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Damascus Gate

Who told honcho Malcolm Hoenlein to go to Syria?

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Malcolm Hoenlein, a man some refer to not entirely jokingly as “King of the Jews,” quietly visited Damascus over the holidays, Israel’s Channel 10 reported yesterday, to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—the man who, not incidentally, may hold the key to striking an Israeli-Arab peace. (Though Tablet Magazine Mideast columnist Lee Smith is skeptical of U.S.-Syrian outreach.)

It’s no secret that the administration is making overtures to the Syrians—last week, President Obama named the first U.S. ambassador to the country since 2005—and, over the weekend, a report surfaced in the Kuwaiti press that the Syrians have told Obama adviser Dennis Ross (who is heading to the region now) that they’re ready to play footsie back, in the form of opening dialogue with the Israelis. (The story was subsequently refuted by Syria’s state-run news agency.) What’s less clear is how Prime Minister Netanyahu feels about all this. Which is why the big news of the Channel 10 story was the claim that Hoenlein, whom I profiled last May, went to Damascus to courier a message to Assad from Bibi.

Hoenlein has vociferously denied this aspect of the report. “I was invited in a personal capacity and was not sent by Netanyahu,” he wrote me yesterday. He told Politico’s Laura Rozen that he went to discuss “humanitarian issues” (perhaps Gilad Schalit, Rozen mused on Twitter), but refused to elaborate, on the grounds that his credibility depends on his ability to keep his mouth shut about private conversations. (more…)

Daybreak: Iran Won’t Invite Everyone to its Party

Plus an Upper West Side bomb threat, and more in the news

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• Iran offered to show its nuclear facilities to several nations, including Russia and a few E.U. countries, and ostentatiously not the United States. Even the invited guests seem to be rejecting the invitation. [WSJ]

• The Palins are going to Israel! No but it’s really happening. Likely this spring. [Page Six]

• American Jewish community leader Malcolm Hoenlein met with Syrian leadership in Damascus. Much more at 10. [Haaretz]

• Israel will likely nearly double its oil and gas taxes following its major off-shore energy finds. [WSJ]

• An Upper West Side synagogue received a bomb threat pledging New Year’s Eve devastation (so, phew). [JPost]

• The bombing of an Egyptian Coptic Church that killed 21 drew the Anti-Defamation League’s condemnation. [JPost]

Sundown: Bieber Backs Center, Draws Ire

Plus Medvedev, Twitter, and more search-engine bait

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Bieber Bieber!(Wikipedia)

Shema-spouting star Justin Bieber is being boycotted after he appeared to say something in support of the Ground Zero Islamic center. So 2011 is going to be weird after all? [Salon]

• Malcolm Hoenlein, the “unofficial King of the Jews,” attended secret meetings in Damascus on behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Check out Allison Hoffman’s profile of Hoenlein from last May. [Haaretz]

• Obama administration adviser Dennis Ross heads to Jerusalem to try to accomplish … something. [Laura Rozen]

• Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev had to cancel a visit to Israel due to a strike by the Israeli Foreign Ministry workers’ union. [Ynet]

• A 24-year-old Jewish woman is the current mayor of the Temple Mount on Foursquare, the social network. I give this a few days before it becomes an international incident. [Observer]

• Speaking of social networking: Thank you, whoever you are, for making Tablet Magazine’s Twitter feed, @tabletmag, the 26th most influential Jewish feed. So if you don’t follow us already, you really really should! [JTA]

The Coen Brothers’ True Grit is good. The original is better.

Two Down, the Pats To Go All the Way?

How our teams fared yesterday

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Julian Edelman, tearing it up.(Elsa/Getty Images)

What else is there to say about Tablet Magazine’s New England Patriots? Playing arguably the toughest schedule, they went a League-best 14-2, securing homefield advantage until February. They extended their home regular season win streak to a record 27. They committed ten turnovers during the entire season, a record. Quarterback Tom Brady had, maybe, a career year: 36 touchdowns versus four interceptions, a genuinely absurd ratio of 9.0 that absolutely smashed the previous record of 6.25 (held by himself). As of now, he has thrown 335 consecutive passes without an interception, which will probably remain the record many years from now.

Yesterday the Pats sat several key starters and, as a result, were only barely able to escape with a win over the 7-9 Miami Dolphins, 38-7 (yes I was joking). Not-Jewish-but-Jewish-sounding back-up receiver Julian Edelman had a career day, catching three passes for 72 yards, and throwing in a 94-yard punt return for six points. It would almost be an understatement to call the Pats the prohibitive favorite to win the Super Bowl. The last time a team was so favored, it was 2007, and the Pats had just gone 16-0; in many ways, this regular season was more impressive. Of course, in early 2008, the Pats were upset in the Super Bowl by the New York Giants. They won’t have to worry about the Giants this year, though. And it is pretty clear who Tablet Magazine’s playoff team is. (more…)

Ghosts and Clowns

Today on Tablet

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Josh Lambert offers his weekly round-up of forthcoming Jewish books of note.

On the Bookshelf

Calling All Designers!

Apply for our spring internship

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(Jean David/grainedit.com)

Tablet Magazine is looking for a brilliant designer to work with our Art Department. The intern will get hands-on experience in a lively magazine environment, working with fast-paced daily content, in an office located in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. The intern will be paid a stipend.

He or she may be a junior or senior undergraduate student, mid-program graduate student, or recently graduated. A working knowledge of HTML, PHP, and Photoshop is desirable. Software fluency in Flash, InDesign, and Illustrator is encouraged. Interns will gain CMS experience (especially in WordPress), and should be fluent in social media (Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube).

Working closely with the art directors, the Web design intern will help design, program, and produce Web pages for Tablet Magazine and Nextbook Press. The intern will also attend editorial meetings and learn the various production systems used. The internship aims to introduce the intern to Website design and to build skills, as well as to cultivate their own creative interests.

The internship begins February 1. Web design applicants should submit a cover letter, résumé, and portfolio that includes layouts, typography, or working website URLs to design.intern@tabletmag.com. Submission deadline is January 12th.

Which Book Can (Almost) Stop a Bullet?

Hint: HaShem may have something to do with it

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Big books tend to be known as “door-stoppers.” But what about bullet-stoppers? A group of book-minded young folks affiliated with Electric Literature, including Jewcy editor (and Friend-of-The-Scroll) Jason Diamond, decided to find out which big 2010 novel is most adept at defending you from an assassination attempt; the results were filmed by Alex Markman, who is also, independently, a Friend-of-The-Scroll.

I won’t give away the winner before the jump. But I will tell you that after the jump, you will a special comment from the author of the book that did the best job at halting the metal harbinger of death.


(more…)

Matzah Ball Soup for the Chinese Soul

The Jews and their excellentness

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Sigmund Freud and cigar.()

The New Yorker reports (subscription-only) on the progress Freudianism has made in China.* And a fantastic Newsweek article (via Atlantic Wire) chronicles the plethora of Chinese books that, seeking to cash in on the widespread Chinese perception that Jews are good at making money (wonder where they got that idea?), cast the Talmud as something of a business Bible. “There’s even a Talmud hotel in Taiwan inspired by ‘the Talmud’s concept of success,’” we learn. “The guides are like the Chinese equivalents of books such as Sun Tzu and the Art of Business.”

The article clarifies several things. Like that this Chinese perception of the Jews is fundamentally different from the anti-Semitic perception of Jews as nefarious (and highly successful) worshippers of Mammon, and in fact has its roots in the history of Chinese business and culture. Also that the Talmud is in fact in no way whatsoever actually a book about how to make money.

But the Chinese really do dig the Jews! According to Google, the fourth-most-asked “why?” question in Mandarin in 2009 was “Why are Jews excellent?”. Which, of course, begs the question: Why are Jews excellent? To the comments with you!

Selling the Talmud as a Business Guide [Newsweek]
Meet Dr. Freud [The New Yorker]
Related: Kosher Chinese (more…)

T.V. Learning

Today on Tablet

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Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall praises reality television today in Tablet Magazine for its pedagogical value. As an avid chronicler of Top Chef myself (as well as a native of Washington, D.C., where the chef in question makes her home), this example struck a chord:

She’s a great role model—she’s funny (she calls “hootie-hoo,” like an owl when she loses her husband in a grocery store), self-aware (she ruefully called her undercooked quinoa “un-duntay” instead of “al dente”), and sane in times of crisis. In the last episode, she accidentally cut off half her fingernail in a chopping-knife mishap, but unlike a certain other drama-queeny contestant who ran to the hospital with a lesser injury, she told the medic to bandage her up, then put on a rubber glove and kept cooking. … When other chefs derided her desire to make an African ground-nut soup for a challenge at the U.S. Open (saying it wasn’t “elevated” enough for a fine-dining experience), Hall politely stuck to her guns, and went on to win. Again: a great lesson for kids.

For Real

The New Track to Palestinian Statehood

Will anti-settlement sentiment prove a tipping point?

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Palestinian President Abbas and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.(Jorge William/Globo via Getty Images)

“Fayyadism” is the strategy under which increased state-building in the West Bank would give the Palestinian Authority enough of the trappings of sovereignty that international legitimacy, particularly through the United Nations, would grow to the point that a unilateral declaration of independence may not seem ridiculous. Though it was disowned by its namesake (Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad), and though it is not apparent that state-building is particularly advanced, recent events and currents suggest that Fayyadism may merely have been hibernating during the latest unproductive round of peace talks. Cut to Palestinian President Abbas publicly hoping for a state in 2011.

All of South America except for Colombia and Peru have either recognized or plans to recognize a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders. Abbas was in Brasilia last month for a groundbreaking ceremony—complete with flying doves!—for what will be the Palestinian embassy. Meanwhile, the P.A. is drafting a Security Council resolution that would condemn settlements, which the United States has pledged to veto.

The resolution—which will not call for Palestinian statehood or even sanctions against Israel—is a microcosm of the larger trends: Lacking much in the way of teeth and unlikely to produce any concrete changes in the near future, it nonetheless threatens to prove the groundwork for an eventual climate wherein Palestinian statehood comes to seem inexorable. The point is less the eventual climate than the threat, to Israel and the U.S., that it is in their interests to get onboard. (more…)

Daybreak: Tensions Up After West Bank Deaths

Plus Alan Grayson goes unquietly, and more in the news

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Alan Grayson.(NYT)

• A Palestinian woman, 36, died from Israeli-fired tear gas during an anti-separation barrier protest in the West Bank town of Bilin, a hotbed of such protests. She was the sister of a prominent activist who died during a protest in 2009. [NYT]

• A Palestinian man holding a glass bottle was killed yesterday by Israeli soldiers as he approached a West Bank checkpoint. The IDF says he was not following standard protocol for crossings. [NYT]

• According to a Kuwaiti newspaper, there have been secret U.S.-Syrian talks over a possible peace deal with Israel, including “unprecedented Syrian cooperation.” [Haaretz]

• Former Rep. Alan Grayson, Democrat of Florida, departs the House after one term as an alternately beloved and reviled Jewish liberal lion-cub. [NYT]

• According to a WikiLeaks-leaked cable, the IDF was estimating in 2009 that Israel would have 12 minutes, tops, to prepare for a rocket launched from Iran. [Haaretz]

• A former Iranian deputy defense minister died in an Israeli jail. Except maybe he was never in Israel at all. And maybe he is still alive. [Laura Rozen]

New Ambassador To Return to Old Country

Eisen, son of Czech Jew, is appointed

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Norman Eisen.(National Journal)

Yesterday, the White House announced a flurry of end-of-year recess appointments for nominees whose confirmations had been held up by the Senate—they will not require confirmation but their terms will expire after Congress’s next session, probably in December 2011. Most controversially, President Obama named Robert Ford to be the United States’s first ambassador to Syria since 2005, when the last one was recalled following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Another recess-appointed diplomat was Norman Eisen, the administration’s ethics and government reform czar (nickname: Dr. No). He was named ambassador to the Czech Republic.

This particular appointment represents a bit of poetic justice: As Eisen explained during his confirmation hearings last summer, his mother, Frieda, was born in Czechoslovakia, but deported to Auschwitz. She survived, and eventually found her way stateside, along with Eisen’s Polish-born father, who died when Eisen was 14. “Neither had a formal education, but our home in Los Angeles was rich in conversation, culture, and memory,” Eisen, now 50, testified. He became the first in his family to graduate from high school, and went on to Brown; after a stint working for the Anti-Defamation League in L.A., he attended Harvard Law, where he became friendly with a classmate who went on to run both the law review and, later, the United States.

President Obama Announces Recess Appointments to Key Administration Posts [whitehouse.gov]
Obama Makes Recess Appointments, Taps Robert Ford As Ambassador to Syria [WP]

Midday: Former Pres. Convicted of Rape

Plus the Leviathan field is just that, and more in the news

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Former President Moshe Katsav leaves the court today.(Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

• Moshe Katsav, the Israeli president before his 2007 resignation, was convicted of raping a Tourism Ministry employee while he was in-charge of it in the late ‘90s. [NYT]

• An official estimate of the Leviathan natural gas field off Israel’s northern coast proves it to be worthy of its name: Its roughly 16 trillion cubic feet of the potential fuel could make Israel a net energy exporter. [JTA]

• Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch (whose father was Jewish) who has come to symbolize both the privatization of the Yeltsin era and the authoritarian crackdown of the Putin era, was sentenced to an additional six years in prison. [NYT]

• A minister acknowledged that Israel now believes Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been delayed, such that it is likely at least three years away from a bomb. Stuxnet: The best Christmas present of all! [AP/NYT] (more…)

Yet Another Russian-Immigrant Novel

Today on Tablet

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At the outset of her review today in Tablet Magazine of Nadia Kalman’s debut novel, The Cosmopolitans, Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry acknowledges that Kalman is not exactly the first Jewish American from the FSU—the former Soviet Union—to write a humorous, whimsical novel about the alternate charms and dangers of dis- and relocation.

But in this particular instance, Ivry does find something, if not completely, at least a little bit different. “It is that kind of whimsical choice, a tonal shift, which sets her apart,” Ivry argues of Kalman. “Brezhnev-like dybbuks and talking hankies suggest that Kalman, with her penchant for the charmingly absurd, owes a debt more to the contemporary likes of Etgar Keret in stories like “Fatso,” for instance, than to S. An-sky, so often credited with introducing dybbuks into literature, or even than to the other writers in her ethnic peer group.”

Western Promises

You Questioned Our 100 Greatest Jewish Songs

And we have something to say back!

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(Tablet Magazine)

Last week, Jody Rosen, one of the two musicologists behind our list of the 100 greatest Jewish songs ever, answered some questions about the list. The ensuing conversation was so good that Ari Y. Kelman, the Rodgers to Rosen’s Hammerstein, decided to throw in his two cents. His response follows.

First off, as anyone who has ever loved or hated or heard a song knows: The argument about the song is part of the fun. Whether we’re talking about riots after the debut of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” or riots during screenings of Blackboard Jungle (the opening credits rolled to Bill Haley and the Comets), the riots are the fun part. The list, as all lists are, is just pretext.

Omissions, Egregious and Otherwise
Yes, there are omissions. Jonathan Richman? Philip Glass? Louis Lewandowski? Aaron Copland? Safam (whom I always found to be too didactic)? Reb Shlomo? And, yes, we tended to focus on songs by Jews that evinces something of their Jewishness—yet it would have been brilliant to include Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” (frankly, I can’t believe we misssed that one). The truth is: There’s lots of stuff that is both good and weird enough to make the list, and maybe some of that stuff should have made the list. Let’s argue about that, too. (more…)

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