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Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy spar over aid to Israel at first GOP debate

(JTA) – In a night of standoffs between Republican presidential candidates on the debate stage, one of the fiercest occurred over Israel.

During the first debate of the 2024 presidential campaign season in Milwaukee on Wednesday, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley attacked entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy over his proposal to cut United States aid to Israel. It was the longest conversation about Jewish issues all evening, and brought increased visibility to a topic that, after decades of being a political third rail, has come under discussion on both sides of the aisle.

The debate, which was hosted by Fox News, included eight candidates but not the frontrunner, former President Donald Trump. Trump opted for a taped interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that was aired at the same time on the social media platform X, which is popularly known as Twitter. 

 Beyond Israel, the candidates also invoked Ukraine’s Jewish President Volodomyr Zelensky in a surprising way, and progressive megadonor George Soros, who is Jewish, in an unsurprising one. Here were the big Jewish moments of the debate.

Vivek, Nikki and Israel

Haley lashed out at Ramaswamy over his recent suggestion that he would cut American aid to Israel if elected, leading to tense sparring between the two candidates in which Ramswamy defended his position while asserting that he considered Israel a “friend.”

“He wants to go and stop funding Israel,” Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, said about Ramaswamy, referring to the rising political neophyte’s promise to cut aid to the country after the current funding deal, which gives Israel $3.8 million annually, expires in 2028.

In response, Ramaswamy sought to clarify his stance on Israel without backing down from his position. 

“Our relationship with Israel will never be stronger than by the end of my first term,” he said. “But it’s not a client relationship, it is a friendship. And you know what friends do? Friends help each other stand on their own two feet.”

Ramaswamy went on to reiterate his previous pledge to “lead Abraham Accords 2.0,” referring to the 2020 normalization agreements between Israel and several Arab states, by getting other Middle Eastern countries to establish relations with Israel. He added that he would “make sure Iran never is nuclear-armed.” 

He also readily rattled off a list of things he said “I love” about Israel, including “their border policies,” “their tough on crime policies,” their “national identity” and “an Iron Dome to protect their homeland” — the latter of which, a missile defense system, is partially funded by U.S. military aid. 

But Haley shot back. “He wants to stop funding Israel. You don’t do that to your friends,” she retorted. “It’s not that Israel needs America. America needs Israel.” 

The exchange may have helped both candidates stand out. It was a familiar position for the former ambassador to take. Haley, who is trailing Ramaswamy in the polls, built a close relationship with Israel (and with the American pro-Israel establishment), and was known for her vocal defense of the country at the United Nations. 

Ramaswamy, by comparison, is an untested quantity in the Israel debate, and his stance on aid differs from the mainstream Republican position, which supports military funding for Israel. Yet during the debate he bragged about his multiple visits to the country, and he has strong ties with a Jewish society at Yale University. The society’s co-founder, Rabbi Shmully Hecht, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Ramaswamy “is the most pro-Israel candidate running for president of the United States.”

Other Republicans on the stage declined to weigh in on Haley and Ramaswamy’s dispute, though several of them have built up their pro-Israel bonafides and one, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, sported a dual U.S.-Israel flag pin on his lapel.

‘Pope Zelensky’

Aid to Israel wasn’t the only foreign-policy issue where Ramaswamy’s position differed from those of his opponents.

During a segment on continued U.S. support for Ukraine in its war against Russia, he accused his opponents of being too loyal to “their pope, Zelensky,” referring to the country’s Jewish president. Ramaswamy has previously claimed, without evidence, that Zelensky has endangered Ukraine’s Jewish population

His stance was swiftly rebutted by former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who both pledged increased U.S. aid to Ukraine as a bulwark against Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

A swipe at ‘George Soros funding’

When the spotlight turned to Ron DeSantis, he blamed rising crime on local district attorneys with “George Soros funding”, invoking the Jewish progressive megadonor who is a frequent target of the right (and of antisemitic conspiracy theories). 

The Florida governor, who has attacked Soros previously, also bragged about ousting attorneys in his home state who, he claimed, received funding from Soros. 

“You have George Soros funding these radical left-wing district attorneys, they get into office and they say, ‘We’re not going to prosecute crimes,’” DeSantis said, adding to massive cheers, “When we had two out of three district attorneys in Florida elected with Soros funding who said they wouldn’t do their job, I removed them from their posts. They are gone.” 

One of the attorneys DeSantis suspended last year was Tampa-area Jewish prosecutor Andrew Warren, who had vowed not to prosecute violations of the state’s abortion ban. The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, which supports police officers, has classified Warren as a “Soros-backed social justice prosecutor.” 

Blaming rising crime on Soros-backed prosecutors more generally, DeSantis pledged to flush them out of the federal government if he were to be elected. “As president we are going to go after all of these people, because they are hurting the quality of life and they are victimizing innocent people in every corner of this country,” he said.

DeSantis is currently polling a distant second in the primary, just in front of Ramaswamy.

‘Judeo-Christian values’

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott made the night’s sole reference to “Judeo-Christian values,” a popular idiom on the right.

“Our nation was founded upon the Judeo-Christian values that has made this the greatest nation on God’s green Earth,” Scott declared, quoting the New Testament in response to a question from the moderator about how “faith is on decline in this country.”

The post Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy spar over aid to Israel at first GOP debate appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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White House Calls Netanyahu’s Comments on US Weapons Deliveries ‘Perplexing,’ ‘Disappointing’

US White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, US, June 17, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

The White House expressed “deep disappointment” over criticism from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the United States on Thursday amid tensions between the two allies over Israel‘s war in Gaza.

“It was perplexing to say the least, certainly disappointing, especially given that no other country is doing more to help Israel defend itself against the threat by Hamas,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

The White House response came as national security adviser Jake Sullivan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken planned meetings with Netanyahu’s two top aides to discuss the Gaza conflict.

Netanyahu on Tuesday issued an English-language video in which he said Blinken had assured him that the Biden administration was working to lift restrictions on arms deliveries to Israel, an exchange the top US diplomat declined to confirm.

In a rare account of normally private diplomatic conversations, Netanyahu also said he told Blinken that it was “inconceivable” that in the past few months Washington was withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel.

Kirby addressed the comments in a briefing with reporters, saying the US had directly expressed displeasure to Israel.

“I think we’ve made it abundantly clear to our Israeli counterparts through various vehicles our deep disappointment in the statements expressed in that video and our concerns over the accuracy in the statements made,” Kirby said.

“The idea that we had somehow stopped helping Israel with their self-defense needs is absolutely not accurate,” he said.

Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Ron Dermer, Israel‘s minister for strategic affairs, will speak with Sullivan as a larger, more formal “strategic dialogue” meeting was being rescheduled, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Blinken will meet with the Israelis at 3 pm, according to a senior State Department official.

Blinken said weapons shipments — with the exception of one with 2,000-pound bombs — were moving as usual given Israel faced security threats beyond Gaza, including from Hezbollah and Iran. He declined to comment on his private exchange with Netanyahu during a news conference on Tuesday.

The United States in May paused a shipment of 2,000-pound and 500-pound bombs due to concern over the impact they could have in densely populated areas but Israel was still due to get billions of dollars worth of US weaponry.

Scrutiny on Israel‘s conduct in its military operation in Gaza has increased as the Palestinian death toll from the war in the Hamas-run enclave has increased. Israeli officials argue they have gone to unprecedented lengths to try and avoid civilian casualties, noting Hamas terrorists embed themselves within the larger population and use civilian sites as military operation centers.

The war started when Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists stormed across the border and attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 others hostage.

Biden in April warned Israel that the US would stop supplying it weapons if Israeli forces launch a large-scale offensive in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza that is considered the last major bastion of Hamas.

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Israeli Actress Shira Haas Wins Award for Role in Upcoming TV Series ‘Night Therapy’

Shira Haas on the set of “Night Therapy.” Photo: Nati Levi

Israeli actress Shira Haas was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Monte Carlo Television Festival on Tuesday night for her role in an upcoming Israeli television series titled “Night Therapy” that will premiere later this month.

Haas stars in the 10-part psychological drama alongside Yousef Sweid (“Munich Games,” “Game of Thrones”), as well as Lucy Ayoub, Yaakov Zada Daniel, and Firas Nassar, all of whom have starred in the popular Israeli series “Fauda.”

Haas, who accepted her award from the Monte Carlo Television Festival via video because she was in the United States filming, took to Instagram to thank the festival for her award.

“This is such a special project for me, a personal and genuinely (ongoing) healing one, and I can’t wait for you all to meet Yasmin very soon,” she wrote, referencing her character’s name in the show.

Written and created by Raanan Caspi, “Night Therapy” is about an Arab-Israeli psychologist named Louie (Sweid) who struggles to raise his two children after his Jewish-Israeli wife commits suicide. To be more present for his children during the day and to better balance his work and home life, Louie decides to shift his practice so he sees patients at night. Haas plays one of his patients — a computer genius named Yasmin who rarely leaves her home and prefers to spend her time in the virtual world instead of the real one.

“Through the gateway and magic of the late clinic hours, and flashback scenes where Louie acts as an unseen observer to their problems, the series depicts refreshing points of view on life, which often require unusual treatments,” according to a synopsis provided by Yes Studios, which is distributing the show. “Combining absorbing therapy sessions — written with the input of practicing psychologists — with storylines and characters from Louie’s personal life, ‘Night Therapy’ is a touching, emotional and sexy new drama series.”

The show premieres on Yes TV in Israel on June 30 and is being sold internationally by Yes Studios. The series is directed by Gabriel Bibliowicz and produced by Dafna Danenberg, Aviram Avraham, and Benny Menache at Eight Productions.

Haas previously had starring roles in the hit Israeli television series “Shtisel” as well as the film “Unorthodox,” for which she won an award. She also became the first Israeli television actress nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in “Unorthodox.” Haas Tribeca Film Festival for starring in “Asia,” in which she played a terminally ill character, and additionally won two best supporting actress awards at the Israeli Academy Awards. She is reportedly scheduled to appear in Marvel’s upcoming film “Captain America: Brave New World” as an Israeli superhero named Sabra.

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Swiss Museum Sells Monet Painting in Settlement With Heirs of Former Jewish Owner Forced to Sell Artwork During WWII

A partial view of Monet’s “L’Homme à l’ombrelle.” Photo: Kunsthaus Zürich via Wikimedia Commons

The largest art museum in Switzerland announced on Wednesday that it is selling a painting by Claude Monet as part of an agreement with heirs of the artwork’s original Jewish owner, who was forced to sell it during World War II when he fled Nazi Germany.

The Kunsthaus Zürich said it reached a “fair and just solution” and “amicable settlement” with the heirs of Jewish entrepreneur Carl Sachs regarding the painting “L’Homme à l’ombrelle” (“Man with a Parasol”) from the late 19th century. Proceeds from the sale will be allocated between the museum and Sachs’ family.

Sachs and his wife fled Nazi persecution in Germany and moved to Switzerland in 1939. He was forced to sell “L’Homme à l’ombrelle,” and several other pieces from his art collection, to the Kunsthaus Zürich in order to make a living. “The sale of Monet’s ‘L’Homme à l’ombrelle’ to the Kunsthaus Zürich was the first work that Sachs had to sell due to the acute financial emergency just a few weeks after fleeing Nazi Germany to Switzerland,” the museum explained.

“A swift sale was needed to provide the couple with money to live on, and he was therefore acting under duress,” the Kunsthaus Zürich said. Sachs died shortly afterward in December 1943 and by that point he had sold 13 artworks from his collection.

Philipp Hildebrand, the chair of Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft, said: “Of course we regret that this wonderful painting will leave the Kunsthaus. At the same time, this step underpins the seriousness of our provenance strategy and our fundamental attitude towards a transparent and solution-oriented approach to works in our collection in which there are substantiated references to Nazis [or] there is a situation of a persecution-related predicament.”

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