Menendez says he hasn’t shifted on Israel + Orthodox activists react to ‘Fulton v. City of Philadelphia’ ruling

Table of Contents for the recordMenendez shoots down concerns that he’s shifted on Israelexit interviewEster Kurz reflects on four decades on Capitol Hill for AIPACoyez oyez oyezOrthodox activists say Supreme Court decision in LGBTQ adoption case could have gone furtherWorthy ReadsAround the WebPic of the DayBirthdays 👋 Good Friday morning! […]

👋 Good Friday morning!

For less-distracted weekend readingbrowse this week’s edition of The Weekly Print, a curated print-friendly PDF featuring a selection of recent JI stories. Print the latest edition here.

The House voted 268-161 to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq, with the support of the White House.

House Republicans sought to tie a procedural motion — that would have sent the bill back to the House Foreign Affairs Committee — to legislators’ support for Israel. House Democrats, as well as two Republicans, voted down the motion.

Eleven House Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee penned a letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken expressing their concerns about the administration’s decision to withdraw sanctions on three Iranian government officials and two companies.

The lawmakers accuse Blinken of violating commitments to consult with Congress before withdrawing sanctions and to keep sanctions in place until Iran returned to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin affirmed to the Senate Appropriations Committee that the administration plans to send a request to Congress for additional funding for Israel to replenish its Iron Dome missile-defense system.

Blinken spoke with Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday. A State Department readout from the call said the two “discussed the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security, the importance of the U.S.- Israel bilateral relationship, and the need to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations in practical ways.”

Iranians will cast their ballots today for the successor to President Hassan Rouhani, with hardliner Ebrahim Raisi expected to win after the country’s top clerical body disqualified most of the field, including former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani.

for the record

Menendez shoots down concerns that he’s shifted on Israel

Sen. Bob Menendez, (D-N.J.) leaves the Capitol after a vote on Tuesday, June 8, 2021.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a pro-Israel stalwart who drew attention last month for his criticism of Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip, brushed off recent speculation that he had shifted his position on Israel, in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.

Pushing back: “As I’ve told [Israeli officials and pro-Israel activists], they forgot about the statement I put out at the beginning of the conflict, which cited unequivocally Israel’s right to defend itself and Hamas as a terrorist organization,” he said. “And they forgot about the second line of the second statement that they’re concerned about, which once again reiterated those two principles, but that went on to say that we were concerned about the attack on the AP building, and the strike on the refugee camp that created loss of human life. I think we should all regret the loss of human life, whether it’s Israeli or Palestinian.”

Background: The New Jersey senator said in a statement in mid-May that he was “deeply troubled” by an Israeli strike on a Gaza building containing offices of the Associated Press and other international media organizations, as well as the deaths of “innocent civilians in Gaza.” Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and U.N. Gilad Erdan said last week that Hamas was using the building in an attempt to disrupt the Iron Dome missile-defense system, and that the Israeli military would have had to conduct a ground invasion if not for the airstrike.

Talking it out: Menendez told JI that he discussed the Israeli government’s justification for the strike in a June 10 sit-down with Erdan. “It’s the statement the ambassador made. I didn’t get any proof of that,” Menendez said. “What I said to the ambassador [is it] would have been nice to have had that explanation the day of or the day after the attack. [It] would have made things far more clear and understandable, and he agreed.”

Read the full story here.

Bonus: Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) introduced the “Pray Safe Act” on Thursday. If passed, the legislation would create a federal “clearinghouse” under the Department of Homeland Security with information on “evidence based practices that demonstrate a significant effect on improving safety or security” for houses of worship and other faith-based organizations, as well as information on federal grant programs available to them. The bill is backed by the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federations of North America and the Orthodox Union.

exit interview

Ester Kurz reflects on four decades on Capitol Hill for AIPAC

Ester Kurz

Picture this: Israel is at war. Op-ed writers and major TV personalities are blasting the country’s actions. Members of one party in Congress are opposed to some U.S. aid to Israel, threatening to hold it up unless Israel acts in a certain way. But instead of last month’s 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas, it’s 1982, and Israel is at war with Lebanon. Rather than a handful of far-left Democrats who were urging Congress to limit aid to Israel, it was Republicans who criticized foreign aid to the country. For Ester Kurz, who retired last week after 39 years at AIPAC, the current partisan wrangling around Israel is nothing she hasn’t seen before. “It feels very much the same,” Kurz told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutchin a recent interview from her vacation home in Bethany Beach, Del.

Retirement reflections: As Kurz, who served most recently as the lobbying organization’s director of legislative strategy and policy, looks back on nearly four decades at one of the most prominent pro-Israel organizations in the country, she argues that history shows that the current rise in anti-Israel sentiment will be another passing fad, and that the bipartisanship promoted by AIPAC will largely remain the norm. “America basically is a centrist country,” she claimed, although polling shows that Americans have grown more polarized in recent years. Kurz does not discount that Americans have grown more divided, including on Israel, but she takes a hopeful view of the situation. “I’m optimistic that there will be a coming together in terms of the center,” she noted.

Netanyahu’s speech: She acknowledged that certain politicians — including former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former President Donald Trump — have at times allowed partisanship to affect the U.S.-Israel relationship, at times presenting a challenge for AIPAC. When asked whether Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to Congress, when he accepted an invitation from Republican House Speaker John Boehner to speak against the Iran nuclear deal without informing then-president Barack Obama, made AIPAC’s work more difficult by challenging the bipartisan nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship, she said yes. “We did hear about it for a long time afterwards,” Kurz said of the speech. “Even today, a lot of new members raise that as a turning point for them.”

Past is prologue: Kurz pointed to history to show that Netanyahu is not the first Israeli prime minister to openly clash with politicians in the U.S. In the early 1990s, in clear opposition to then-President George H.W. Bush, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir flaunted his support for settlement growth. In a 1992 speech, Shamir told supporters that he would “tell the Gentiles of the world” that “no force in the world will stop this construction” of Israeli homes in the West Bank and Gaza. At the time, Bush said he would not sign off on loan guarantees for Israel until it halted settlement construction and entered peace talks with the Palestinians. AIPAC and other pro-Israel organizations lobbied Congress to urge Bush to drop his conditions, which he did not; AIPAC stopped fighting it. Kurz described this as an obstacle past which AIPAC swiftly moved, because in 1992 Bush ultimately gave Israel the loan guarantees: “That turned into a success story,” she argued.

Turned down: She has not met with any members of the Squad personally, claiming they would not agree to meet with her or AIPAC. “We divide up areas of responsibility among different lobbyists, and so I had one or two of the Squad members,” she said, though she did not name who were in her portfolio. “They did not want to meet with us. I think that’s one of the frustrating things — that they obviously speak out frequently on the subject, and yet are unwilling to really listen to other voices.” She does not see an opportunity to change their minds. “I’m not saying the Squad can be turned around. They come at this from a certain perspective. And as I say, they’re not interested in the facts. But the vast majority of members of Congress, for them, facts do matter,” Kurz said.

Read the full interview here.

oyez oyez oyez

Orthodox activists say Supreme Court decision in LGBTQ adoption case could have gone further

Supreme Court of the United States

Orthodox Jewish leaders and activists are largely praising the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision on Thursday to side with a Catholic adoption agency in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia — a showdown between the adoption agency and the city over religious and LGBTQ rights — but are disappointed the Court did not go further to overturn a previous religious liberty ruling, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.

Unanimous: In Fulton, the High Court ruled 9-0 that Philadelphia could not refuse to contract with a Catholic adoption agency that will not consider same-sex couples as foster parents. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the city’s policy violated the First Amendment.

Big win: “There are some others that have other civil rights that they want to give primacy to and they want to shrink the protections for religious liberty,” Nathan Diament, the director of the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Center, told Jewish Insider. “This is the second time in a decade or so in which advocates, frankly from the left, came into the Supreme Court to try to shrink religious liberty, and the Supreme Court, left, right and center, responded unanimously and said, ‘No, we’re not going to shrink religious liberty.’”

Caveat: While the Court’s ruling was unanimous, Justice Samuel Alito, in a concurring opinion joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neal Gorsuch, argued that the Court should overturn the 1990 case Employment Division v. Smith, which decided that states can prohibit religious practices if the law blocking those practices applies universally and is not specifically intended to block said religious practice. Alito argued that the Smith decision could permit a state to ban kosher slaughter by making it illegal to slaughter a conscious animal or ban the circumcision of infants, among other similar restrictions.

Dodge: Nathan Lewin, a constitutional lawyer who filed a brief in Fulton for the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs, which was joined by Agudath Israel and other Jewish groups, said he was surprised and disappointed that Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanagh did not join Alito’s concurrence and overturn Smith. He added that he sees Roberts’ opinion as somewhat contrived, with the specific goal of avoiding overruling the Smith decision. “They are afraid that if they say something is overruled that everybody is going to say, ‘Oh, you’re ready to overrule Roe v. Wade,’” he said. “They’re afraid to overrule anything now… They look for ways out, some of which are totally untenable. What Roberts [ginned] up in this case is totally untenable.”

Read more here.

Bonus: In The Atlantic, Andrew Lewis examines the history of religious freedom jurisprudence and legislation, and how it has shifted to become an issue closely associated with the Republican Party and conservative Christians, particularly within the context of LGBTQ rights debates.

Worthy Reads

🙊 Bedfellows: For the New York Review of Books, Christopher R. Browning reviews Nazis and Nobles: The History of a Misalliance, in which author Stephan Malinowski analyzes the affinity between German nobility and the Nazis. “Ultimately, Malinowski concludes, the relationship between nobles and Nazis was a misalliance in which attraction prevailed over repulsion. Social and cultural tensions within it were strong, as nobles looked down on the Nazi riffraff with condescension and disdain, and Nazis—especially the more revolutionary among them—viewed nobles as arrogant and reactionary, destined to be replaced by a new elite emerging from a racially pure peasantry.” [NYReview]

😔 Sad State: In the New Yorker, Ronan Farrow argues that the Trump administration gutted the State Department, but that the Biden administration has been too cautious in its approach to rectify the situation. “State Department officials told me that the Biden Administration is acting too slowly  to reverse the effects of the purge. Some said that they feared that [Secretary of State Tony] Blinken and other Administration officials, eager to distance themselves from the reckless decision-making of the Trump era, have been hesitant to make bold policy decisions.” [NewYorker]

🗳️ Ballot Boycott: Ahead of today’s presidential election in Iran, former New York Times Tehran correspondent Nazila Fathi writes about calls from parents of Iranians who have been killed in state-sanctioned violence to boycott the polls. “What’s remarkable about the videos is their audacity: that Iranians are speaking up, seemingly without fear, about boycotting an election in an authoritarian country whose leaders rarely tolerate open displays of dissent. Iranians have had enough. And besides, what’s the point of voting when the result is predetermined?” [NYTimes]

Around the Web

🎯 Strike: For the third night in a row, Israel struck targets in Gaza last night, in response to wildfires caused by the balloons.

⚠️ Warning: Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi called on the IDF to prepare for another round of fighting with Hamas in Gaza, in the wake of ongoing incendiary balloon launches from the Strip.

📞 Meeting Merkel: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a call with outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday, and invited the German leader, who has visited Israel several times during her tenure, to make another visit to the country.

💉 Sharing: Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced that Israel would transfer 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to the Palestinian Authority.

🗑️  Shredder: Reports emerged Thursday that outgoing prime minister and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the illegal shredding of official documents before Prime Minister Naftali Bennett assumed office.

🤝 New Friends: Israel’s ambassador to Singapore said that Jerusalem would like to establish ties with Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei — the three Muslim-majority nations in South Asia, with which it does not currently have relations.

🔎 Investigation: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz called for a government inquiry into the Lag B’Omer stampede in Mt. Meron that killed 45 people in April.

✅🤷 Qualified Success: Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi claimed that Iran is “closer than ever to an agreement” that would revive the 2015 nuclear deal, but Russia’s representative to the Vienna talks said many substantive issues still need to be bridged.

🚢 Heave-Ho: Iranian navy ships, originally believed to be en route to Venezuela, again changed course this week and are now heading up the western African coast, possibly towards Syria or Russia, for what U.S. officials believe could be an arms transfer or joint naval exercise.

💔 Loyalty: In a recent interview with Ami Magazine, former President Donald Trump said that “Jewish people who live in the United States don’t love Israel enough.”

🎮 Eating Kosher Crow: Free agent NBA player Meyers Leonard apologized to a group of Jewish kids in a Florida synagogue over the weekend, his latest leg in an apology tour after using an antisemitic slur during a Twitch livestream of his playing “Call of Duty” in March.

💰 Cyber Cash: Israeli security startup Claroty raised $140 million in its latest round of funding.

🏞 Intertwined: The Washington State Jewish Historical Society and the Black Heritage Society of Washington State released overlapping virtual tours exploring the history of Seattle’s Black and Jewish communities and a virtual tour of Seattle’s Central District, highlighting Jewish history.

👨 Transition: Niv Elis, formerly a reporter for The Hill and the Jerusalem Post, is joining the Jewish Federations of North America as managing director of external communications.

🕯️ Remembering: Journalist and author Janet Malcolm died at age 86.

Pic of the Day

Aerial footage, taken yesterday, shows the increasing salt buildup in the southern Dead Sea, as the water continues to dry.

Birthdays

Scooter Braun attends FXX, FX and Hulu’s Season 2 Red Carpet Premiere Of “Dave” at The Greek Theatre on June 10, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

Music manager and media mogul, he owns two record labels and represents musical artists including Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, Scott Samuel “Scooter” Braun turns 40…

FRIDAY: Chicago-based attorney and former Alderman on the Chicago City Council, Solomon Gutstein turns 87… Former Washington Post editor and reporter, Fred Barbash turns 76… IT management advisor at Next Stage, Steven Shlomo Nezer turns 74… Former minister of economy, labour and entrepreneurship in the Croatian government, Davor Stern turns 74… Rabbi at Or Hamidbar in Palm Springs, Calif., Rabbi David James Lazar turns 64… Rebecca Diamond turns 61… Best-selling author and journalist, Joanne Lipman turns 60… Professor of English at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, Helene Meyers turns 59… Executive of the UK real estate firm William Pears Group, Sir Trevor Steven Pears (family name was Schleicher) turns 57… Global head of sustainability and inclusive growth at Goldman Sachs and former deputy national security advisor, Dina Powell McCormick turns 48… Principal of the Baltimore-based Cordish Companies and former White House official in the Trump admin, Reed Saunders Cordish turns 47… Film director and screenwriter, Jonathan A. Levine turns 45… Television producer and writer, Jeremy Bronson turns 41… Baseball pitcher for Team Israel at the upcoming Summer Olympics, he is also an analytics staffer for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jeremy Bleich turns 34… Associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Esther Lifshitz turns 34… Private equity associate at Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners, Jacob E. Best turns 26… Rachel Hazan…

SATURDAY: Journalist, academic and former U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands in the Carter administration, Geri M. Joseph turns 98… Binnie Stein turns 82… Attorney, investment banker and former deputy mayor of NYC, Kenneth Lipper turns 80… Rabbi emeritus of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, N.J., Rabbi Bennett F. Miller turns 73… Owner at Wenkert Healthcare Services, Harry E. Wenkert turns 65… President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jay Sanderson turns 64… Broker at Morgan Stanley, Inna N. Zalevsky turns 64… Overland Park, Kansas resident, Kathi Shaivitz Rosenberg turns 62… Director of communications for New York State Assembly member Steven Cymbrowitz, Adrienne M. Knoll turns 61… Former EVP of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, Valery Engel, Ph.D. turns 60… OB-GYN physician specializing in reproductive endocrinology and infertility, Jessica Rosenberg Brown, MD turns 60… Co-founder of boutique investment bank Centerview Partners, Blair Effron turns 59… Singer-songwriter and television personality, Paula Abdul turns 59… Former member of Knesset for the Zionist Union party, Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin turns 51… Serial entrepreneur, Andrew Perlman turns 46… Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles, Eitan Weiss turns 44… Staff writer at the New YorkerIsaac Chotiner turns 39… Director of affinities and global experiences at the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, Tslil Shtulsaft turns 38… Founder of JSwipe dating app, David Austin Yarus turns 35… Founder of Kahal: Your Jewish Home Abroad, he is now in the pharmaceutical cannabis industry, Alex Jakubowski turns 29… Finance director at M/O Strategies, Cydney Couch turns 26… Senior program officer at Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Anna Langer

SUNDAY: Weston, Fla., resident Harold Kurte turns 92… Author of 72 books, Dan Greenburg turns 85… Former member of Knesset for the Ratz party and then the Meretz party, Ran Cohen turns 84… Owner of Schulman Small Business Services, Alan Schulman turns 72… Detroit-based pawnbroker and reality TV star, Leslie “Les” Gold turns 71… Co-host of public radio’s “On the Media” from WNYC until last month, Bob Garfield turns 66… Former assistant managing editor for politics at NBC News and adjunct professor at CUNY’s Baruch College, Gregg Birnbaum turns 61… Founder of Brilliant Detroit (helping children out of poverty) and of Riverstone Communities (it owns and operates over 70 manufactured housing communities in 12 states), James Bellinson turns 61… EVP of the Orthodox Union, Rabbi Moshe Hauer turns 56… Senior legal affairs contributor at PoliticoJosh Gerstein turns 51… Attorney general of Pennsylvania since 2017, Josh Shapiro turns 48… Director of civic initiatives at The Teagle Foundation, Tamara Mann Tweel, Ph.D. turns 42… Journalist and EMT in NYC, Maggie Shnayerson turns 40… Director of brand strategy and digital innovation at Kivvit, Pearl Gabel turns 40… VP of corporate communications at e-cigarette company Juul Labs and former deputy communications director in the Trump White House, Josh Raffel turns 37… Jennifer Bernstein turns 36… Photographer, producer and digital strategist, Sara Pearl Kenigsberg turns 33… National director of outreach and programming at CJPAC, Jaime Reich… Chief campus officer at Hillel Ontario, Beverley Shimansky

Edie Villetas

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