Jewish Insider's Daily Kickoff: June 20, 2018

Mort Klein defends Qatar trip after report of payments | Saban's email to Senators who signed Bernie's letter | Israeli Couscous in NYC

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Morton Klein, president of Zionist of America
Morton Klein, president of Zionist of AmericaCredit: courtesy of Morton Klein

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REPORT: Mike Huckabee Praised Qatar Without Revealing He Was Paid $50,000 by Qatar -- by Dan Friedman: "On Friday, Joseph Allaham, a former owner of kosher steakhouses in New York, retroactively registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for Qatar. In the paperwork... Allaham noted that he had paid $50,000 on November 23, 2017, to Blue Diamond Horizons, a Florida corporation run by [Mike] Huckabee... Huckabee was an expensive get for Qatar. His trip cost more than the $50,000 payment he received from Allaham."

"Dr. Joseph Frager, a gastroenterologist and pro-Israel activist who supported Huckabee’s 2016 presidential bid, last month also registered as a foreign agent for Qatar, and he reported that he was paid $50,000 by Muzin’s firm for Qatar-related work. Frager told Mother Jones that the fee was in part for helping facilitate Huckabee’s January visit... And for its $50,000, the Qatari government got a positive tweet out of him." 

"Allaham reported that his work for Qatar including making a $100,000 donation in October to Our Soldiers Speak, a New York-based charity that organizes trips by officers in the Israeli Defense Forces and the Israeli National Police to speak on college campuses in other countries... The contribution came on October 30, a few days before the group’s annual gala, where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at the time the CIA director, was the keynote speaker." 

"Allaham also made two $50,000 contributions to [Mort] Klein’s group, the Zionist Organization of America. The first was on November 2, shortly before the group’s annual dinner. The second came on January 23, a few weeks after Klein visited Doha." [MotherJones]

-- Flashback to Feb 26, 2018: "ZOA and Morton Klein have no potential financial motive or ulterior purpose here. ZOA and Mr. Klein’s preparation time and effort, and the time Mr. Klein spent on his exhausting 13 hour trip each way to and from Qatar, cost us staff money." [Haaretz

Mort Klein told us by phone this morning “We are now looking into it thoroughly. In the next 24 to 48 hours, if we determine that this money clearly came from Qatar, we will return the money immediately. Any money that the ZOA has received for the past 25 years has come from private individuals, never from any country. To this minute, my complete understanding was that it came from a private individual. If I thought that any money came from Qatar, I would never have accepted it."

"I assumed this was a wealthy businessman (Joseph Allaham) who was giving ZOA a check. I’ve had many wealthy business people who have given me 100k and plus. That happens all the time. And I knew that Allaham brought Malcolm Hoenlein, Alan Dershowitz and Mike Huckabee to Qatar. In my eyes this made him look like a legitimate individual. To me, them going, koshered the trip. I never did a thing for Qatar. Whatever money I got -- whether it is from Qatar or not -- I never did anything for them. I never wrote an article praising them, I never lobbied for them.”

"My whole trip was wall-to-wall meetings with officials from Qatar. Al Jazeera was going to release a four part series called The Israel Lobby, which would have increased anti-Semitism in America and hatred towards Israel. That was a horrible documentary, and I urged them to kill this. And because of my work it never aired. This was a big achievement of my going to Qatar. It’s not like I went there and went to the beach... Qatar asked me a month ago to come back. They wanted to set up meetings with top officials at Al Jazeera, but I rejected this because too many people thought that I shouldn't have gone to Qatar in the first place."

HEADLINE DEPT: "Saudi Moves Forward With Plan to Turn Qatar Into Island" [Bloomberg]

DRIVING THE CONVO -- As was previously anticipated, the U.S. announced its withdrawal yesterday from the U.N. Human Rights Council. "For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias," Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley said in a joint appearance with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department on Tuesday. "The council’s continued and well-documented bias against Israel is unconscionable. Since its creation, the council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than against the rest of the world combined," Pompeo added.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the U.S. move as a “courageous decision against the hypocrisy and the lies” of “a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organization that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights.”

REACTION -- Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized the move in a statement: "By withdrawing from the council, we lose our leverage and allow the council's bad actors to follow their worst impulses unchecked — including running roughshod over Israel." 

Elliott Abrams, a former Republican diplomat and now a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the Human Rights Council’s bias against Israel was too much to ignore. “There is always an argument for staying, which is that the United States will be in a better position to help defend Israel,” Mr. Abrams said. “But this council is hopelessly compromised, so leaving is the right choice.” [NYTimes]

Dore Gold, former Director General of Israel's Foreign Ministry, emails us... "The UN Human Rights Council was founded on the basis of noble ideals but in recent decades it evolved into a body that violated the most important legal principle for any legal body: equality before the law. It discriminated against the State of Israel and avoided criticism of states engaging in crimes against humanity. America had no veto power there to halt this deterioration. I will never forget its sponsorship of the Goldstone Report alleging that the IDF deliberately killed Palestinian civilians. Goldstone, whom I debated, later renounced this modern blood libel, but it undoubtedly contributed to new anti-Semitic outbursts in the world community." 

HOW IT PLAYED: "The announcement comes just a day after the U.N.'s top human rights official, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, criticized the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy that has resulted in the separation of thousands of children from their parents at the border." [NBC; Bloomberg]

WHAT'S NEXT? “The council is scheduled to discuss Israel and the Palestinian territories on July 2, according to its agenda.” [Bloomberg

MEANWHILE -- Dozens of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel, which quickly retaliates -- by Noga Tarnopolsky: "Sirens rang out throughout the night in southern Israel early Wednesday as 45 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, Israeli authorities said. In response, the Israeli military struck the strip, aiming at 25 targets it said were associated with Hamas, the militia that governs the Palestinian territory." [LATimes]

"Democratic Megadonor Haim Saban Attacks Senators for Urging Humanitarian Aid to Gaza Strip" -- by Alex Emmons: “Saban emailed the senators, some at their personal addresses, to directly express his displeasure with a letter organized last month by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt calling for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “act urgently in order to help relieve the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.”... “Senators, for you to listen to Senator Sanders and accuse Israel of being the main culprit is outrageous, misinformed, offensive and shows a lack of understanding of the region’s basic fundamentals,” Saban wrote. “Do your homework, unless you have chosen to blindly follow Senator Sanders' ill advised, misinformed, simplistic, and ignorant lead.” [TheIntercept]

TALK OF THE MIDDLE EAST -- Jordan's king tells Kushner: Mideast peace requires two state solution -- by Barak Ravid: "According to a statement from the Jordanian royal court, King Abdullah told [Jared] Kushner and [Jason] Greenblatt... the peace talks must be re-launched between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of the 2 state solution and the Arab peace initiative." [Axios]

Former Ambassador Daniel Shapiro tells us... "Kushner and Greenblatt's visits to the Arab states could be largely about drumming up support for a major initiative to address the humanitarian disaster in Gaza while maintaining pressure on Hamas. That would make sense. But if they were to lay the groundwork for the release of a peace plan intended to bring the parties to the table, that faces much steeper odds."

"With the United States unable to engage directly with the Palestinians after the Jerusalem decision, and with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders facing domestic political constraints that rule out compromise, any U.S. plan is likely to be dead on arrival with one or both sides. The idea that the Arab states could rescue a plan presented in such unfavorable circumstances, or would stick their necks out to try if it looks unacceptable to the Palestinians, seems far-fetched." 

PLO Executive Committee member Jibril Rajoub to i24News: “[Kushner] can come and leave, but believe me nothing will change on the ground. Kushner, Mushner has to recharge the batteries and recognize the reality that we are under occupation.” [Video

THE TRUMP EFFECT -- Settler housing construction drops to six-year low under Trump -- by Tovah Lazaroff: “From January to March of this year, ground was broken on only 250 settler housing starts, according to data released Tuesday by the Central Bureau of Statistics. It’s the lowest recorded number in any single quarter since 2012” [JPost

Religious Leaders Condemn Family Separations—but Not Necessarily Trump -- by Emma Green: "Many of the groups that have been most vocal against the border policy are already outspoken Trump skeptics. Among the ranks of Trump’s closest allies... the condemnation has been more tempered... For some groups, the choice to speak out is a major shift: The Orthodox Union, which represents many Modern Orthodox Jewish congregations in the U.S., honored Sessions as the keynote speaker at its annual conference last week. Shortly after, the president of the group, Moishe Bane, released a statement opposing the “zero-tolerance policy,” ... On the whole, though, the news... has only served to underscore the existing postures of conservative religious groups. Those who tend to prefer condemning Trump publicly have done so. Those who prefer working directly with the administration have either kept their silence or spoken with caution." [TheAtlantic

Ivanka encouraged Trump to act to stop separations, made calls to lawmakers -- by Betsy Klein, Sunlen Serfaty and Tal Kopan: "Ivanka Trump met with her father, President Donald Trump, on Tuesday to discuss the images of immigrant families being separated at the US-Mexico border, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told CNN. "She offered the President her support and she said she would talk to any member of Congress to help find a legislative solution to the issue," Gidley said." [CNN

-- Trump holds forth during private dinner with supporters -- by Jonathan Swan: "Trump, letting loose, discussing his decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem: "They told me it’d cost $1 billion" to build an embassy in Jerusalem. “I’m about to sign it — Donald J. — then said: 'This is way too expensive; not a Trump deal.' I call David Friedman [his ambassador to Israel]. He says, ... 'I can do it for $180,000.' I said, 'David' — I’ve never said this — 'you’re making me look cheap. Get the good marble! Spend $400,000.'" [Axios

Michael Cohen Wants Trump to Pay His Legal Fees -- by Rebecca Ballhaus and Rebecca Davis O'Brien: "Cohen has frequently told associates in recent months he is frustrated that the president hasn't offered to pay his legal fees, which he has said are 'bankrupting' him... He has said he feels that Mr. Trump owes him after his years of loyalty to the former real-estate developer." [WSJ

SPOTTED: Eric Trump at the UJA Real Estate Division's annual luncheon at Cipriani on 42nd. The event honored Vornado's David Greenbaum who was introduced by Steven Roth. 

BUZZ ON BALFOUR -- Police suspect Hollywood mogul was go-between for PM, newspaper chief — report: "Police investigators reportedly have evidence that Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan... also acted as a middleman in a suspected illegal deal discussed by the prime minister and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes... that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth... Police are trying to convince Milchan to come to Israel, either to be interrogated or to testify about the case." [ToI]

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Florida Officials Approve Plan to Build Largest U.S. Mall -- American Dream Miami by the Ghermezian family [WSJ]  Marsha Soffer sues Ritz-Carlton, Miami Beach developer over delays [RealDeal]  Icahn Wins Majority on SandRidge Board [WSJ]  AT&T is getting ready to acquire all of Otter Media, the streaming video company it co-owns with Peter Chernin [Recode]  Is the Era of the Superstar Media Executive Over? [Variety]  Alex Fenkell and Jordan Katzman's SmileDirectClub has been growing like crazy [BusinessInsider]

STARTUP NATION -- Israel now boasts 166 cybersecurity startups, including 16 that raised more than $50 million -- by Chris O'Brien: "YL Ventures, an Israeli seed-focused venture fund, today released its first CyberMap... A quick scan of the dataset, which lists 166 startups, shows that 16 of those have each raised more than $50 million in venture capital and another 18 have raised more than $30 million." [VentureBeat]  Netanyahu warns of cyber risks that can down fighter jets [Reuters]

How an Art Dealer Became an Up-and-Coming Painter -- by Boris Kachka: "[Jon] Mesler’s “real office” is upstairs, a cluttered nook presided over by paintings of rabbis... Mesler was a landlord before he was an art dealer. While earning his M.F.A. at the San Francisco Art Institute, he put his subsidized loan into high-yield accounts, paid the principal back right after graduation and pocketed the interest. After striking out as a painter, he borrowed $30,000 from his mother and bought a building in Los Angeles’s Chinatown... One of his renters was David Kordansky, a serious-minded dealer whose gallery soon took off... I wonder to myself whether his midlife turnaround, so new and fragile, will really last. What happens when real critics chime in on his work, when the novelty of his art and his gallery wear off, when the busy season ends on Newtown Lane for the fifth or 10th time and winter sets in again? I ask Kordansky this a week later. “It’s the Jewish thing to worry about where he’ll be in 10 years,” he says." [NYTimes

TRANSITION -- The Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy has hired Martin Sweet as Director of its newly launched GU Politics Forum. Sweet served as Marco Rubio’s director of Jewish outreach in the 2016 presidential campaign and as a senior advisor in his Senate reelection campaign. [GeorgetownUniversity

Julia Ioffe, who has previously written for POLITICO magazine, HuffPost's Highline, the New Yorker and New Republic and most recently worked at the Atlantic, is joining GQ as a correspondent. h/t Playbook

DESSERT -- Lodge Bread Co. Expands With Kosher Hummus Spot Along Pico Boulevard -- by Farley Elliott: “The group behind Culver City hit Lodge Bread Company is moving into Pico-Robertson next, offering up a Kosher hummus-focused restaurant called Hasiba The 1,000 square foot space will seat a few dozen people across communal seats only, with room for a tiny patio up front and a hearth to bake off pita to order Their Instagram feed is already clogged with blistery shots of puffy pita bread and creamy-looking, hummus.” [EaterLA

Couscous Bar Kish-Kash Opens Today in the West Village -- by Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld: “Couscous is many things and, at least according to chef and restaurateur Einat Admony, who opens today what she calls New York’s first couscous bar, a 21st-century business plan. The chef, who has made her name at restaurants like Balaboosta, Bar Bolonat, and Taïm by mining her multicultural Israeli heritage, is determined to indoctrinate New Yorkers weaned on Near East and other boxed brands into the airy, fluffy, altogether novel pleasures of hand-rolled couscous At her new West Village restaurant Kish-Kash, named for the sieve used in its production, she takes a quick-serve approach to a notoriously time-consuming recipe.” [GrubStreet

Natalie Portman hosts vegan after-party following factory farming exposé -- by Ian Mohr: "Appropriately the after-party for Natalie Portman’s exposé on factory farming, “Eating Animals,” was a vegan affair. The Sundance Selects doc, narrated and produced by Portman and based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer, has been called by critics “a lesson in vegetarian fortitude,” “an effective piece of agitprop suffused with sadness” and “a philosophical examination of the potential for human kindness to trump our love of bacon.” [NYPost]