi Kogen discussing a recent visit to Israel: "One of the first things you realize when you get on the ground is that this is not a left versus right issue, at least it shouldn't be... I think, actually, the Republican complex of attitudes on Israel is complicated too because the evangelical embrace of the Israeli Right is maybe not the same thing as an authentic commitment to the well being of the Israeli people or the Jewish people. I don't know that either party has got it right. I know that the current administration is certainly aligning itself with the Israeli Right and making some sweeping gestures that may well move public opinion to some extent, but I'm not so sure that they're serious or committed to peace... If we begin to look like our partisan politics, be aligned with sides in the Middle East, that's really bad, not only, I think, for all concerned in the region, but also for any credibility we would have as an honest broker." [SoundCloud]

ON THE GROUND -- "Gaza Militants Fire Barrage of Mortars Into Israel" by Isabel Kershner: "The barrage was the heaviest to be fired out of the Palestinian coastal territory since the 50-day war in the summer of 2014, although Iron Dome antimissile system intercepted most of the projectiles on Tuesda... Speaking at a conference in northern Israel at midday on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel held Hamas responsible for the mortar attacks and that the military would respond “forcefully.” ... One of the mortar shells fired around 7 a.m. crashed into the yard of a kindergarten in an Israeli border community shortly before the children were to arrive." [NYTimes

"Palestinian leader leaves hospital after weeklong stay" by Mohammed Daraghmeh: "Wearing a dark suit and speaking in a steady voice, Abbas said he would quickly return to work... But he hinted that the heavy work load and stress of the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had affected his health. “If the Jerusalem issue put me in the hospital, I want to leave while Jerusalem is our capital,” he told reporters." [AP]

"U.S. Paid Netanyahu Confidant's Firm $150k While Embassy Was Being Moved to Jerusalem" by Noa Landau and Chaim Levinson: "The U.S. government paid $150,000 to a law firm closely connected to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, E.S. Shimron, I. Molho, Persky& Co, during the period in which the U.S. Embassy in Israel was moved from Tel Aviv to the Arnona neighborhood in Jerusalem." [Haaretz]  

REPORT: “Despite Diplomatic Boycott, Palestinian Intel Chief Held Rare Meeting With Mike Pompeo in Washington” by Jack Khoury and Amir Tibon: “Mike Pompeo, the recently appointed U.S. secretary of state, sat down with Majid Faraj, the head of the Palestinian Authority's security and intelligence services shortly before Pompeo was sworn in, while he was still the head of the CIA. It was the most high-ranking meeting between Palestinian and American representatives in months Faraj is considered one of the people closest to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.” [Haaretz

DRIVING THE WEEK -- “Israeli national security adviser to meet with Bolton on Iran” by Barak Ravid: “Israel's national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabat, will arrive in Washington for talks at the White House with his U.S. counterpart John Bolton Bolton and Ben-Shabat will ratify the U.S-Israeli framework document on countering Iran agreed between the parties in December... The sources told me Ben-Shabat and Bolton will update the document to reflect the new reality after the U.S. withdrawal The meeting will also deal with coordinating positions on the Iran nuclear issue and on countering Iranian action in Syria.” [Axios

“Netanyahu to discuss Iran with French, German leaders next week” by Jeffrey Heller: “I will go to Europe next week. I will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and possibly British Prime Minister Theresa May,” Netanyahu said... “I will discuss with them halting Iran’s nuclear aspirations and also stopping Iran’s expansion in the Middle East. I will present our positions as clearly as possible.” [Reuters Israel's Defense Chief to Visit Russia, Discuss Iran and Syria With Counterpart [Haaretz]

"Israel, Russia said to reach secret deal on pushing Iran away from Syria border" by Alexander Fulbright: "Israel and Russia have reached a secret agreement to distance Iranian forces from the border area in southern Syria, Israeli TV reported... Under the apparent agreement coming together, Israel will accept the return of Syrian regime soldiers to the border on the Golan Heights, in exchange for Russia guaranteeing there are no Iranian or Hezbollah forces in the area..."[ToI]

-- “Israel sees an opportunity to drive a Iran out of Syria as Russia looks to its own interests” by Raf Sanchez: “Chagai Tzuriel, director general of the Israeli ministry of intelligence, said he believed that Moscow realised that fighting between Iran and Israel could undermine gains made by Russia during the Syrian civil war Mr Tzuriel said he believed that the Israeli strikes were fueling tensions between Iran and its Russian and Syrian allies."[Telegraph

TEHRAN WATCH -- “China and Russia Push Into Iran, Exploiting Europe’s Caution” by Benoit Faucon: “Chinese and Russian state-backed companies are maneuvering to profit from European firms leaving Iran, threatening the Trump administration’s bid to raise economic pressure on Tehran China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., or Sinopec... sent a delegation to Tehran this month to complete a $3 billion deal to further develop a giant Iranian oil field that Royal Dutch Shell PLC was negotiating for until it decided in March the sanctions risk was too great Russia has viewed Iran more cautiously as a business partner, but its companies have worked to build ties there.” [WSJ

DEEP DIVE -- “The Mysterious Tale of a Powerful American Businessman, Three Sanctioned Iranians and an Imprisonment in Tehran” by Zach Dorfman: “Why would the Iranian government be so interested in [Farhad] Azima’s activities that it would allegedly torture an American citizen? Both he and [Afsaneh] Azadeh declined to comment for this article through their shared lawyer, Kirby Behre. But the answer to that question might lie in Azima’s extraordinary, decades-long career in the private airline business. It’s a tale that could be ripped from a Hollywood thriller—including his entanglement with three Iranians whom the U.S. Treasury Department later sanctioned for their activities on behalf of Iranian banks and whom U.S. officials, in a 2014 civil forfeiture case, also linked to an Iranian money-laundering scheme to evade U.S. sanctions.” [PoliticoMag]  

TODAY ON THE HILL -- The opening prayer of the House pro forma session starting at 1:30 pm EDT will be delivered by guest chaplain Rabbi Hannah Spiro of Hill Havurah in Washington, DC.[CSPAN]

C-SPAN's Howard Mortman tells us... “It will be the 613th time a rabbi has opened Congress in prayer. The 14th time opening prayer offered by a woman rabbi. 4th Reconstruction rabbi guest chaplain in Congress (half of them have been women). And for Rabbi Spiro, the 11 months between graduating from Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and serving as a guest chaplain in Congress – it's among the shortest time period for any of the over 400 guest chaplain rabbis to go from rabbinical college graduation to Congressional guest chaplain.”

PROFILE -- "Trump’s Right-Hand Troll: Stephen Miller once tormented liberals at Duke. Now the president’s speechwriter and immigration enforcer is deploying the art of provocation from the White House" by McKay Coppins: "In the campy TV drama that is Donald Trump’s Washington, Miller has carved out an enigmatic role. He lurks in the background for weeks at a time, only to emerge with crucial cameos in the most explosive episodes... Inside the White House, Miller has emerged as a staunch ideologue and an immigration hawk championing an agenda of right-wing nationalism. But people who have known him at different points in his life say his political worldview is also rooted in a deep-seated instinct for trolling."

"When I asked him which books had shaped his politics, he rattled off a procession of titles by screed artists and talk-radio personalities, including David Horowitz... Miller was best known for a column he wrote, called Miller Time, for The Chronicle... His Judaism notwithstanding, he wrote two separate columns about the War on Christmas... When I mentioned the historically anti-Semitic roots of Trump’s “America First” slogan, he said that was a “completely insincere” argument ginned up by liberals who are simply uncomfortable with the “nationalist populism” that the term invokes." [TheAtlantic

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: ‘You will agree for the next five years, I’m the king’ -- Shari Redstone and Les Moonves are locked in a legal battle triggered by disagreement over a potential merger of Viacom and CBS [WSJ]  Howard Schultz's open letter to Starbucks customers: 'The situation was reprehensible' [CNN China approves 13 new Ivanka Trump trademarks in 3 months [AP]  Why Wall Street wants to help save the wolves [Yahoo]  George Soros Sees New Global Financial Crisis Brewing, EU Under Threat [Bloomberg]  Matthew Segal and Jarrett Moreno's L.A. digital media firm Attn: expands from bite-sized videos to TV specials [LATimes]

SPOTLIGHT -- “Is This Oakland Developer Building Sorely Needed Housing—or Dropping Gentrification Bombs?” by Candace Jackson: “Growing up on Long Island, [Danny] Haber always wanted to be an entrepreneur... After graduating in 2010, he moved to Israel, where he cofounded an Arabic-language financial news website called Nuqudy (“E-Trade merges with the Wall Street Journal,” he says). He left after two years with his sights set on Palo Alto. “I had no friends there,” he says. “I just wanted to do another tech company.” Finding housing, of course, was his first challenge. After two months of sleeping on a couch, he eventually found a bedroom in a house that he shared with three roommates, a mismatched crew that he describes as a “hippie artist, a drug dealer, and a Silicon Valley guy.”

"In 2012, Haber and Alon Gutman, a friend he’d met in Mountain View’s Hacker Dojo, launched the Negev, a company they named for the desert region in Israel. The Negev complexes (only one of which Haber still owns, down from a high of seven) can house up to 60 people and come with shared kitchens, coworking spaces, and dining and movie rooms.” [SanFranciscoMag

"Russian Oligarch, After Visa Troubles in Britain, Surfaces in Israel" by David Halbfinger: "On Monday, [Roman] Abramovich finally surfaced — in Israel, where he apparently immigrated under the law of return... Upon his arrival in Israel, Mr. Abramovich instantly became Israel’s wealthiest man... The Times of Israel reported that as a new citizen, Mr. Abramovich is exempt from taxes on income earned abroad for 10 years. He also is not required to declare the sources of that income for 10 years... A spokesman for Nativ, the Liaison Bureau, which manages immigration to Israel from Russian-speaking countries, told Israel’s Channel 10 that Mr. Abramovich had applied for citizenship last week... His arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport was not so typical: He landed in a private Gulfstream jet, according to... Haaretz." [NYTimes]

-- "Roman Abramovich Lands in Israel – but Has He Secretly Been an Israeli for Years?" by Anshel Pfeffer: "According to one senior source, Abramovich has almost certainly been an Israeli citizen for years. In the previous decade, a number of Jewish-Russian oligarchs received Israeli citizenship through a private arrangement with the Interior Minister’s office. The requirement for obtaining citizenship was to donate at least a million shekels to an Israeli organization.” [Haaretz]  

Top Netanyahu aide Eli Groner stepping down: "Eli Groner, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, will step down after serving more than three years in the position, the PMO announced Monday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Eli Groner, who took up the position in May 2015, to stay on until the end of the current Knesset session to complete a reform in business licensing... Before taking the position, Groner served as Israel’s minister for economic affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington." [ToI]

“Hoenlein wraps up a career aimed at helping the Jewish people survive” by Steve Linde: “In his interview with The Report, Hoenlein, 74, denies reports that he is retiring. “I am not stepping down; I think I’m stepping up... Next year will be my 50th year of leadership of Jewish organizations, and I am still working 18 hours a day. I don’t know what God has in mind for me, but I wanted to make sure that 33 years of really hard work don’t get dissipated or diminished by virtue of the fact that we didn’t plan properly. What I ask for in the letter is that I want a transition, I want someone coming in who will take over the day-to-day responsibilities.”” [JPost

"Jewish Groups Reject Israel Funding For Fear Of Being Branded Foreign Agents" by Josh Nathan-Kazis: "Now, even after the initial rejections, the [Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs] is back with a new offer. In recent months, with the help of a former head of a major Jewish organization, ministry officials have met with American Jewish leaders to describe a new effort to fund anti-BDS work here. This time, the money would be funneled through a mysterious Israeli nonprofit that has a war chest of $35 million in Israeli government funds."

“The Israelis are not quite understanding how things are done here, and certainly not understanding well that you can get American Jewry into trouble with their neighbors if you are not sensitive to the way things are legally done in the United States,” said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University." [Forward]

Gal Gadot turns down offer to host Eurovision next year in Israel -- by Ran Boke: “The Israeli Hollywood actress Gal Gadot has been asked to host the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest set to be held next year in Israel, though the agency representing her said she cannot accept the offer due to a scheduling conflict. "Gal would be happy to host and take part in the Eurovision, but unfortunately, schedule constraints and previous commitments do not permit it," her agency, ADD, said in a statement.” [Ynet

MEDIA WATCH -- "Why Every Media Company Fears Richard Liebowitz" by Justin Peters: "Over the past 2½ years, Liebowitz has attained boogeyman status in the C-suites of major media organizations around the country. Like the villain in a very boring horror movie featuring content management systems and starring bloggers, his unrelenting litigiousness has inspired great frustration amongst editors and media lawyers fearful that they will be the next to fall victim to the aggravating time-suck known as a Richard Liebowitz lawsuit. And he is probably all of the things his detractors say he is: a troll, an opportunist, a guy on the make taking advantage of the system. He is also a creature of the media industry’s own making, and the best way to stop him and his disciples is for media companies to stop using photographers’ pictures without paying for them—and to minimize the sorts of editorial mistakes borne out of ignorance of or indifference to federal copyright law." [Slate]

"TMZ Goes MAGA: How Harvey Levin’s Gossip Empire Became Trump’s Best Friend" by Lachlan Cartwright: “Leading up to the election there were many phone calls between Harvey and Trump. Harvey was in close contact with the Trump team frequently,” said a former TMZ top executive... “There was a point Harvey would make jokes in the newsroom that he would be press secretary or in the Cabinet but we got the impression he was only half joking,” another former staffer said."

"In March 2017, Levin met with Trump in the Oval Office for an hour in a meeting that was left off the president’s public schedule... A source told The Daily Beast that was not the only favor Levin called in to Trump. “That is when he placed a call to Netanyahu to get him to come on Harvey’s show,” the top-level TMZ staffer said, referring to the Israeli prime minister who went on to appear on the season premiere of OBJECTified in October 2017. [Jason] Beckerman denied Trump played any role in helping to get the Israeli PM on Levin’s show. “Harvey never told Trump about trying to get Netanyahu as he thought he would shut it down. Trump had zero knowledge of that.”[DailyBeast]

LongRead: "Philip Roth’s Propulsive Force" by David Remnick: “I work, I’m on call,” he told me in the midst of this creative ferment. “I’m like a doctor and it’s an emergency room. And I’m the emergency.” Roth’s concentration on the task was absolute... Roth kept a little yellow note near his desk. It read “No Optional Striving.” No panels, no speeches, no all-expenses-paid trips to the festival in Sydney or Cartagena... Roth said he was never happier, never felt more liberated, than when he was working on his favorite of his novels, “Sabbath’s Theater.” Then, in 2010, at the age of seventy-seven, Roth did something utterly unexpected. He retired... He spent more time with friends, he read volumes of American and European history, he went to chamber-music concerts, he watched baseball and old movies... And he waited. He had had his portion, and then some. As he put it in “The Dying Animal,” “You tasted it. Isn’t that enough?” [NewYorker]

BIRTHDAYS: Jewish Insider's indefatigable NYC-based reporter, Jacob Kornbluh... Investment banker, previously US Ambassador to France (1997-2000), Felix Rohatyn turns 90... Board member of the Colliers County chapter of the Florida ACLU and the Naples Florida Council on World Affairs, Maureen McCully "Mo" Winograd turns 72... Actor, composer, singer, songwriter and record producer, Danny Elfman turns 65... Television writer, producer and actor, best known as the creator of the sitcom "Arrested Development" as well as the co-creator of "The Ellen Show," Mitchell Hurwitz turns 55... Ellen Ginsburg Beren turns 53... Economist on the faculty of the University of Chicago, co-author of the best-selling books in the Freakonomics series, Steven Levitt turns 51... CEO and Executive Editor of 70 Faces Media, the parent company of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Amiram "Ami" Eden turns 45... 

Fashion designer and the founder and creative director of the fashion label Shoshanna (launched in 1998), style director for Elizabeth Arden, Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss turns 43... Swedish-born pro Israel activist, commentator and reporter, she is a contributor to Israel Hayom, Annika Hernroth-Rothstein turns 37... Member of AIPAC's National Council, board member at the Israel on Campus Coalition, former White House staffer, Alexander Berger turns 35... New York State Policy Director for the Orthodox Union's Advocacy Center, Jacob "Jake" Adler turns 32... Israeli-born baseball player and coach, now working in the Seattle Mariners' player development program, he coached for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Alon Leichman turns 29... Paul Morton...