First published at 7:10 AM on Jan 24th 2020
Updated at: 8:07 AM
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Jewish Insider | Daily Kickoff
January 24th, 2020
👋 Good Friday morning!

Yesterday in Jerusalem, Vice President Mike Pence visited the Western Wall. Pence then visited Aish HaTorah in the Jewish Quarter before heading to the U.S. embassy for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Earlier in the day, Pence met with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. This morning, Netanyahu met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Jerusalem. More below.

On Saturday night, the Alfalfa Club is hosting its annual dinner at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C.

As moguls make the trek from Davos to Alfalfa, Politico’s John Harris looks at the elite conference circuit noting that apparently one can’t become so successful that they no longer have FOMO. And at The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal says the Bezos MBS text message hack hints at just how connected the world’s most powerful people are.

In South Florida on Sunday, Michael Bloomberg will meet with rabbis and Jewish leaders and address a “United for Mike” campaign event at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center.

In Tel Aviv on Sunday, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami and Dan Diker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs will debate the 2020 American presidential race, the U.S.-Israel relationship and the peace process in an event hosted by TLV Young Professionals and the Times of Israel.

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driving the convo

Trump invites Netanyahu, Gantz to D.C. to discuss peace plan

GPO

On Thursday afternoon, President Donald Trump extended an invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for a briefing in Washington, D.C. next week on the long-awaited Mideast peace plan. Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh reports:

Details: Vice President Mike Pence said during a photo-op with the Israeli leader in Jerusalem yesterday that Trump asked him to invite Netanyahu to the White House, and that Netanyahu urged the administration to also invite Gantz to gain a broader consensus on the plan. According to Channel 12’s Amit Segal, the White House will present a plan that includes applying Israeli sovereignty to most Israeli settlements in the West Bank while creating territorial continuity that would allow for the creation of a Palestinian state at a later date. Trump tweeted that “reports about details and timing of our closely-held peace plan are purely speculative.”

Timetable: Speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday evening, Trump said that he will release the plan sometime before Tuesday, and that he has spoken to the Palestinians “briefly” about it. Trump described it as a “great plan” that “really would work.”

Trap for Gantz: Netanyahu’s overture to Gantz will likely play to the former’s advantage ahead of the March 2 election. Initial polling indicates an outcome similar to the last two elections; a continued political stalemate could push Gantz to drop his objections to a unity government.

Second thoughts: The White House announced yesterday that both Netanyahu and Gantz accepted the invitation. But according to Israeli media reports, Blue and White leaders have had a change of heart overnight, after assessing that they may fall into Bibi's trap. Gantz will announce on Saturday night whether he will travel to D.C. or turn down the invitation.

According to Shalom Lipner, a 26-year veteran of the prime minister's office, Gantz's chances of becoming Israel's next prime minister “stand to take a big hit” now that Netanyahu is shaping the narrative of the campaign. “Gantz now faces the unenviable choice of either riding shotgun alongside Netanyahu, whose name is all over this scheme to seize the agenda, or standing on the curb as the Trump convoy drives past.”

Saving Bibi: Michael Koplow, policy director at the Israel Policy Forum, described next week’s event as “a very transparent ploy” by the White House to help Netanyahu. Tuesday’s White House meeting is scheduled to take place at the same time the Knesset is set to vote on establishing a committee to rule on the prime minister’s parliamentary immunity from indictments. “Netanyahu is counting on this to take over the headlines and TV broadcasts. By having Gantz there too, he’s hoping that it will pressure Gantz into forming a unity government that will — in Netanyahu’s thinking — hopefully push off his legal day of reckoning.”

Marketing strategy: A former U.S. official suggested that Trump’s invitation of Gantz was a “smart” decision to bridge the political divisions in Israel and in the U.S. By inviting both leaders, if neither one “will reject the plan, that will constrain U.S. politicians,” the official said, adding that this “isn’t good news for Bibi” because “Trump is treating Gantz as his equal and showing Israel will get along fine without Bibi.”

Tamara Cofman Wittes, Martin Indyk, Khaled Elgindy, Rob Satloff and Aaron David Miller weigh in on the absence of the Palestinians and how it helps Trump in 2020. Read more here.

Heard in Jerusalem

World leaders reflect on lessons of the Holocaust at Jerusalem forum

Oded Karni/GPO

World leaders offered disparate reflections and lessons learned from the Holocaust at a mass gathering in Jerusalem yesterday to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French President Emmanuel Macron and the U.K.’s Prince Charles all spoke at the World Holocaust Forum.

Eye on Iran: Both Pence and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used their speeches to denounce Iran. The vice president said Iran “denies the Holocaust as a matter of state policy and threatens to wipe Israel off the map,” while Netanyahu called it “the most antisemitic regime on the planet.”

Never forget: Steinmeier offered a somber and powerful reckoning on antisemitism in Europe today. Speaking in English so as not to upset any Holocaust survivors in the audience, the German president said: “I wish I could say that we Germans have learned from history once and for all. But I cannot say that when hatred is spreading.” Steinmeier said that Germany’s responsibility to atone for the Holocaust “does not expire,” noting that “there remains only one answer: Never again!”

European takes: Macron also denounced rising antisemitism across Europe, and said the continent must unite against hatred and not fall into internal conflicts. “The Holocaust is not some history you can play with or distort or revisit,” he said. Putin, meanwhile, offered a veiled jab at Poland — after the Polish president boycotted the gathering, saying he was not invited to speak — declaring that the story of the Holocaust must be told “without exemptions and omissions. Regrettably, the memory of the war today often becomes the subject of current political interests.” Putin himself, like the Polish government, has been accused of historical revisionism.

Royal reflection: Prince Charles paid tribute to his grandmother Princess Alice, who is buried in Jerusalem, for sheltering Jews in Greece from the Nazis. He said that, even today, hatred and intolerance “tell new lies, adopt new disguises, and still seek new victims,” and that the lessons of the Holocaust are still “searingly relevant.”

Working vacation: Even from Jerusalem — where she leads a bipartisan Congressional delegation attending the World Holocaust Forum — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) carefully managed the presentation of articles of impeachment, comparing notes with House manager Adam Schiff (D-CA) while riding to a state dinner.

Scene in Davos

George Soros announces funding of new Open Society University Network

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, billionaire philanthropist George Soros announced the creation of the Open Society University Network (OSUN) — an international network of higher education institutions aimed at promoting open societies.

Mission: OSUN extends the previous mission of the Central European University, which Soros founded in 1979 through his Open Societies Foundation. Soros touted the success of CEU while announcing his new project. Soros — who has donated more than $30 billion to similar efforts in his lifetime — will endow the venture with $1 billion in funding.

At the helm: Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College, will become the chancellor of OSUN in association with Bard. Soros has long been a major donor to the college and Botstein — who attended the announcement in Davos — currently sits on the board of the Open Society Foundation.

Global threat: Soros — who in recent years has drawn the ire of nationalist leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban — began his remarks by decrying the rise in global nationalism. Calling it the “great enemy of open society,” Soros said that “nationalism, far from being reversed, made further headway” over the past year.

Dislike: During a Q&A after his remarks, Soros strongly condemned Facebook, slamming the role it played in the 2016 election. He predicted the same pattern in 2020, saying: “Facebook will work to re-elect Trump and Trump will protect Facebook.” More broadly, he claimed Facebook’s mission remained to “maximize profits irrespective of the harm it will do to the world.”

Watch the full session here.

Bonus: Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon told CNBC from Davos that his investment bank will help companies go public only if they have "at least one diverse board candidate, with a focus on women. And we're going to move towards 2021 requesting two."

festival circuit

What to look for at Sundance 2020

The Sundance Film Festival kicks off this weekend in Park City, Utah, with a full slate of feature films, documentaries, foreign movies and panel discussions. Here are a few screenings and events to look out for at the busy festival.

Buzzworthy:Worth,” starring Michael Keaton, is a film about Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer who was appointed by Congress to head up the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. “The Glorias” is a biographical drama about the life and legacy of Gloria Steinem, starring Julianne Moore. Andy Samberg stars in a new rom-com, “Palm Springs,” which he produced with his longtime writing partner, Akiva Schaffer. And one of the most buzzed-about premieres happening today is “The Dissident,” a documentary that promises to unearth “hidden secrets” about the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Nosh and nuance: This afternoon, the festival is holding a discussion hosted by the Jewish Film Institute and helmed by the presenters of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The event promises “an intimate conversation with some of this year’s filmmakers” as well as, of course, “nosh.”

Sundance Shabbat: Those who need a break from the busy screening schedule can visit the “Shabbat Lounge” this weekend, which offers a catered Shabbat dinner, a Friday night oneg, prayer services, “cholent and chill” as well as a musical havdalah concert.

Israeli influence: While there are no Israeli films at the festival this year, the event isn’t entirely devoid of Israeli voices. Producer Uri Singer’s film “Tesla,” a biographical drama about Nikola Tesla, will have its world premiere. Adi Ezroni is a producer on the sci-fi comedy “Save Yourselves!” about a Brooklyn couple who decide to go off the grid, and Niv Fischman helped produce “Possessor,” a body-swapping horror flick.
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🕍 Fact Checking: The New York Times spoke with members of Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Fe, New Mexico after Valerie Plame, a former CIA spy who’s running for Congress, claimed that she’s of Jewish descent and a member of the congregation. Plame is not listed as a member. In an interview, Plame maintained her grandfather was from a Ukrainian Jewish family “right out of ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” and that she started attending events at the synagogue after an outcry over her tweet linking to an antisemitic article. [NYTimes]

🖋️ Pen with Teeth: In The Atlantic, George Packer shared a speech he recently gave while receiving the Hitchens Prize, an honor awarded to a journalist by the Dennis & Victoria Ross Foundation, during which he implored reporters and writers to express their own voices to readers. [TheAtlantic]

🎓 Campus Beat: UCLA professor of Jewish history David Myers and former UCLA campus Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller warn in the Los Angeles Times that the Trump administration’s investigation of UCLA for anti-Israel bias may suppress free speech. Acknowledging the alarming rise of domestic antisemitism, the writers argue that the Department of Education’s investigation of UCLA for an alleged anti-Zionist guest lecture should not infringe upon the “right to free and open expression” across the university. [LATimes]
Around the Web
💲 2020 Talk: Responding to a questionnaire by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg pledged to devote $1 billion to combat antisemitism and other violent extremism if elected president.

🎤 On the Trail: Former Vice President Joe Biden rallied Iowa caucus-goers on Wednesday, focusing on foreign policy matters during a campaign event in Osage, Iowa. Biden detailed his foreign policy agenda in an essay in Foreign Affairs.

📱 Read Receipts: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) discussed her Palestinian roots, her views on Israel and support of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign in a text message interview with BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith.

👨‍👦 Next Generation: Renaissance Technologies has promoted Nathaniel Simons, the son of founder Jim Simons, to co-chairman as the hedge fund reshapes the group of directors who will eventually succeed Simons.

🗞️ Open Door: According to Right Wing Watch, antisemitic conspiracy theorist Rick Wiles once again received White House press credentials to cover Trump’s recent speech at Davos.

🏘️ Talk of the Town: Lakewood, N.J., Police Chief Greg Meyer touted the hiring of the department’s first Orthodox Jewish police officer — Michael Wolf — as an opportunity to improve community relations.

🚫 Not Again: The German government has banned the neo-Nazi organization Combat 18 Deutschland, with more than 200 police officers conducting raids that seized cellphones, computers, weapons and Nazi memorabilia across the country.

🥬 Something Rotten: Fairway’s bankruptcy announcement surprised many customers, but the problems have been percolating for years.

📈 Number Crunching: Antisemitic hate crimes rose 60.5% in 2019 in Los Angeles, and represented the largest single category — 69 of 322 total hate crimes reported, according to data compiled by the Los Angeles Police Department.

📺 Media Critic: Israel has accused the BBC of “belittling the Holocaust” over a report on the “News at Ten” program that appeared to link Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi murders of six million Jews.

🎥 Silver Screen: Guy Ritchie’s new madcap thriller “The Gentlemen” has been labeled “mischievously — or just aggressively — offensive” by The New York Times, which notes that a wealthy businessman character is often just called “the Jew.”

🎬 Hollywood: “Quezon’s Game,” a new drama about the efforts of the president of the Philippines to provide refuge to thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, hits U.S. theaters today.

🗄️ Remember Their Names: Archivists at Yad Vashem are racing against time to be able to name and identify the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

🕯️ Remembering: Michael Sovern, a law professor who, as president of Columbia University during the 1980s and ’90s, shored up finances, divested from companies tied to South Africa and admitted women to its college, passed away at age 88.

🥝 A Leader is Gone: Frieda Caplan, who was known as the “Kiwi Queen” for her role in popularizing exotic produce in the United States, passed away at age 96.

👨‍💼 Transition: New York-based communications guru Joe Berkofsky is joining the West End Strategy team as a vice president in the Manhattan office. Berkofsky previously served as CEO of Puder PR.
Elad Strohmayer/Twitter
New York Times reporter and host of "The Daily" podcast Michael Barbaro discussed the 2020 election "through a Jewish lens" and the rise of antisemitism in a conversation with Jodi Rudoren, editor-in-chief of The Forward, at the Sixth & I synagogue in downtown Washington, D.C. last night.
neil whitehouse piper/flickr
One of the world's best-selling recording artists of all time, member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Neil Diamond turns 79 today...

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