What’s in a Name?

Contribute to Liana Finck’s ‘Tell Mitzi’ column

(Liana Finck/Tablet Magazine)

Check out Liana Finck’s fourth installment of “Tell Mitzi” today. She considers Lot’s wife, salt, and the dangers of nostalgia.

Now it’s time for you to help her out again. This week, Liana wants to know: What is your name? Where does it come from? What does it mean to you? Leave your answer in the comments, and maybe she will respond to yours in next week’s “Tell Mitzi.”

Related: Ingrained Habits [Tablet Magazine]

Men With Guns

Today on Tablet


Lee Smith has a special Monday edition of his Mideast column today in Tablet Magazine to respond to the events in Egypt. His take? We are witnessing the fourth test of George W. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda”—the notion that “promoting democracy in the region was not only good for the Arabs, but also in America’s national interest”—and that if the first three test cases (Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza) are any indication, we should not be optimistic. Smith argues:

That the United States will not come to the aid of its liberal allies, or strengthen the moderate Muslims against the extremists, is one reason why the Freedom Agenda is not going to work, at least not right now. The underlying reason then is Arab political culture, where real democrats and genuine liberals do not stand a chance against the men with guns.

Burning Bush

What’s Going on in Egypt?

Judith Miller, former Cairo reporter, discusses the key players

Tanks and protestors in the streets of Cairo yesterday.(Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

Reading my post on the events in Egypt late Friday afternoon, you may have perceived my deep ambivalence. On the one hand: Democracy for Egypt! On the other hand: What would democracy mean for Egypt? On the one hand: Down with Mubarak! On the other hand: Up with the Muslim Brotherhood?

Since then, things have only gotten more confusing. They also, as the reign of President Hosni Mubarak looks increasingly tenuous, have seemed only to gather import. Which is why I’m going to spend a good portion of The Scroll this week (especially today) trying to explain and figure out what is going on and how I, and maybe you, should feel about it. Among other things, I’m going to be interviewing a series of experts who are coming at this from various perspectives. There will be another interview later today; for now, go on and read what Judith Miller, who put in time as the New York Times Cairo bureau chief, has to say about Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, Mohammed ElBaradei, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Crisis in Cairo [Tablet Magazine]

Daybreak: Protesters Call for ‘Millions’

Plus Israel’s response, U.S. demands for ‘orderly transition,’ and more in the news

Protestors pray in Tahrir Square, Cairo, today.(Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)

• The revolution of the young in Egypt gathered momentum today, with calls for a “march of millions” tomorrow. [NYT]

• The Muslim Brotherhood, which has insisted it is purposefully playing a minor role, backed moderate pro-democracy activist Mohammed ElBaradei, in a sign of its increasing moderation (or at least desire to appear as much). [WSJ]

• Israel’s government has officially entered radio silence on the events but is extremely worried about what they mean for its bilateral relationship and stability in the region. [NYT]

• Secretary of State Clinton called for “real democracy” but did not explicitly call for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down. “Orderly transition” is a key administration byphrase. [WP]

• The events have sent U.S. policy and interests in the region into a state of uncertainty. [WSJ]

• Egypt dispatched troops to the Gaza border to prevent Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, from sending terrorists and arms from Gaza into Egypt (and vice-versa). This is a big deal because the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was supposed to largely demilitarize Sinai; the troop deployment was coordinated with Israel’s Defense Ministry. [JPost]

• With turmoil additionally having racked Tunisia (where the main Islamist leader has returned), Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and even Jordan, Syrian President Bashar Assad, in a rare Western interview, pledged to pursue reforms. [WSJ]

• Yesterday, state television reported, Mubarak ordered his new cabinet and new prime minister to improve economic conditions. Oh, buddy, I don’t know if that’s going to cut it anymore. [Haaretz]

Sundown: Has Obama Lost Mideast Cred?

Plus the real problem with Palin, and more

President Obama today.(Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)

Feel like an extra-long round-up for the weekend? Me too.

• The Palestine Papers keep on giving: In 2009, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told U.S. envoy George Mitchell that President Obama lost “credibility … throughout the region,” adding, “people in the Middle East are not taking Barack Obama seriously. They feared Bush, despite everything.” [JPost]

• The Qatari emir told Sen. Kerry about a year ago that now is the time for the United States to engage Syria, and that Hamas will accept a deal along the 1967 borders, though won’t say so publicly. This one’s WikiLeaks. [WikiLeaks]

• Her intentions aside, Anthony Grafton condemns Sarah Palin’s invocation of the term “blood libel” for the damage it does to history and to the memories of countless Jews who suffered because of it. [TNR]

• A new entry in the “who sucked more, Hitler or Stalin?” debate from Bloodlands author Timothy Snyder. Turns out that Stalin was more motivated by ethnicity than was thought … but that Hitler really did kill significantly more innocents. [NYRB]

• Tablet Magazine contributor Nicholas Noe argues that U.S. policy toward Lebanon since the 2005 Cedar Revolution was a colossal failure, only helping Hezbollah, and that the one way to head off a really bad confrontation with Israel would be to push Israel to make peace with Syria. [NYT]

• Gal Beckerman remembers the late Samuel T. Cohen, the little-known inventor of the neutron bomb whose memoir was called F*** You: Mr. President. [Forward] (more…)

U.S. Backing Away From Egypt’s Regime

Popular anti-government revolts convulse Israel’s neighbors

Cairo tonight.(Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

Are we watching the end of the 30-plus-year reign of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak? He has called in the army as protests raged for their fourth straight day; Internet has been shut off; tear gas and rubber bullets have been employed, at the least; Mohamed ElBaradei, one opposition leader, has reportedly been placed under house arrest. There are dispatches aplenty: One I’d particularly recommend is on The New Yorker’s Website.

Most remarkably of all: The United States might be … siding with the protestors. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called for an end to violence and the lifting of the Internet ban. Secretary of State Clinton insisted that “leaders need to respond” to their peoples’ calls for democracy; Sen. John Kerry, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, went further, explicitly calling for free and fair elections. On top of that, the Obama administration is publicly threatening to reconsider the $1.5 billion in annual U.S. military aid Egypt receives, which, as I noted earlier today, was actually the initial result of Egypt’s becoming the first Arab country to make peace with Israel. (more…)

A Gun for Everyone

Today on Tablet


Today in Tablet Magazine, Liel Leibovitz presents two arguments. One, that the lesson of this week’s parasha—which contains Moses’s famous “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” injunction—would actually, if properly implemented, lead to an era of greater progressiveness and personal accountability. And, second, that the best way to get this done would be if everyone had guns.

High Noon

Leave Me Alone!

Comment of the week

(Ravi Joshi/Tablet Magazine)

Winner gets a free Nextbook Press book appropriate to his or her comment (provided he or she emails me at with his or her mailing address).

This week’s winner is Rabbi Andy Bachman, for defending me in choosing the Green Bay Packers over the Pittsburgh Steelers (to root for, not necessarily to win): “Joshua, no name calling. Only respect here. I submit to you Charles ‘Buckets’ Goldenberg, who, granted, didn’t start a hedge fund after his stellar career with the Packers but made his dime the old-fashioned Jewish way—with food. My grandparents used to take us to eat in Buckets’ restaurant often and I can testify that his food caused less indigestion that most questionable investments in the last decade.”

Rabbi Bachman, of Congregation Beth Elohim, will receive Joseph Telushkin’s biography of another great Jewish teacher.

Solitary Refusenik

Today on Tablet


Today in Tablet Magazine, Sasha Senderovich reports on how the wife of Yigal Amir, the man convicted of assassinating Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, has cast her husband—kept in solitary confinement, against normal standards, due to “the recommendation of [Israel's] security services”—as something like a latter-day Soviet dissident.


Standing by La MaMa

An unusually idiotic Israel-related boycott piques my wrath

Ellen Stewart, of La Mama, in 2006.(NYT)

I have more than a few bad traits, but I don’t think hotheadedness is one of them. A decade of reporting and writing about Jews—not to mention the two and half decades before that living as one—has thickened my skin enough that I don’t generally overreact to stupidity or misguidedness, either when it is perpetrated by my co-religionists or when it is directed at them. But in the annals of recent toxic lunacy, a call to boycott the La MaMa Theater for hosting a gala to raise money for an Israeli Dance Week takes home first prize. Let me say this as plainly as I can, before the throbbing veins in my neck burst: Boycotting is stupid; singling out Israel for boycotting is unjust; and boycotting artists is, among a host of other bad things, incredibly tacky. But boycotting La MaMa—the experimental theater in New York that, guided by the incomparable and dear departed Ellen Stewart, became a once-in-a-generation haven of internationalism and cultural freedom—is just nuts.

The call was issued on the Dance Insider’s Website by Paul Ben-Itzak, a writer whose alter egos include “DJ Yo Mama,” on January 13 — the very day that Stewart died. (I’m going to believe this is a coincidence—that Ben-Itzak did not intentionally attack the theater on the day it lost its patron saint—mainly because to believe otherwise would cause a depression that not even hours of videos of cats hugging their teddy bears could alleviate.) (more…)

Tea Party Senator Endorses End of Israeli Aid

Is Rand Paul about to start a GOP civil war?

Sen. Paul, yesterday, at the inaugural meeting of the Tea Party Caucus.(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Sen. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky and among the most prominent elected officials clearly associated with the Tea Party, yesterday argued for ending U.S. foreign aid to all countries, including Israel. “When you send foreign aid, you actually [send] quite a bit to Israel’s enemies. Islamic nations around Israel get quite a bit of foreign aid, too,” Paul, a renowned deficit and spending hawk (and son of renowned deficit hawk and isolationist Ron), told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “You have to ask yourself, are we funding an arms race on both sides? I have a lot of sympathy and respect for Israel as a democratic nation, as a a fountain of peace and a fountain of democracy within the Middle East.” But, Blitzer confirmed, Paul does believe U.S. aid should cease to Israel.

J Street and the National Jewish Democratic Council of course pounced, but more interesting was the Republican Jewish Coalition’s response: “We share Senator Paul’s commitment to restraining the growth of federal spending, but we reject his misguided proposal to end U.S. assistance to our ally, Israel.” Trouble in paradise! (No but they’re totally right about the proposal.) (more…)

What Rhymes With Jewish?

Today on Tablet


Poetry columnist David Kaufmann pins down the labyrinthine verse of avant-garde poet Daniel Morris’s latest collection today in Tablet Magazine. Kaufmann finds it stridently secular yet undeniably Jewish: “These guys don’t speak Yiddish, to be sure,” he says of Morris’s cohort, “but they remember some of its inflections.”

Enthusiastic Blasphemy

Settle Down

Israelis have a hard time settling differences, let alone settlements

(Len Small/Tablet Magazine)

Israelispeak is the way Israelis and the Israeli media use Hebrew. Behind the literal meaning, there’s an additional web of suggestion, doublespeak, and cultural innuendo that too often gets lost in translation. Every Friday, we reveal what is really being said. To view all the entries in this series, click here.

Say “settlements” in the context of the Middle East and you’ll probably think of the West Bank, not the hardy pioneers who came to Israel before it was Israel and drained the swamps in their now-iconic kibbutz hats. But the Hebrew language has a rather more complicated relationship with two words for “settlement”: hityashvut and hitnahlut.

Today, “hitnahlut” (settlement) has become the standard word for Jewish areas in the West Bank, and “mitnahlim” (settlers) the standard word for those who live in them—at least if the people doing the talking (or writing) do not themselves fit in that category.

But if you’re speaking to Jews who live in the West Bank (or used to live in Gaza before Israel’s 2005 withdrawal), you’re a lot more likely to hear them talking about their yishuv, which can literally be translated as “settlement,” but is basically a town that may be located on either side of the Green Line. When speaking of settlements in general, those who live in them often refer to them as “yishuvim b’Yosh”—yishuvim in Judea and Samaria, the biblical names for the area now commonly referred to as the West Bank—rather than hitnahluyot, the outsiders’ word for settlements. (more…)

Daybreak: Egyptians in the Streets

Plus Obama administration, long pro-regime, voices support, and more in the news

Egyptians, protesting the Mubarak regime, sprayed by water cannon.(Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

• Egyptians woke up to find Internet access shut down. Many have taken to the streets in protest of the Mubarak regime, where they have been met by water cannons and rubber bullets. [WSJ]

• The Obama administration is offering measured but very real support for the Arab revolts, including in Egypt. [WP]

• WikiLeaks cables reveal that the Obama administration has largely shied from the airing and condemnation of Egyptian human rights abuses, in a successful effort to warm relations with the regime. [NYT]

• Israel, watching the proceedings to its south, cautiously believes Mubarak will not be toppled and there will be no Lebanon-like border incidents. [WP]

• Prime Minister Olmert’s legal troubles, President Abbas’s instransigence, and eventually the Gaza war torpedoed what had been in 2008 a very nearly reached peace deal, according to excerpts from Olmert’s new memoir. [NYT]

• New, Hezbollah-backed Lebanese Prime Minister Nijab Mikati pledged to cut an independent path and not interfere with the U.N. tribunal invesigating the Hariri assassination (which is difficult to believe given Hezbollah’s stake). [NYT]

Sundown: Rahm’s In It

Plus Seinfeld invents another holiday, and more


• The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Rahm Emanuel can run for mayor, overturning the appeals court verdict. The debate is tonight. [The Fix]

• Fox News accuses 400 rabbis of left-wing conspiracy. [Cutline]

• Brilliant: “How to be Jewish”. [Thought Catalog]

• Jerry Seinfeld on why a blizzard is like Yom Kippur. (What’s the deal with snow?) [Arts Beat]

• A really interesting report about two Jewish children of an unfit mother whose foster parents are non-Jewish and want to adopt them—but the mother wants them to go to a Jewish family. No idea how to feel about this.
[Jewish Star]

• Marty Peretz—despite recently saying it would “never happen” in NYT Magazine—will be returning to The New Republic as editor-in-chief emeritus with a brand new column on the website. In other words, he’s baaaack. [TNR]

This is exactly how I feel when I have to decide between watching Seinfeld and, I don’t know, going to the DMV?

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