Jewish Insider's Daily Kickoff: November 27, 2018

JI Staff
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Billionaire Haim Saban, speaks as Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, listens during the Brookings Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., U.S., on December 3, 2017.
Billionaire Haim Saban, speaks as Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, listens during the Brookings Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., U.S., on December 3, 2017.Credit: Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg
JI Staff

 Tell your friends to sign up for the Daily Kickoff here or for early 7AM access via Debut Inbox

DRIVING THE CONVO — Sign of the times? Middle East experts won’t convene in 2018: For the past 13 years, come December in DC this invite-only gathering of top Jewish and Middle East leaders has been the hottest ticket in town. Held a block away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it’s not the White House Hanukkah party with long lines and random guests, but the exclusive Saban Forum. Hosted by media mogul Haim Saban, the Forum has served as an annual off-the-record convening of key Middle East movers and shakers since it was launched in 2004. Think AIPAC’s Policy Conference — if only the speakers’ lounge was invited. The Saban Forum has included conversations with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Jared Kushner respectively over the last four years.

The Forum’s featured guest speaker in 2018? There’ll be none. In fact, there will be no gathering at all, organizers revealed in a letter to past attendees. Is the Saban Forum another casualty of the Trump effect on DC’s establishment? Perhaps, but organizers say they are taking this year off to reassess and refresh the format. [JewishInsider]

In a letter to frequent attendees earlier this year, Haim Saban and Natan Sachs of Brookings wrote: “We wanted to let you know that we have decided to take a year off to rethink and reformat the Saban Forum. This will allow us to ensure it can live up to its mission while adapting to the new realities in the Middle East and in the United States.”

Martin Indyk, formerly the Executive Vice President of the Brookings Institute, said the Saban Forum was cancelled simply because the content had gone stale. “The context needed to be renovated or reinvented. It was the same conversation with the same people, more or less,” Indyk told Jewish Insider. “It tended to devolve to the same conversation, especially because there were the same figures for all intents and purposes, on the Israeli side. On the American side, of course, it changed. We went from Obama and Kerry, to Trump and Jared Kushner. That was all different. But it really felt like the conversation wasn't going anywhere. We were basically ships passing in the night.”

The Trump Effect? — Some believe that the makeup of the Trump administration’s foreign policy team and the fact that the current Israeli government has established its own very close ties with the White House could have played a factor in the decision.

Dennis Ross tells us: “I do believe the Forum would have been held this year if Hillary had been elected.”

Elliott Abrams: “I think that the Saban Forum has suffered from the fact that it was almost entirely center-left to left. There were very few Republicans, there were very few Likud or Yisrael Beitenu people. It’s basically a progressive club, and that’s just not smart because it does not reflect the political reality in either country.”

Indyk says the cancellation of this year’s gathering wasn't influenced by the Trump administration. “We were able to engage with the current administration. Last year we had Jared Kushner come, which I think was the first time he appeared publicly,” he pointed out. “We had quite a few other officials there from the Trump administration who were not speaking publicly. It wasn't a problem of attracting the high level people. There was a question of whether there was really anything productive coming out of it.”

Haim Saban emails us: “The Forum not taking place this year had nothing to do with Trump, Hillary or anything else. Been holding the Forum for 14 years. Time to rethink and refresh." 

Missed Opportunity? — “You can’t make the argument that there’s nothing to talk about,” Aaron David Miller of the Wilson Center told Jewish Insider. “Absolutely, there’s a need for such a gathering. On the cusp of what may be the first effort by the administration to lay out a ‘comprehensive’ solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I would have thought that now would be an intriguing, fascinating time to hold this gathering. I think the issue is pregnant with all kinds of material, fascinating politics, security issues and personalities. At a time where there’s so much of consequence occuring, at a time when Israel faces so many security challenges, and at a time when Bibi faces a momentous year, why not have the Saban Forum? This could’ve been one of the more intriguing Saban Forums.”

According to Susie Gelman, Chair of the Israel Policy Forum: “Given how strained our political discourse has become, the opportunities for dialogue provided by the Saban Forum are needed now perhaps more than ever.”

Former U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro: “The relationship is always more than just a few people around the president and the prime minister. I hope we will resume the Saban Forum, or something like it, in the years ahead.”

Indyk and Saban say they are in the process of reevaluating the Forum, with plans to relaunch in the future. “We might bring it back in 2019,” said Saban. 

Last week, the Israeli-American Council (IAC) announced that top Democrats — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — will be interviewed by Haim Saban on stage at the group’s conference in South Florida this upcoming weekend. Is this a makeup of sorts for not having a Saban Forum this year?

According to Indyk, the answer is no. “The IAC and the Saban Forum are two different things. I don't call them apples and oranges. The IAC is for former Israelis living in America. Haim is very much part of that community. That's his chevra. It's not an either-or proposition.”

CNN poll reveals depth of anti-Semitism in Europe — by Richard Allen Greene: "More than a quarter of Europeans polled believe Jews have too much influence in business and finance. Nearly one in four said Jews have too much influence in conflict and wars across the world... Meanwhile, a third of Europeans in the poll said they knew just a little or nothing at all about the Holocaust." [CNN]

Ocasio-Cortez fires back at Graham after he tells her to take a tour of the Holocaust Museum — by Avery Anapol: "Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) fired back Monday evening at Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) [for] telling her to “take a tour of the Holocaust Museum” after she compared Central American migrants to Jewish families fleeing Nazi Germany. “This administration has jailed children and violated human rights. Perhaps we should stop pretending that authoritarianism + violence is a historical event instead of a growing force," she tweeted." [TheHill]  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter Presence Is a Blueprint for 2020 Democrats [GQ]

Abe Foxman emails us... "The bruhaha over Ocasio-Cortez's refugee comments seems to be more about her rather than what she said. The Jewish community must be careful not to politicize every reference that may touch our community. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez did not compare the Central American situation to the Shoah. She did not trivialize the Holocaust. She compared the two people who became refugees fleeing their homes due to danger or fear. There is nothing inappropriate in that comparison. If our community overreacts because of politics, we will trivialize our history."

ON THE HILL — Trump’s foreign policy agenda faces a gauntlet of House Democrats led by New York’s Eliot Engel — by Deirdre Shesgreen: "Rep. Eliot Engel, a mild-mannered Democrat from the Bronx, is drawing up an aggressive oversight plan for January, when he is expected to seize the gavel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. First on his priority list: getting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at his witness table after Trump's chief diplomat "snubbed" the panel earlier this year... Engel is a staunch supporter of Israel, and he shares the administration's views that Iran presents a dangerous threat to Middle East stability. But the New York Democrat also says he wants to make sure the Saudis realize they don't have a "blank check" from the U.S. to commit human-rights abuses." [USAToday]

Pro-Israel Groups Expose Rand Paul as Blocking U.S. Aid to Israel — by Adam Kredo: "AIPAC... has been purchasing advertisements on Facebook outing Paul as the primary Senate force blocking the reauthorization of the U.S.-Israel security pact... Other prominent pro-Israel organizations, such as Christians United for Israel... [organized] an email blitz aimed at pressuring the isolationist senator to remove his hold on the critical funding bill." [FreeBeacon

— A CUFI spokesperson tells Jewish Insider that the group is spending $100,000 on a TV commercial airing on Fox News. The spot questions whether Sen. Paul will stand with Trump and Israel or “stand in the way.”

TOP TALKER — Jared Kushner pushed to inflate Saudi arms deal to $110 billion: Sources — by Tara Palmeri: "President Donald Trump's reluctance to hold Saudi leadership accountable for the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi stemmed from a partly aspirational $110 billion arms deal between the U.S. and Saudia Arabia that was inflated at the direction of Jared Kushner... Kushner... pushed State and Defense officials to inflate the figure with arms exchanges... Secretary of Defense James Mattis supported Kushner's effort and ultimately endorsed the memorandum." [ABCNews]

U.S. promises Israel it will press nuclear watchdog on Iran atomic archive — by Barak Ravid: "The Trump administration has promised Israel it will put pressure on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to examine revelations from Israel about Iran's nuclear program... Two weeks ago, U.S. special envoy for Iran Brian Hook visited Israel... Israeli officials told Hook the IAEA was dragging its feet over Israel's disclosures... State Department officials who were briefed on Hook's talks in Israel told me the U.S. envoy promised his Israeli counterparts the U.S. would press the IAEA on the matter." [Axios]

TALK OF THE REGION — Jordan faces wave of dissent as government's troubles mount — by Tom Perry and Suleiman Al-Khalidi: "Adding to the pressures, Donald Trump’s proposed Middle East peace plan has hit a political nerve in Jordan, where millions of citizens of Palestinian refugee origin live alongside native Jordanians. Despite questions over whether the president’s “ultimate deal” will get anywhere, his approach has stirred old fears of any attempt to settle the conflict in a way that would suit Israel but forgo Palestinian rights at Jordan’s expense." [Reuters]

Palestinians Seek Emergency Arab League Session Over Israel's Warming Ties With Arab States — by Jack Khoury: "Palestinian Authority officials are seeking emergency sessions of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation over Israel's increasingly close ties with some Arab countries." [Haaretz

Neri Silber writes... "Securing the Peace: For over two decades a significant Palestinian security force—today numbering nearly 30,000 men-under-arms—has been operating west of the Jordan River... Over the past decade, these Palestinian Authority Security Forces, trained by the United States and other international partners, have worked in close cooperation with the IDF to maintain stability. These forces are, in many respects, the most positive aspect of the entire peace process enterprise. Far from being the impediment, security could help set the foundation of an Israeli-Palestinian peace." [TheAmericanInterest]

Shmuel Rosner writes... "In Israel, War Is for the Weak: Mr. Netanyahu seems to understand something that some of his colleagues, like [Avigdor] Lieberman (with Education Minister Naftali Bennett playing second fiddle), fail to grasp: A right-wing Israeli leader has to gain the people’s trust, and he must do that by demonstrating that he is cautious and considerate. That’s precisely what Mr. Netanyahu did by not rushing into a new conflict in Gaza." [NYTimes]

2020 WATCH — Michael Bloomberg to visit Iowa as he considers a 2020 presidential run — by Brianne Pfannenstiel: "Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie confirmed that Bloomberg will host a panel discussion and screening of his new film about climate change, "Paris to Pittsburgh." The event is Dec. 4 in Des Moines... This is Bloomberg's first trip to Iowa this cycle." [DesMoinesRegister]

Wall Street’s Case for President Bloomberg — by William Cohan: “Think he would be great for America, and therefore for Wall Street,” one senior banker e-mailed me the other day. “Can’t think of anybody else I’d rather see win frankly.”... The senior banker thinks Bloomberg could win the popular vote, although he’s less sure about the Electoral College. “The number of voters who would want almost anybody (except Hillary) over Trump exceeds the number of core Trumpers,” he wrote." [VanityFair]

Early-state Dems sound off on 2020 — by Katie Glueck: “From a wattage standpoint, both Sen. [Cory] Booker and Sen. [Kamala] Harris had excellent first trips to the state that gathered a lot of attention,” said a veteran Democratic Iowa operative... Booker and his team, which includes chief of staff Matt Klapper, have been reaching out for conversations with potential staffers in early states." [McClatchyDC]

The discussion the most popular democratic socialist in America is having over his political future — by Gabriel Debenedetti: "In Washington, there’s still no shortage of [Bernie] Sanders critics within the party, people who see him as a cranky narcissist with a victim complex, or an old, out-of-touch white man with few legislative accomplishments, or someone deluded into thinking his success has to do with anything other than being the alternative to Clinton… Sanders’s advisers fear that he doesn’t fully appreciate how difficult another run will be.” [NYMag]

STATE-SIDE — Governor-Elect DeSantis Visits Broward BMA Jewish Day School: "Governor-elect Ron DeSantis and Lieutenant Governor-elect Jeanette Nuñez... toured the Brauser Maimonides Academy Jewish Day School and attended a school roundtable... “One of the concerns is, unfortunately, the need for school security particularly at these Jewish day schools, given recent events. I’m 100 percent supportive of continuing,” said DeSantis... His other topics of discussion included Florida’s anti-BDS legislation." [CBSMiami; Pic]

** Good Tuesday 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 **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Elliott welcomes Alps Electric's plans to boost shareholder returns [Reuters]  Jerry Springer is headed back to daytime TV as 'Judge Jerry' [CNN] In court battle, blockchain firms reveal ties to banned binary options industry [ToI]

Liam Fox to visit Israel to push post-Brexit trade: "British trade minister Liam Fox is visiting Tel Aviv on Tuesday to discuss post-Brexit trade opportunities with major Israeli investors and tech-companies... The trip will also include a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday." [Reuters]

IN THE SPOTLIGHT — Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Is Tainted by Crisis After Crisis — by Sarah Frier: "When Facebook was growing quickly and its shares were soaring, Sandberg was lauded for her leadership and meticulous management of relationships... But this year, a series of company scandals and missteps... have caught up to the 49-year-old executive... There are signs she’s already altering her approach, changing key advisers and creating a “strategic response” team to speed her reaction to hiccups that could turn into the company’s next crisis." [Bloomberg]

PROFILE — Lena Dunham comes to terms with herself — by Allison Davis: “Perhaps because we’re sitting in her room like teenagers, with her mom downstairs, Dunham begins to talk about her breakup with [Jack] Antonoff. They had been set up on a blind date by his sister, the designer Rachel Antonoff, and the comedian Mike Birbiglia. “Jack and I made a couple of Jewish-power-couple lists, which I was proud of,” she says.” [TheCut]

Philanthropist Steve Ballmer’s take on Detroit’s comeback and how he might help —by Sharon Luckerman: "Steve describes himself as an ethnic Jew, not religious, yet he decided later in life to learn more about Judaism as a religion. He studied for a year and a half and had a bar mitzvah in 2015 at Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue. Asked about the effect of the 11 Jews recently murdered in the Pittsburgh synagogue, Steve says, “It caught me by surprise … There was plenty of talk growing up about the persecution of the Jews, and this incident took me back to those times. Maybe I didn’t expect it here. I had a different kind of pain and sadness and outrage.” [TheJewishNews]

BURNING MENSCH — In a land known for war, the Midburn gathering offers a vision of peace and love — by Yardena Schwartz: Midburn is Israel's version of Burning Man, named for the Hebrew word for desert, midbar... Israel, a country the size of New Jersey, home to the world's most intractable political conflict, is now also home to the largest and fastest-growing regional Burning Man of all. A celebration of peace and love in a nation permanently at war might sound absurd, but cities like Tel Aviv can be some of the most hedonistic, party-loving places on Earth. Indeed, some Midburners say, it is precisely because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not despite it, that burner culture has flourished so profoundly here… Muad Abd El Hay, a 28-year-old Muslim citizen of Israel, grew up in the predominantly Arab town of Tira. Yet he never really felt at home there… Midburn has given Abd El Hay hope for what lasting peace in his home country might look like. "In this one place, I get a taste of what Israel, my home, could be.” [PacificStandard]

LONG READ — Five Countries Slow to Address Nazi-Looted Art, U.S. Expert Says — by William Cohan: "In 1998... 44 nations agreed to the Washington Principles, a treaty of sorts that committed its signers to making best efforts to return the [Nazi] looted art. But speaking Monday in Berlin... the man who negotiated the principles on behalf of the United States delivered a blunt rebuke to what he characterized as foot-dragging by five countries. “We have made giant strides,” said Stuart E. Eizenstat, an advisor to the State Department, “toward achieving the goals of identifying, publicizing, restituting and compensating for some of the looted art, cultural objects and books, and in so doing, providing some small measure of belated justice to some victims of the Holocaust or their heirs.” But, he continued, “We must candidly confront the unfulfilled promises we solemnly made.” Mr. Eizenstat... said an estimated 600,000 paintings had been stolen during the war and that 100,000 remain missing." [NYTimes

TRANSITION — Rabbi Benjamin Berger is joining Hillel International as Vice President for Jewish Education. In his new role, Rabbi Berger will oversee the Hillel U Center for Jewish and Israel Education, charged with leading the growth and development of all Hillel professionals. Most recently, Rabbi Berger served the Director of the Wexner Heritage Program.

SCENE TODAY — U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman paid a visit to the Belzer Rebbe and toured the Belz Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. [Pic; Pic]

SCENE LAST NIGHT — The American Jewish Congress, headed by Jack Rosen, honored Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) with the Stephen S. Wise Award at its 100th-anniversary dinner held at the Metropolitan Club in New York City. [Pic]

DESSERT — NYC's Iconic Carnegie Deli Temporarily Returning — and Serving Up 99-Cent Sandwiches: "The iconic Carnegie Delicatessen is reopening for one week in December, and it'll be serving up 99¢ sandwiches and sides for even less. The Jewish deli on Seventh Avenue in Midtown closed in 2016, after 79 years of serving up heaps of cured meat to tourists, theater patrons and workaday New Yorkers. But from December 1 to 8, the makers of that ridiculously oversized sandwich will be back with an eight-day popup at 201 Lafayette Street to promote the second season of Amazon Prime Video's period comedy-drama "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." [NBCNews]

Disney World opened its first-ever Jewish food pop-up at Epcot — but there’s one big problem —  by Aly Walansky: "At this year’s Epcot International Festival of the Holidays at Disney World in Orlando, Florida... there’s a variety of pop-up kitchens with food from various cultures. One of them is L’Chaim! Holiday Kitchen, the first to serve Jewish-inspired food at the festival... The food is mostly traditional items found at any Jewish-style deli in New York, but with one big difference: The food is not kosher, and therefore is not an option for many observant Jews." [Mic]

Vanilla’s First-Known Use Came 2,500 Years Earlier and Half a World From Where We Thought — by Jason Daley: “Researchers have long believed that the first people to cultivate vanilla orchids were Mexico’s indigenous Totonac people in east-central Mexico about 1,000 years ago, or perhaps even a little longer… That, however, is not the story four small ceramic jugs at Megiddo, an archaeological site in Israel, tell. The jugs were found in an untouched Bronze Age tomb called “Tomb 50,” which dates back 3,600 years.... [archaeologist Vanessa] Linares suggests that three vanilla species, one from East Africa, one from India or one from southeast Asia could have been in use and made it to the Middle East via trade routes in ancient times.” [SmithsonianMag]

BIRTHDAYS: Attorney, insurance executive and real estate investor, Brian J. Strum turns 79... Founding partner of TPG Capital (formerly Texas Pacific Group) and its Asian affiliate, Newbridge Capital, David Bonderman turns 76... Former collegiate (Harvard) and professional (Maccabi Tel Aviv) basketball player, he then practiced corporate law at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan in NYC, Louis Grant Silver turns 65... Founder, chairman, and CEO of Starwood Capital Group, Barry Stuart Sternlicht turns 58... CEO of website and blog Time4Coffee, she was previously VP of Global Engagement at Mercy Corps (2011-2017) and a television journalist like her father, Ted Koppel, Andrea Koppel turns 55... Immigration attorney for many celebrities, he was the mayor of Englewood, New Jersey (2004-2010), Michael Jay Wildes turns 54...1996 graduate of the University of Maryland Dental School who worked for the US Navy for three years and now practices in Stevenson, Maryland, Joshua P. Weintraub, DDS turns 49... Co-host of seasons two through nine of Dancing with the Stars and then a correspondent for Entertainment Tonight, Samantha Harris (born Samantha Harris Shapiro) turns 45... Executive director for the Alliance for Middle East Peace, he is a contributor at Ha'aretz and the Jerusalem Post, Joel Braunold... DJ Levy...