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The Soviet Republic of Israel?

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Alexander Zaitchik interviews Yuli Edelstein, a Ukrainian-born Refusenik who is now serving as Israel’s first minister of Public Affairs and the Diaspora. “Soviet Jews in Israel have never voted against the stream,” he says. “They are always with the stream, sometimes with a slight shift towards the winner. In 1992 they mostly voted for Rabin and the Labor Party. In ’96 they mostly voted for Netanyahu, but so did most Israelis. In ’99, they voted for Ehud Barak and Labor, as most Israelis did. And then Ariel Sharon—the same thing. So it’s a nice legend about all Soviet Jews being very hard-nosed.”

Russian Arc

Jews With Soul

Musicians throwback to Motown

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Probably worth pointing out that many of the cool kids in last weekend’s Times Magazine feature about white kids in L.A. who do soul music are … y’know … “white middle-class Jewish guy[s]” like Mayer Hawthorne (real name: Andrew Mayer Cohen) and Eli (Paperboy) Reed (real name: Eli Husock).

Pretty cool. And even cooler when you see Paperboy Reed bust out “Come and Get It.” And even cooler when you remember that some of the best Motown songs were written by a woman from Brooklyn named Carole King (real name: Carol Klein).

Can a Nerd Have Soul? [NYT Magazine]

Pick Your Favorite Chanukiah

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Today in Tablet Magazine, editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse highlights some of the most provocative and beautiful chanukiahs (that is, Hanukkah-appropriate menorahs) on the market. “That these pieces occupy the particularly female realm of our religious universe is relevant,” she writes, “but that the point of these accoutrements is to hold fire is even more so.”

Below is my favorite, Hanuka Menora by Sari Srulovitch. It strikes me as a playful, self-conscious, almost ironic nod to the fact that it is a utilitarian object also made to be beautiful. But what’s yours?

Dissenting on Facebook

A Jewish conspiracy? Well, sorta

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Three repressive Middle Eastern regimes recently felt threatened by the popular social-networking Website. In the West Bank, a blogger used Facebook as his prime platform to publish Koranic satires under the name “God Almighty”; he was arrested by the Palestinian Authority (naturally, a group has sprouted in solidarity). Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia briefly blocked the site, saying its content had “crossed the line.” And Iran’s government released a video arguing that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Jewish founder, is secretly working for Mossad.

Of course, as Liel Leibovitz argued in these digital pages, there is something inherently Jewish about Facebook and other Web 2.0 platforms. And something inherently threatening: <--more-->

Under the influence of Wahabism, the new zealots find in Web 2.0 a terrifying threat to an intolerant and hierarchical stream of Islam that spends as much energy crushing intrafaith competition as it does opposing foreign influence. Unlike China, which objects to social media platforms and search engines only when they are used to disseminate anti-government messages … they know that the most radical thing about [Google founder Sergey] Brin, Zuckerberg, and the technologies they created is that they encourage constant commentary, ongoing debate, endless involvement. It’s a way of thinking that is very bad for oppressive corporations, zealous theocracies, and anyone else wishing to exert complete control over information. But it is very good for the Jews.

Palestinian Blogger Angers West Bank Muslims [NYT]
Saudi Arabia Blocks Facebook [Ynet]
Video dispatch 2: Iran: Zuckerberg created Facebook on behalf of the Mossad[Mideast Dispatch Archive]
Related: Web Jew.0 [Tablet Magazine]

Daybreak: Secrets and Porn at AIPAC

Plus Gates pushes for sanctions instead of bombing, and more in the news

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates yesterday.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

• Court depositions reveal two things about AIPAC: That it only recently stopped accepting classified information; and that pornography was viewed on office computers. [JTA]

• Israeli officials warn that without an imminent peace deal, the Palestinian Authority could be replaced as the West Bank government by Hamas or other Iranian proxies. [WP]

• Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates argued that sanctions are working—dividing Iran’s leadership—and therefore military action is unnecessary. [WP]

• Where U.S. military aid to Lebanon has been notably controversial, Russia announced it would give an unconditional gift of helicopters, tanks, and more to strenghten the Lebanese army. [Haaretz]

Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner chats with novelist David Grossman. [NYT]

• Former George W. Bush adviser Dan Senor is rumored to be mulling a run for Kirsten Gillibrand’s Senate seat for New York in 2012. [Page Six]

Sundown: The East Jerusalem (Non-)Issue

Plus the tailor from Auschwitz, and more

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The tailor Martin Greenfield.(NYT)

• President Obama’s top Mideast national security adviser assured Jewish leaders that the administration hadn’t meant to make a big deal over last week’s East Jerusalem housing announcement. [JTA]

• Martin Greenfield is a tailor to the New York stars; he has been doing it for 60 years. His introduction to the trade came in Auschwitz. [NYT]

• Create your own Pamella Geller rant! [Little Green Footballs via Goldblog]

• Ron Radosh, who has written extensively on the Rosenbergs, responds to Gil Troy’s essay about Jonathan Pollard. [Pajamas Media]

• Tablet Magazine is co-sponsoring a nonfiction essay contest. Winner gets to go to Vilnius. Yes, yes, Vilnius in summer. [Summer Literary Seminars]

• Gagosian Gallery is running a very Jewish show, Anselm Kiefer’s “Next Year in Jerusalem.” [WSJ]

Jewish Funds for Justice finds the consonances between Glenn Beck’s Soros documentary and the Protocols.

White House Jewish Liaison Departing

Come see Susan Sher before she goes!

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Susan Sher and her boss last year.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The office of the first lady announced (via email) that Susan Sher, Michelle Obama’s chief-of-staff and the White House’s liason to the Jewish community, will depart come the new year. “Susan has brought tremendous skill and dedication to the First Lady’s office,” said President Obama, “as well as my administration’s outreach to the Jewish community and our efforts to pass health care reform.” Michelle Obama noted that Sher ended up staying longer than she had planned to build the First Lady’s office.

If you want to catch Ms. Sher before she heads back to her family in Chicago, you should drop by the historic Sixth & I Synagogue in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, November 30, for her Tablet Magazine-sponsored chat with New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor.

Jews & Politics [Tablet Magazine]

‘The Dybbuk’ as Memoir

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Today in Tablet Magazine, books critic Adam Kirsch reviews a new life of the early-20th-century Russian-Jewish playwright S. An-sky.

Cantor Didn’t Really Pledge to Back Bibi

Congressman struck with case of foot-in-mouth

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Eric Cantor, opining.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Remember last week when it was widely and clearly reported that soon-to-be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, had told Prime Minister Netanyahu that the GOP majority would side with him against the Obama administration? And how this was kind of extraordinary in a bad way—not because politicians should march in lockstep with members of the other party, but because there is principled opposition, and then there is telling a foreign leader you will side with him over the leader of your own country?

Well, we can all breathe a sigh of relief: Cantor never actually said that. A spokesperson explained that the highest-ranking Jewish congressperson told the Israeli prime minister that “the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the administration” just, y’know, in a general way, not specifically on Mideast issues—“not in relation to U.S.-Israel relations.” You see, Netanyahu is known for his special curiosity as to domestic U.S. tax policy. (It is interesting that Cantor’s office felt the need to clarify, implying that it agrees that there would be something wrong with Cantor having said that.)

The remaining problem is that Cantor seems to say things concerning Mideast policy that he doesn’t actually mean. Late last month, recall, he pledged to separate Israeli aid from the rest of foreign aid, a universally disliked idea that, fortunately, he didn’t actually want to enact. Maybe the thing to do is discount absolutely everything Cantor says about the Mideast and just wait to hear what his spokespeople say?

Obama Remark Misinterpreted, Cantor Spokesperson Says [JTA]
Candid Cantor [Capital J]
Earlier: Cantor’s Foreign Aid ‘Trial Balloon’ Is Popped’

The Higher Authority

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Sara Ivry interviews Sue Fishkoff, author of Kosher Nation, for the Vox Tablet podcast series on the growing and broader appeal of non-trayf.

Confirmed: Stuxnet Targeted Iran

Computer virus was aimed at nuclear program

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The Bushehr reactor last month.(Majid Asgaripour/AFP/Getty Images)

New studies show that the virus was indeed designed to target Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. A Symantec researcher concluded that Stuxnet targets Iranian “converter drives,” and, independently, a researcher at Germany’s Langner Communications reported that the virus is aimed at centrifuges and turbine control systems in nuclear power plants, such as the one at Bushehr whose launch was “inexplicably” delayed.

“Rigging the speed control is a very clever way of causing the machines to fly apart,” said one expert. “If Symantec’s analysis is true, then Stuxnet likely aimed to destroy Iran’s gas centrifuges, which could produce enriched uranium for both nuclear fuel and nuclear bombs.”

Last month, in Tablet Magazine, Michael Tanji explained what Stuxnet is and how it is in keeping with the latest trends in cyber-warfare. And top spy correspondent Yossi Melman hypothesized that Israel is the source of the virus and that it may have worked with the German company Siemens to deliver it to Iranian facilities.

(And don’t forget The Purim Theory!)

New Research Confirms Iran’s Program Was Target of Stuxnet Worm [Checkpoint Washington]
Related: Modern Warfare, Too
Coded
Earlier: Iran: Stuxnet Isn’t Harming Nuclear Weapons Program

The Professor of Pot

Plus a new cake recipe

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Raphael Mechoulam(Jewish Journal)

The Jewish Journal has an amazing profile of Professor Raphael Mechoulam, 80, who teaches at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and who 50 years ago discovered THC—the active (so to speak) ingredient in marijuana. You should read the whole thing, but it is worth highlighting his narration of the only time he ever sampled the stuff:

My wife baked a cake and my research partner and I spread THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the oily, active ingredient in cannabis) on the top. We used 10 mg of THC on each slice—too much, I think—and we and a group of friends and colleagues started eating.

I felt a little high, but nothing more. My wife said she didn’t feel anything at all. One man said he didn’t feel anything, but started having laughing fits for the next hour. One woman had a bad trip—she was a very reserved person and suddenly she felt exposed in front of everyone. One man said he didn’t feel anything, but then didn’t stop talking for three hours, which I suppose was to be expected since he was a member of Knesset.

Last month in Tablet Magazine, Rebecca Spence reported on a group of Orthodox Jews in California who sell medicinal marijuana. And I outlined the Jews’ strong bond with dope.

A Career in Cannabis [Jewish Journal]
Related: Contact High
Earlier: Jews and Pot

The Touchy Case of Jonathan Pollard

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Historian and journalist Gil Troy’s blockbuster piece on Jonathan Pollard today in Tablet Magazine provocatively argues that the American serving a life sentence for spying for Israel is “the victim of the worst act of official American anti-Semitism in our lifetimes.” Troy asserts that Pollard ought to be freed: Not because he was innocent—he wasn’t—or because spying on America, even for an ally like Israel, is no big deal—it is—but because his punishment has been harsh compared to similar situations, and because there are questionable explanations as to why.

Troy’s essay is about American-Israeli relations; the Rosenberg case; late-Soviet espionage; Ronald Reagan and Benjamin Netanyahu; the Israeli-settler right. Most compellingly, it is about American Jews’ lingering insecurities. We doth protest too much, Troy argues: We go out of our way to assert Pollard’s guilt and our hatred for him out of the insecurity that we ourselves will be taken as dual loyalists—as lesser versions of the Israeli spy.

Pollard has been in the news recently: This summer, Ambassador Michael Oren briefly strayed from the official Israeli line—which, since 1998, has acknowledged that Pollard was an authorized agent. Then, a couple months ago, Israeli officials were reportedly considered a deal under which an extension of the construction freeze would net them, among other things, Pollard’s release. With talk of extending the freeze back, this is something to keep an eye on.

National Insecurities

For Lack of a Better Option

Why the U.S. cut the freeze-extension deal

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President Obama Sunday.(Yuri Gripas-Pool/Getty Images)

Yesterday, the Washington Redskins signed Donovan McNabb, their quarterback who is a week shy of 34, to a massive, five-year contract. The logic behind it could not merely have been the way he was playing: He has not been playing up to standard. The logic, rather, was that he has played well over the course of his long career, and that there is inherent value in stability, and perhaps above all that he is the quarterback they have now, and since you are not guaranteed a quarterback of even remotely his caliber—there are not 32 good quarterbacks in the 32-team NFL—if you have one of the quarterbacks who has proven the ability to deliver consistent success, you go with him, and unless you are prepared to take a radically different direction, at great risk, you double down on him. The problem is that big signings of over-the-hill free agents have been a Redskins tradition for the past 15 years, and it is part of why they have one won playoff game in that time. As Marc Lynch described the signing, “The deal seems to epitomize the unimaginative, tactics-focused” approach.

Whoops! Lynch wasn’t talking about the McNabb deal. Over the weekend, the United States offered Israel a package of security and aid guarantees in exchange for a 90-day extension of the prior ten-month construction freeze in the West Bank (though not East Jerusalem). Should Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cabinet approve the deal, Israel gets 20 high-tech jets plus further military aid; a promise that the U.S. will veto any unilateral Palestinian statehood at the United Nations; and a pledge not to ask for a further extension. (more…)

Daybreak: Paperwork Jam

Plus Saudi arms deal scrutinized, and more in the news

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Reps. Howard Berman and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who are leading the questioning into the arms sale.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

• Prime Minister Netanyahu is awaiting a written offer from the Americans detailing what Israel gets in exchange for a 90-day freeze extension. [Haaretz]

• 198 bipartisan congresspersons are requesting conditions on the record $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, such as that the weapons won’t be used against U.S. or Israeli interests. [LAT]

• Iran is preparing five days of war games to showcase its air-defense capabilities. [WSJ]

• At least one Israeli was allegedly prominently involved in an international organ-trafficking scheme that involved sales in Israel. [NYT]

• The arrest of an allegedly blasphemous blogger in the West Bank has raised questions about freedom of speech under the Palestinian Authority. [NYT]

• A profile of Yehuda Shaul, a former Israeli soldier who now gives weekly tours of Hebron to show outsiders what he says is IDF misconduct. [LAT]

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