Should Pollard Be Freed?

If he deserves it, yes; as a diplomatic chip, no

Jonathan Pollard.(Haaretz)

“I think it is important to underscore that Mr. Pollard was convicted of some of the most serious crimes that anybody can be charged (with),” said outgoing White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. He was, of course, referring to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s request that President Obama free Jonathan Pollard, the American convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel and sentenced to life imprisonment. Those who want Pollard freed—many of them organized, remarkably, by a 25-year-old volunteer—probably don’t feel particularly comforted. But a decision has apparently not yet been made.

What is nice about the understandably charged debate is that it seems to be playing out largely outside the confines of the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Instead—and contrary to the misguided wishes of some—it is properly boiling down to an argument over what one specific criminal’s exact crimes were, and how much punishment those crimes merit. Lovers of justice should be pleased. (more…)

Daybreak: Bibi Booed at Fire Service

Plus U.S. stays out of offshore dispute, and more in the news


• Angry relatives of the dead disrupted Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech at a ceremony for those killed in last month’s forest fire. [AP/NYT]

• The United Nations declined to rule on a Lebanese request to protect its territorial waters from Israeli encroachment. This brewing scuffle was prompted by the massive offshore energy find. [JTA]

• The IDF is investigating the recent death of a 36-year-old Palestinian protestor; some officials have anonymously claimed she had a pre-existing condition that made tear gas fatal. [WP]

• Gal Beckerman explains how Russian-Jewish oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky has stood up for his country (while not really identifying with the Jews). [Forward]

• Israel asked the U.S. to ban IHH, the Turkish charity, alleged to have links to radical Islamist groups, that sponsored the flotilla. [Reuters/Haaretz]

• Longtime manager Diane Becker gets Elaine’s now that its owner, Elaine Kaufman, has passed. [NYT]

Sundown: Gaza’s ‘Planned’ Economy

Plus Mama Streisand, Judah Magnes, and more

Barbra Streisand in November.(Mike Coppola/Getty Images for National Museum of American Jewish History)

• In 2008, according to a new WikiLeaks cable, Israel told the United States it deliberately was keeping Hamas-ruled Gaza’s economy near, but not at, the brink of collapse. [Reuters]

• Barbra’s got the stuff? Streisand may play Mama in a Gypsy movie. [Arts Beat]

• Did not know much about Judah L. Magnes, but a new book seems a great occasion for his rediscovery. Fascinating figure. [Forward]

• The spying vulture, and four other nefarious Mossad plots. [Foreign Policy]

• Here’s a hint: If you click “Unsubscribe,” even Hamas will let you off its listserv. [The Onion]

• Some interesting thoughts on Jewish parochialism in the context of the narrow, self-contained band of secular Israel. [Economist]

Speaking of secular Israel, below is “Secular Quarter #3,” the winner of the Israel-based Association of Planning and Conservation’s contest to depict Jerusalem 100 years from now on film.

Would-Be Jews

Nominating Garry Trudeau

Mark Slackmeyer, who is Jewish.(Wikipedia)

JTA Editor-in-Chief Ami Eden asks for a list of “Gentiles who really should be Jewish.” His two picks are Bob Costas and Donald Trump. Costas makes perfect sense—how is he not Jewish? (well, he’s of Greek descent, which is pretty close to the exception that proves the rule)—though frankly I’m glad not to have Trump on Team Tribe.

But since he asks for further suggestions, here’s one: Doonesbury writer Garry Trudeau. Witty, liberal, and zeitgeist-capturing, his field, comics, might be second only to musical theater in terms of creative media dominated by Jews. Alas, however, he is not a Jew. But he should be.

Any more suggestions?

Double Standards

Today on Tablet


Today in Tablet Magazine, Mideast columnist Lee Smith condemns certain Western intellectuals—New York Times columnist Roger Cohen is specifically censured—for abandoning moral judgment when analyzing regional affairs and instead adopting a frequently phony “rationalism.”

High Morals

Star Running Back Flirts With Judaism

Ricky Williams observes Shabbat

Ricky Williams in November.(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Over the summer, New York Knicks power forward Amar’e Stoudemire grabbed headlines—and not just Tablet Magazine’s—for his trip to Israel and flirtation with Judaism. Yesterday brought news of another quirky, über-talented black athlete’s earnest philo-Semitism: Ricky Williams of the Miami Dolphins (though he wants to be traded) revealed that he has been studying Hebrew and recently observed the Jewish Sabbath by dipping three times in his unheated hot tub and then spending from Friday evening through Saturday evening abstaining from television and reading. “When the day shifted from Saturday afternoon to Saturday night, even my thoughts shifted,” he related. “There was something very pure about that Saturday” (you can listen here). His wife apparently jokes that he is going to turn Tribe.

Williams is an unusually fascinating sports figure. (more…)

Write About Your (East-European) Roots

And win a trip to Vilnius


If Tablet Magazine were helping sponsor a personal essay contest, and the sole prize were that the winner gets published in these here digital pages, then that would be alright, I suppose. But first place in the East-European Roots: New Writing on the Old World competition not only gets that, but gets to attend the 2011 Summer Literary Seminars Jewish Lithuania/Litvak Experiences Program, in Vilnius, Lithuania, with free airfaire, tuition, and board. So basically Birthright, except to Vilnius. And not Vilnius now, when it’s snowing and the windchill is set to travel south of zero, but in the summer, when I hear it’s quite lovely. (Second-place gets free tuition, third-place gets half-off.) You also get the validation of Phillip Lopate having judged your essay aces, which some might argue is the biggest prize of all.

Check the Website for the full guidelines. But most important: Deadline’s March 15.

Cantor Ascends to Majority Leader

Highest-ever-ranking Jewish legislator has rough first day

Rep. Eric Cantor yesterday on Capitol Hill.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Today, the 112th Congress opens and Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor assumes apparently the highest position ever held by a Jewish legislator. Under the new Republican majority, the 47-year-old Cantor, formerly the minority whip, becomes House Majority Leader and second-in-command to the new Speaker, John Boehner, who will take the gavel from Nancy Pelosi. (In case you were wondering, no, this does not put Cantor in line for presidential succession.) Cantor is the only Jewish Republican in this Congress, though Tea Partier Nan Hayworth (R-Kiryas Joel) says she considers herself an honorary Jew on account of being married to one.

Last night, the Republican Jewish Coalition threw a party for Cantor at D.C. power hangout The Capital Grille, complete with an ice sculpture and photo ops with GOP presidential hopefuls John Thune, the South Dakota senator, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Also there: The man who, despite Cantor’s formal role, arguably remains the most powerful Jew on the Hill, Sen. Joe Lieberman. (more…)

Tears of a Clown

Today on Tablet


Liel Leibovitz pens a touching eulogy today in Tablet Magazine for Yosef Shiloach, the great Israeli comic actor who died of cancer Monday at 69. A native of Kurdistan, Shiloach’s typical role found him playing a mizrachi Jew, sending up relations between that group, on the one hand, and the imperious (and in-charge) Ashkenazim on the other. (He also at one point voiced Ernie on Israeli Sesame Street). “Like all good satire,” Liebovitz writes of Shiloach’s films,

they were also extraordinarily nimble vehicles with which to explore complicated subjects like race, class, gender, and religion. Laughing with Shiloach’s clowns, Israelis had a chance—to use the parlance of psychotherapy—to work through the childhood traumas that plagued the young nation and learn to blunt their fears, drives, and divides.

In his later years, Shiloach was a vocal opponent of the Israeli occupation.

Reel Deal

We Have Met Israeli Security, and It Is Not Ours

Napolitano nixes Israel-style procedures for U.S.

Napolitano and Israeli President Shimon Peres Monday.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

After the heavy Thanksgiving travel season, when all the talk was of the United States’s inefficient, intrusive, big-government, terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad airport security, some noted that the Good Alternative was Israel, which more effectively and more confidently protects an ostensibly more threatened populace. At the same time, others noted the difference in scale—Israel has one international airport, the United States has 450—and cost—Israel spends $56.75 per passenger, the United States spends $6.93. Moreover, it was not clear whether Americans, even ones miffed at the touching of junk, would tolerate the level of profiling that is Israeli security’s standard operating procedure (and indeed, as this helpful Slate Explainer makes clear, its key to success).

Visiting Israel yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed the naysayers, insisting, “There are many differences in the United States system versus Israel. Part of that is driven by sheer size.” She did say she was impressed after receiving a security-focused tour of Ben Gurion Airport—a good reminder that security expertise is likely to be an increasing Israeli export over the coming years. Just don’t expect the whole system.

Napolitano: Israeli-Style Airport Security Won’t Work for U.S. [Fox News]
Related: What’s So Great About Israeli Security? [Slate]
Earlier: Israeli Airport Security All the Rage

Daybreak: Prelude to a Second Cast Lead?

Plus A’jad may have played ball, and more in the news

A smuggling tunnel damaged by air strikes is inspected this morning.(Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)

• Tensions remained high at the Gaza border: Palestinian rockets struck Israeli greenhouses; Israeli planes struck a Hamas training camp in response. [Arutz Sheva]

• The death-by-tear-gas of a 36-year-old Palestinian protestor has become increasingly hot-button, with the IDF alleging that she almost certainly had a pre-existing condition that helped lead to her death. [NYT]

• In late 2009, according to a new WikiLeaks cable, President Ahmadinejad was willing to play ball on a nuclear fuel swap deal with the West, but top Iranians more hardline than he nixed it. [Arutz Sheva]

• The 112th U.S. Congress begins tonight with four fewer Jews but the highest-ranking Jew—soon-to-be Majority Leader Eric Cantor—in history. [JPost]

• After the recent blizzard, New York City snowplows toppled several tombstones at a gigantic Jewish cemetery in Brooklyn. [City Room]

• Energy companies, mostly Israeli and American, are pissed at the higher tax rates proposed on gas following the gigantic offshore find. [LAT]

Sundown: Steve Cohen

Plus Disneyland in the Holy Land, and more

Mickey Mouse.(Time)

• Read this now. Bravo. [NYT]

• “Disneyland, you’ve just won the Super Bowl. What are you going to do next?” “I’m going to Haifa!” [JTA]

• Israelis and Palestinians, coming together by trying to beat the crap out of each other. (It’s called boxing.) [WP]

• People are upset because the Chicago Marathon is scheduled for the day after Yom Kippur. [JTA]

• How will the “start-up nation” enter its next phase? [The Economist]

• Miss Massachusetts, a.k.a. Loren Geller Rabinowitz, could become only the second Jewish Miss America when the pageant happens January 15. [Sisterhood]

And if you look above you’ll see the vultures swooping in!

Phish – Vultures – Walnut Creek ’97 – Hidden Track Exclusive from Hidden Track on Vimeo.

The Vulture Was A Spy

And we have the proof!

A griffon vulture.(Wikipedia)

“Vulture in Saudi Custody Suspected as Mossad Agent” -Arutz Sheva

Tablet Magazine has been given an exclusive look at the last known transmission between a vulture, identification code R65, captured in Saudi Arabia and his handlers, who are bird ecologists at Tel Aviv University. Or so they want you to think.

MOSSAD: “Vulture R65, are you there? Come in, Vulture R65!”

VULTURE R65: “Brawck!”

MOSSAD: “Roger that. Have you entered Saudi airspace?”

VULTURE R65: “Brawck!”

MOSSAD: “Okay, good. We knew we could count on you. Now we are going to tell you your exact mission.” (more…)

The Last Jews of Tajikstan

Today on Tablet


Today in Tablet Magazine, James Kirchick reports from Dushanbe, Tajikstan, where only about 500 Jews remain in a country that once boasted a Jewish population of 30,000.

Home Stand

The Deaf Music-Lover

Isabelle Scott’s helluva life

Isabelle Scott (left).(family photo/WP)

The story of Isabelle Scott, the Washington, D.C., heiress who died last November at 70, is cinematic in scope. Love affairs, divorces; a life of fortune, a life of philanthropy (an estimated $25 million in anonymous donations); abuse and triumph. The woman born Fredrica Linda Lehrman—and who, due to her three husbands, was at one point named Fredrica Lehrman Rosenberg Saunders Carmichael—was the granddaughter of Samuel Lehrman, who founded Giant Food (if you have ever lived in the D.C area, you have shopped at a Giant). Though she did not die Jewish (she became an Episcopalian), her relatives sat shiva for her. Did I mention the part about how she was deaf but nobody knew it until she was in second grade, and how as an adult she successfully hid it by styling her hair to cover her ears and their hearing aids? And how she donated several million dollars to various musical endeavors?

Anyway, Hollywood: Please get on this. I’m especially looking forward to the dramatization of the scene where Barry Rosenberg, then her boyfriend and later her first husband, saw through her house’s door that she was swollen and bruised the day after they had gone on a date, and Rosenberg—a 6’7”, 280-pound active-duty soldier—told her father, who physically and sexually abused her, never to touch her again. Oh and the part where she cheats on her second husband with her shrink; she divorces and then marries the shrink; and then the shrink cheats on her, prompting her to sue, successfully, for both divorce and malpractice.

A Local Life: Isabelle Scott, 70; Heiress Assumed Many Identites, Assumed Hardship in a Life of Giving [WP]

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