Halkin Wins National Jewish Book Award

Honorees also include Ozick and Grossman

Hillel Halkin.(Nextbook Press)

Congratulations to Hillel Halkin, whose Nextbook Press biography of Yehuda Halevi just took home the 2010 National Jewish Book Award in the Sephardic Culture category (it was also a finalist in Scholarship). A good reminder that although the medieval Halevi is frequently known as “the poet laureate of the Jewish people,” he spent essentially his whole life in what is now Spain.

Congratulations also to Friend-of-The-Scroll Gal Beckerman, whose When They Come For Us, We’ll Be Gone, a history of the movement to liberate Soviet Jewry, was named Jewish Book of the Year. Adam Kirsch gave the book a rave in November. And Beckerman talked to me last month about Henry Kissinger’s recently revealed “death camp” comments and the former secretary of state’s role in (not) freeing the Jews of the U.S.S.R.

Notable awards also went to Cynthia Ozick (Lifetime Achievement), David Grossman’s To the End of the Land (Fiction), and others.

2010 National Jewish Book Award Announcement [Jewish Book Council Blog]
Yehuda Halevi [Nextbook Press]
Related: Last Exit [Tablet Magazine]

Films About Films About Films

Today on Tablet


Today in Tablet Magazine, Eryn Loeb considers a new avant-garde film about (or rather about a film about) Shulamith Firestone, an early feminist icon.

Vision and Revision

New J’lem Building Has Weighty Symbolism

Project gets its talents (and money) from South Beach

The Shepherd Hotel is destroyed on Sunday.(Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

The recent construction in Sheikh Jarrah, the hot-button, predominantly Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem, should perhaps have been less attention-grabbing than most Jewish building on the other side of the Green Line, if only because the land was bought by an American named Irving Moskovitz all the way back in 1985, and the Israeli government granted permission for the building there to be demolished all the way back in March (this was the infamous announcement that came right after Vice President Biden arrived). Duly, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office stamped the move with calm understatement rather than with brash, “Jerusalem is not a settlement” rhetoric: “Actions undertaken yesterday at the Shepherd Hotel were conducted by private individuals in accordance with Israeli law,” a brief statement read. “The Israeli government was not involved.”

A prime reason this latest project is garnering substantial attention, including a condemnation from Secretary of State Clinton, who is traveling in the region, is because of what the Shepherd Hotel is: Originally a residence built for Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, who notoriously gave comfort to the Nazis during World War Two. Naturally, pro-settlement groups justifiably saw poetic justice in its demolition. At the same time, the Husseinis, which remain a prominent Palestinian family, were able to galvanize outrage.

Meanwhile, Laura Rozen reports that Moskovitz was a huge donor to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican from Miami Beach (and Moskovitz’s congresswoman). The new Republican majority has Ros-Lehtinen chairing the Foreign Affairs Committee; Moskovitz and his wife gave her somewhere between nearly $10,000 and nearly $15,000 during the most recent election cycle. In his recent East Jerusalem travelogue, Todd Gitlin wrote, “By spreading Jewish settlements throughout an area that Palestinians insist must become the capital of a Palestinian state, Moskowitz is financing the facts on the ground that stand in the way of a deal.”

Israeli Demolition Begins in East Jerusalem Project [NYT]
Shepherd Hotel Developer Top Donor to Foreign Affairs Chair Ros-Lehtinen [Laura Rozen]
Related: Facts on the Ground [Tablet Magazine]

Giffords, Still Critical, Gives Thumbs-Up

And more on the story

Rep. Giffords discusses her Judaism in 2007.(JOI)

Let’s just do this in round-up form, shall we?

• Rep. Gabrielle Giffords managed to give a thumbs-up. Back atcha. [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

• Just how and how much Giffords will recover depends on several factors, none more so than the exact path the bullet took through her brain. This fact has not yet been disclosed. [WP]

• President Obama phoned the families of the victims and several others, including Giffords’s rabbi, Stephanie Aaron; he plans to travel to Tucson later this week. [ABC News]

• Is alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner’s mother Jewish? A closer look. [Laura Rozen]

• Was Loughner motivated by anti-Semitism? His motives are probably too murky and mushy to tell, argues Eric Alterman. Should he have had access to the 31-caliber magazine he used? That is an easier question to answer. [The Daily Beast]

• If you are a Jew worried that anti-Semitism played a role in the attack, then you are probably not close to the only one. [TNR]

• Giffords staffer Gabe Zimmerman was in fact not Jewish, as I reported yesterday, the Eulogizer clarifies. [The Scroll]

• Someone calls attention to the fact that Giffords, whom nearly all Jews have claimed as one of their own—and who indeed very much identified as Jewish—is Jewish only patrilineally and intermarried, and therefore “that Giffords would be a second-class citizen in Israel.” [Jewschool]

• Above: Giffords speaking about her heritage at a 2007 Jewish Outreach Institute conference. [JOI]

Jordan’s Palestinian Question

Today on Tablet


Asher Susser explores how the Palestinian issue has divided Israel from one of the only Arab countries with which it is, technically, at peace: Neighboring Jordan.

As Jordan’s position on Palestinian refugees is becoming one of the more strident in the Arab world, the two countries now hold diametrically opposing views on an issue that both sides regard as truly existential, touching the raw nerves of their collective beings and promising future discord: Jordan wants large-scale repatriation; while Israel rejects the so-called right of return.

A recent Jordanian sense of urgency on the Palestinian question has even pushed the Hashemite Kingdom away from the American orbit and more in the direction of the Iranian one, Susser reports.

Falling Out

The Dubai Assassination, One Year Later

Was it a failure? ‘GQ’ seems to think so

Forged passport photos of some of the suspects.(Dubai police)

As someone who closely followed Mossad’s sensational January 2010 assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a primary Hamas weapons procurer, in Dubai, l was excited to read GQ’s glossy treatment of the affair, penned by Yediot Ahronot reporter Ronen Bergman. (For the record, Mossad will neither confirm nor deny its involvement.) However, I was disappointed. Those who missed the story last year will enjoy the tick-tock of the assassination itself. But Bergman’s piece implies that the mission was fundamentally a failure, an argument I can’t find sustainable.

Bergman is misleading in implying that he has dug up substantial new information about the plot (“In the course of reporting this story, GQ has learned … ” ). Actually, we already knew most of the details of the plot—since most of these details were uncovered via Dubai’s own extensive security-camera system. And other elements were reported out over the past 12 months, among others by Tablet Magazine’s own Judith Miller.

The bigger deal is Bergman’s argument that this was a “bungled operation.” “Why did the Mossad permit things to go so wrong in Dubai?” he asks. He calls it “the Dubai fiasco.” You would think al-Mabhouh were sitting on a nice beach somewhere—or, worse, that he were still in Damascus, helping facilitate the shipment of Iranian arms to Hamas in Gaza. In fact—and as I wrote at the time—like Generalissimo Francisco Franco before him, al-Mabhouh is still dead. You can argue that Israel’s extensive assassination policy is wrong, or immoral, or counterproductive, but Bergman doesn’t—he seems to think, rather, that the Dubai mission was a failure on its own terms, when in fact, while it was far from perfectly executed, I don’t see how you can argue that it wasn’t accomplished. (more…)

Daybreak: Clinton Boasts of Iran Gains

Plus Loughner in court, and more in the news

Secretary of State Clinton outside Abu Dhabi.(Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images)

• In unprecedentedly strong and open terms, Secretary of State Clinton declared, in Abu Dhabi, that sanctions had substantially slowed Iran’s nuclear weapons program. [NYT]

• Jared Lee Loughner, the accused attempted murderer of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, faced a judge, who indicated she wanted the case to be tried out of state given that one of the dead was an Arizona federal judge. [NYT]

• Aaron David Miller argues that the United States needs to take a step back from the peace process for the time being, since “the Israeli-Palestinian endgame is not ready for prime time.” [LAT]

• The IDF disputes accusations that it killed an innocent Gazan farmer, 65, near the border. [NYT]

• Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Ministor Avigdor Lieberman: Not getting along. [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

• Here’s the Times Debbie Friedman obituary. [NYT]

Sundown: Do You Make More Than Bibi?

Plus the conversion bill stays in the drawer, and more

Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this month.(Oded Balilty - Pool/Getty Images)

• Prime Minister Netanyahu posted a paystub on Facebook. He makes under $51,000 a year. But the benefits are spectacular! [Ynet]

• Nothing to see here: There will be no more action on the controversial conversion bill for at least another six months. So this moratorium they’re okay with! [JPost/Vos Iz Neias?]

• President Obama’s new chief-of-staff has major schtick with Netanyahu. You know, unlike President Obama’s old chief-of-staff. [Ben Smith]

• Israeli soldiers talk about the occupation. It ain’t pretty. [NYRB]

• Urban Outifitters’s love-hate relationship with Israel. [The Gloss]

• Want a team to root for in tonight’s BCS Championship Game? Pull for Oregon, which has a Jewish offensive lineman, and also isn’t Auburn. [Kaplan’s Korner]

Noted graphic designer and Old Jew Milton Glaser tells a joke:

Hello Mitzi!

Visit The Scroll each Monday for Mitzi’s unique questions


Today we debuted Liana Finck’s weekly column, ‘Tell Mitzi’, and already the comments and stories are pouring in. At the end of the day, Liana will pick a story, and next Monday, you can see Mitzi’s ‘answers,’ which will combine reader responses with her unique vision of the world.

Also on Monday, please look for Mitzi’s next question—right here in The Scroll. She has lots of questions as she explores the world of being an online-illustrated-Jewish-advice columnist. I’m sure her audience will as well … .

Okay Times for Un-Okay Terms


Today in Tablet Magazine, parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall, prompted by the new version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that excises the word “nigger,” mulls how to explain to kids what a pejorative word is, and when they may not be inappropriate.

Fighting Words

Answering to a Lower Authority

Do some in the West hold some in the Mideast to a different standard?


Amusing! A former ambassador to Lebanon (and now the assistant secretary of state for the whole region) goes old-fashioned and sends a letter to the editor of the New York Times reporting that a Beirut-based newspaper isn’t the bastion of awesomeness that a prior profile made it out to be. Said profile utterly lionized the paper, Al Akhbar, with such phrases as “hawk-eyed editorial chairman”; “gleefully cataloged various embarrassments to the region’s kings, princes and politicians”; “the most dynamic and daring in Lebanon, and perhaps anywhere in the Arab world”; “a remarkable blend”; “an alluring product”; and “the finest luxury sedan to come on the market in at least a decade” (okay I made that last one up).

But, according to Jeffrey Feltman, the former ambassador, this is the same paper whose editorial board was the only one that refused to meet with him; which frequently committed errors in reporting his activities; and “will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria” (“Critics say the paper’s protestations of editorial freedom ring a little hollow,” the profile acknowledged, “given that it operates under the tacit protection of Hezbollah”).

The discrepancy brings to mind Tablet Magazine Mideast columnist Lee Smith’s piece last week, in which he alleged that many Western observers condescend to certain regional actors and hold them up as beacons of morality when, if they behaved identically but did so in the West and as Westerners, they would be condemned. “While it is man’s ability to tell good from bad that makes him most human, certain Western intellectuals take the unwillingness, or inability, to do so as a sign of the genius to rise above the small-minded morality of the masses,” Smith argued. “Excusing Hezbollah may seem like the rational decision-making of a thoughtful intellectual who is observing a society ostensibly different from his own, but in reality the moral universe of the Middle East is no different from in the rest of the world.”

Heroic Journalism in Lebanon? Ex-Envoy Disagrees [NYT]
Related: Rarity in Region, Lebanese Paper Dares to Provoke [NYT]
High Morals [Tablet Magazine]

Dateline: Tucson

Today on Tablet


Today in Tablet Magazine, Dan Klein reports from Tucson, Arizona, visiting the site of the shooting, the hospital where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is receiving care, and the congresswoman’s synagogue, where an emotional service took place. “There’s a real sense of people reaching out for one another,” Giffords’s rabbi tells him. “There’s a sense of people wanting to be together. We want to begin the work of preventing this from ever happening again in our society.”


Time Traveling in the Weddings Section

Do they make ‘em like they used to?

The happy couple.(NYT)

Was anyone else struck by this wedding announcement from yesterday’s New York Times? Not just the two ostentatiously Jewish names—like the grandmother going over the plane crash victims in the Philip Roth story, many Scroll readers no doubt immediately scan the announcements to decide which ones are worth reading and which aren’t. But the nuptials of Emily Rubinstein and Igor Zilberman feels almost anachronistic, carrying the whiff of a time when the Jewish-American dream was to come from a solidly middle-class outer-borough existence and become a doctor, and maybe do good to boot. Zilberman is a neurologist whose mother is a database administrator in Westchester and whose father works for the city in Brooklyn. Rubinstein is an epidemiologist who volunteers to fight AIDS; she hails from the Bronx; her father is a union lawyer, her mother a traffic violations judge. (more…)

Jewish Staffer Is Among the Dead

Zimmerman, 30, was Giffords’ community outreach director

Gabe Zimmerman, who was killed Saturday.(Gabe Zimmerman Prayers Page/Facebook)

Gabe Zimmerman, 30, was killed Saturday at an event he organized. A Jewish Tucson native, Zimmerman is described as an “avid hiker” who tackled the Grand Canyon from the North to the South Rim. His father works at Pima Community College, which his son’s alleged murderer, Jared Lee Loughner, had attended. He was engaged to Kelly O’Brien, a nurse. If you knew Zimmerman and would like to talk about him, please email me.

The five other reported dead are John M. Roll, 63, the first federal judge murdered since 1989; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; Phyllis Schneck, 79; and Christina Green, 9.

UPDATE: See comments below. JTA’s The Eulogizer reports that Zimmerman was now Jewish. And Rabbi Andy Bachman makes an interesting case.

Aide Had Gift for Working With People [Arizona Daily Star]

Loughner’s Demons, and Who Created Them

Today on Tablet


Political columnist Michelle Goldberg argued over the weekend in Tablet Magazine that even though Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and murderer of six others, was “clearly in the grip of delusion rather than any coherent ideology,” it is still reasonable to explore whether the paranoid and nativist political climate cultivated by far-right groups and, to an extent, mainstreamed by the Tea Party helped lent=d Loughner the impetus to try to kill not just anyone but specifically a Democratic, Jewish congresswoman. Writes Goldberg:

Loughner was probably too insane to have really participated in anti-Semitic politics, or, for that matter, in the Tea Party. But it is important to note that Giffords has been relentlessly demonized by the right, the rhetoric around her charged with violence. And such rhetoric is dangerous precisely because of the effect it can have on the unhinged. Loughner was crazy, but he was also responsive to certain real-world political currents, particularly the right’s nightmare vision of federal power run amok.

Others have made similar cases: I would particularly recommend James Fallows‘s and George Packer‘s takes (insists the latter, “The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point”).

Or, you know, you could compare arguments such as those above to blood libel. (More responsibly and persuasively, you could assert that politics had little if anything to do with it, and you could welcome even the most heated discourse as a pressure valve that heads off most violence.)


Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.