Talking Turkey

Inside the West’s once-ally

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan earlier this month.(David Gannon/AFP/Getty Images)

In fewer than two years, Turkey has gone from America’s favorite example of a tolerant Muslim democracy and Israel’s closest Muslim ally to criminalizing dissent, arresting its domestic political opponents, and cozying up to Iran. The government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a mockery of the country’s judicial system while continuing to fight a brutal war against the indigenous Kurdish population and denying the Armenian genocide. In this last crime, many of the most prominent groups representing American Jewry have been complicit. This week, Tablet Magazine explores the fate of minority groups inside Turkey, in the hope of illuminating a country that policymakers in both the United States and Israel—and American Jews—appear to have badly misunderstood.

Outside its territory, Turkey has given aid and cover to Iran’s nuclear ambitions while trying to assert its leadership over some of the most radical forces in the Middle East. Turkey launched a series of salvos at Israel, beginning with Erdogan’s furious verbal assault on Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos and culminating in the Gaza flotilla martyrdom mission of the Mavi Marmara, which was planned and staffed by the IHH, a Turkish fundamentalist organization with close ties to Erdogan’s government. Meanwhile, the question of who “lost Turkey” has become a political football between the United States and Europe—with Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently blaming the E.U.—and has disrupted President Barack Obama’s hopes of constructing a pro-American security architecture to follow the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. (more…)

Daybreak: Schalit Issue Broached Again

Plus ‘Free Pollard’ movement gains official steam, and more in the news

From a pro-Schalit rally in June.(Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

• Israel has re-engaged the German mediator on the topic of freeing Gilad Schalit. [NYT]

• Talks have also initiated, at least among high-level Israelis, over how to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard from the United States. [JPost]

• The Leviathan prospect, thought to be a major natural gas field off Israel’s northern coast, is about to be drilled. [WSJ]

• As it struggles for traction against the ruling, Islamist AKP, Turkey’s staunchly secularist opposition party revamped its platform, including calling for closer ties with Israel. [WSJ]

• Secretary of State Kissinger felt limited by Vietnam in how much support he could offer Israel during the Yom Kippur War, new documents show. [Haaretz]

• Novelist Belva Plain, famous for multigenerational epics about Jewish-Americans, died at 95. [NYT]

Sundown: U.S. Tsk-Tsks East J’lem Building

There were limited clashes in East Jerusalem today.(Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

• The United States has formally expressed disappointment at Israeli approval for new building in Jerusalem, on the grounds that it “hinders the efforts to resume” direct talks. [Laura Rozen]

• Nextbook Press author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein raves over Nicole Krauss’s new novel Great House. [NYT Book Review]

• Another Nextbook Press author (and Tablet Magazine contributor) Ilan Stavans thinks you should go see Nora’s Will, a new film centering around a Mexican Jewish Seder. [Forward]

• Another Tablet Magazine contributor, Michelle Goldberg, upbraids the Anti-Defamation League for unfairly painting legitimate critics of Israel with the anti-Israel brush. [The Daily Beast]

• Famed and pioneering Columbia Law School Professor Louis Henkin died at 92. [CLS]

• Great pitcher Rube Marquard was not a Jew. But he was buried in a Jewish cemetery with his Jewish wife. [Kaplan’s Korner] Which is my way of reminding you to watch the Philadelphia Phillies’ Roy Halladay take on the San Francisco Giants’ Tim Lincecum tomorrow night in the National League Championship Series.

Sheila Broflovski, the most ostentatiously Jewish character on South Park, has a confession to make: She’s from New Jersey.

Your ‘Burnt Books’ Offering

A mail art exposition


Rodger Kamenetz’s Burnt Books drops next Tuesday, and in the lead-up, Nextbook Press is asking you to mail us your art on the “Burnt Books” theme (who says we don’t need the Postal Service?). Many of the books burnt in Kamenetz’s book are, of course, literally ignited (like the work of Franz Kafka). But our theme is a bit more figurative: The book may be burning (literally made of light not paper, online, eBooks etc.. ) yet it is not consumed by the flame; it is transformed, reincarnated, rejuvenated.

So, take your best shot! Send us your work, and we will exhibit it online and, possibly, physically, in New York City. Details here.

‘Standard’ Rabbi Revealed

Explains opposition to same-sex marriage, announcements

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin.(Rabbinical Council of America)

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, a north Jersey-based vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, was the one who informed the New Jersey Jewish Standard that it might be best, from the perspective of its Orthodox readership (and advertisers?), for the paper to cease publishing same-sex engagement announcements. He quite scrupulously details the Orthodox community’s internal contradictions. “We believe in respect for all individuals regardless of their sexual orientation and stand adamantly against any physical, mental or social violence committed against them,” he says. “At the same time we have a deep commitment to the integrity of Torah law, which clearly proscribes same-sex relationships.”

His explanation for apparently leaning on the Standard (he denies there were any explicit or implicit threats, but it is difficult to think that he didn’t realize that the prospect of diminished circulation and/or advertising wouldn’t occur to the Standard brass whom he telephoned), however, doesn’t add up as well. “Sometimes people feel that they have the right to make their choices and then to obligate others to celebrate their choices,” he explains of his decision to ask the Standard not to run the announcements. “We believe that we cannot celebrate these choices.” Um, then just don’t?

What Do We Do When We Disagree? [New Jersey Jewish Standard]
Orthodox Unsure How To React to Anti-Gay Violence, Discrimination [JTA via JustASC]
Earlier: ‘Standard’ Publisher Clarifies Same-Sex Stance

The Ghosts of Prague

Your Vox Tablet preview

(Eric Molinsky)

Rodger Kamenetz (of The Jew in the Lotus fame) has written a book for Nextbook Press about the intersecting passions and existential worries of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and Franz Kafka. Nachman was one of Hasidism’s great spiritual leaders and Kafka, though he lived a secular life a century after Nachman, in his last years was very much taken by Jewish mysticism. In fact, as Kamenetz sees it, Kafka was a latter-day Nachman, and Nachman anticipated and even answered many of the questions Kafka raised in his fiction. Sound kind of supernatural-kooky? Not to Kamenetz. Then again, we’re talking about a man who begins a story like this:

For more, you’ll have to listen to Monday’s edition of Vox Tablet, in which Kamenetz finishes this tale, and tells others, to host Sara Ivry.

Walkin’ Down The Street

This week on ‘America’s Next Top Model’

Esther Petrack modelin on Rodeo Drive.(The CW)

Although this is the season of “high fashion,” the model wannabes begin this lackluster episode at Walmart. Their assignment is to sell Cover Girl’s newest product, a smoky eye kit, which actually doesn’t make their task any more high end: In the hierarchy of drugstore makeup brands, Cover Girl is one step above Wet n’ Wild. Since only nine modeltestants remain, they are divided into teams of three in order to devise the best possible way to demonstrate to onlookers how to apply the makeup. The purpose of this task—aside from shilling for Cover Girl—is to demonstrate how charming and authentic they are to the public. Modern Orthodox contestant Esther Petrack ends up with Kacey and Kayla. Kacey takes over the presentation from her teammates and turns out to be a skilled salesperson, perhaps hinting at what her post-ANTM professional life might look like. She propels her team to the win. Their prize? They get to raid the Cover Girl aisle for all the makeup they can stuff into a bag.

Photographer Nigel Barker decides that Esther did the best job applying the free cosmetics to her face, and awards her a gift card. In previous recaps, I’ve blamed our girl’s lack of nastiness for her lack of a substantial presence, because reality shows are really about conflict. But during this episode, others get to confess about their insecurities, so being mean is clearly not a prerequisite for a direct address. So why is there so little Esther? Did someone clue The CW in on the true meaning of her name? Perhaps she should change it to something more showboat-y or scandalous, like Jezebel or Lilith? Or what if I’ve got this all backwards: Maybe she is not sweet and goofy at all? Maybe Esther curses like a sailor and forces The CW to eliminate her confessionals altogether? The world may never know. (more…)

J Street Jiu-Jitsu

How the group navigated the Soros scandal

(J Street)

The right will still have J Street to kick around—and, in a sense, it has itself to blame.

The “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization looked on the ropes last month. It had, at best, obfuscated about having received roughly one-third of its revenue—some $245,000—for the period between July 2008 and July 2009 from controversial left-wing donor George Soros. It further turned out that Mort Halperin, a Soros confidante and senior adviser to Soros’s Open Society Institute, had been one of J Street’s unrevealed officers and directors—which critics seized on as the smoking-gun evidence that Soros wished to substantially influence the group.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the woodshed. J Street honcho Jeremy Ben-Ami apologized to the group’s board, and the board decided to stick with him. Ben-Ami apologized to supporters. It’s not a month later, and despite—because of?—calls from the right for candidates like Joe Sestak and Robin Carnahan to return J Street funds, J Street is back to raising money for its preferred candidates: Earlier this week for two New York Democrats; now for Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), who is facing a tough challenge from Republican Joel Pollak. In fact, Schakowsky is using calls for her to return J Street’s money—calls predicated on the Soros revelations—as fundraising leverage: “I reject calls by my GOP opponent to return campaign contributions from JStreetPAC,” she said, “and his cynical attempt to turn Israel into a partisan wedge issue at this delicate and potentially historic moment.” (more…)

Today on Tablet

Grossman revised, lizards galore, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, contributing editor Daphne Merkin argues that critics are going too far in connecting Israeli novelist David Grossman’s personal tragedy with that described in his new novel. Columnist Etgar Keret talks about lizards, and you know what? He makes it work. Contributing editor David Kaufmann reviews philosopher Stanley Cavell’s memoir. Liel Leibovitz highlights an Israeli program for handicapped youth that was founded by a teenager. The Scroll will get around to founding something one of these days.

‘Declaration of Loyalty’

Your weekly dose of Israelispeak

(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.

In the winter of 2009, Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party campaigned under the slogan, “Bli ne’emanut ein ezrahut”: No loyalty, no citizenship.

This week, the Israeli cabinet voted in favor of a bill that, unless the Knesset shoots it down, would require new non-Jewish citizens to pledge allegiance to a “Jewish and democratic state.” There are a few Hebrew terms for this oath: Hatzharat ne’emanut, or “declaration of loyalty,” which includes a word that, as Lieberman has discovered, has the advantage of sort of rhyming with the Hebrew word for “citizenship”; hatzharat emunim, or “declaration of allegiance”; and shvu’at emunim, which means “oath of allegiance” and is also the Hebrew title for the 2003 movie Pledge of Allegiance.

These terms have in common the Hebrew root that also appears in the word emunah, meaning belief, faith, trust, or confidence, often in a religious context. The same root is also used in a term that frequently comes up on Israel’s version of C-SPAN: Hatza’at ee-eemun, or no-confidence motion. (more…)

Daybreak: The Iran-Lebanon Merger

Plus A’jad praises, meets with Hezbollah, and more in the news

Ahmadinejad speaking yesterday; next to him is a Hezbollah representative.(Salah Malkawi/Getty Images)

• Prime Minister Netanyahu accused Lebanon of becoming “an extension of the ayatollah regime in Iran.” [Haaretz]

• This after President Ahmadinejad stood a few miles from the Israeli border and loudly praised Hezbollah. [NYT]

• He also reportedly met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut. [Jewish Journal/Haaretz]

• The Arab League warned that continued West Bank construction could lead it to ask the U.N. to recognize an independent Palestine. [JPost]

• President Abbas punted on the question of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, saying how Israel defines itself is up to Israel. [JPost]

Sundown: Boom Market

Plus the lampshade made of skin, and more

The lampshade.(Forward)

• Israel has arguably the fastest-rising property market in the world. [AP]

• All the major world powers, including the United States and China, have proposed nuclear talks with Iran for next month. [Laura Rozen]

• Prominent Palestinian intellectual Mustafa Barghouti proposes a unilateral declaration of independence “on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem.” (And Gaza?) [IHT]

• Tablet Magazine contributor Jon Kalish reviews Mark Jacobson’s The Lampshade. [Forward]

• Iranian President Ahmadinejad has formed an “independent and neutral team” to investigate U.S. complicity in 9/11. [NY Daily News/Vos Iz Neias?]

• New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis has promise, even if the Mets don’t. [Kaplan’s Korner]

Rabbi Levin on the teevee last night.

The Jewish Media

If everyone else were like Tablet Magazine


Presumably apropos l’affaire Sanchez, CollegeHumor has a few examples of what certain mainstream news outlets would look like if Jews really did run the media. It’s pretty funny, although, predictably, the New York Times gag falls too close to reality to be effective satire.

If Jews REALLY Ran the Media [CollegeHumor]
Earlier: Sanchez Says Jews Run Media, Is Fired

Yehuda Levin’s Vaudeville Act

Message: I’m Jewish

Rabbi Yehuda Levin.(AP/Gawker)

It was hard to read Rabbi Yehuda Levin’s rant—the sentence could end right there, of course—without noticing how ostentatiously Jewish he was being, how he seemed to be going out of his way to remind you of his religious and cultural authenticity.

“The speech that you gave in Brooklyn to the Orthodox Jewish community.”

“I was in the middle of eating a kosher pastrami sandwich.”

“Mazel tov!”

“I almost choked on the kosher salami.”

Let’s repeat that one, just for fun: “I almost choked on the kosher salami.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Atlantic blogger, has an illuminating take. “A lot of what this Rabbi is doing strikes me as what a lot of my folk would call ‘cooning’ if this dude were black,” he writes. I was unfamiliar with the term (and probably wouldn’t use it myself, given its etymology): According to Urban Dictionary,

Modern day coons are blacks who play stereotypical roles and black entertainers that promote ignorance. Cooning is someone is acting like a ‘coon’.

(a is singing and dancing in public with white people watching)

b: Will you come on and stop cooning!

Sounds about right.

Paladino’s Rabbit Cont. [Ta-Nehisi Coates]
Earlier: Carl Paladino’s Betrayal of Reason

Bloomberg for President?

Unaffiliated group may have affiliated backing

Mayor Michael Bloomberg earlier this month.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

When, in the summer of 2007, I dropped in on one of the weekly get-togethers of the New York City chapter of something called the Committee to Draft Michael Bloomberg at Manhattan’s Old Town Bar, the only draft was the beer. But are things different this time? The Wall Street Journal reports that the current incarnation of the Committee has received the tacit backing of Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s former deputy mayor and top adviser.

On the other hand, Hizzoner said in August. “I will rule out a run for president. I have the best job I could possibly have.” Maybe Rahm Emanuel will have to be our first Jewish president after all.

Bloomberg Supporters Plot Draft [WSJ]
Related: These Ten People Want To Make Bloomberg President

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