Sundown: Bad Bedfellows

Plus Obama says Turkish arms sales are safe, and more

The front of today’s New York Post.(Ben Smith)

• A Hamas official vaguely endorses Park51; the New York Post goes large with it. [Ben Smith]

• Obama “emphatically denied” warning Turkey that its continued pro-Palestinian activism and opposition to Iran sanctions could threaten weapons sales. [Laura Rozen]

• Where would Park51 actually be located? Opinions differ! [The Awl]

• The Movement for Progressive Judaism, a Reform outfit, asked Israeli President Shimon Peres to intervene regarding chief Sephardic rabbi Shlomo Amar’s anti-Reform invective. [Ynet]

• IHH, the Turkish charity that backed the Flotilla, praised the founding of a new, Hamas-aligned Gaza-based militant group. [JPost]

• Carl Levin, the Jewish Democratic senator from Michigan, was hit with a pie in the face by a student named Ahlam Mohsen at a Big Rapids event. [The Detroit News]


Despite Rumor, Harvard Isn’t Divesting

How your non-news sausage gets made


Harvard—which has by far the country’s biggest university endowment—apparently sold all its Israeli stocks, according to SEC filings. Rumor had it that the move was politically motivated; and even some who didn’t think it was politically motivated nonetheless think it bespeaks a larger point about … something.

Fact is, it just, kinda, doesn’t mean anything. Felix Salmon astutely noted, “The chances of this move being at all politically motivated are remote. I’m sure,” he added,

that if you looked at all endowment 13-Fs on a quarterly basis, you’d find that every quarter a pretty large number of endowments will turn out to have sold out of some small market or other. It’s just that by sheer coincidence, this time it’s the two big hot-button names, Harvard and Israel, and hence there’s lots of headlines.

Next quarter, or the one after that, a few Israeli holdings are bound to reappear in Harvard’s 13-F. I wonder whether anybody will notice that.

And actually the real explanation is even more mundane: Turns out that because of Israeli growth, Harvard no longer classifies Israel as an emerging market, but rather as a developed one, which necessitated moving the stocks out of that one part of its portfolio. “We have holdings in developed markets, including Israel, through outside managers in commingled accounts and indexes,” a Harvard Management Company spokesperson said.

There is probably a larger lesson in this, about the dangers of seizing on apparent news rapidly instead of doing your homework, but as a blog dedicated to being updated several times a day, we are going to choose to willfully ignore that.

Harvard Liquidates Israeli Stock Holdings [Ynet]
Harvard Isn’t Divesting from Israel [Felix Salomon

High Court Concurs With Taitz Fine

‘Birther Queen’ reprimanded for serial suing

Orly Taitz.(Wikipedia)

The Supreme Court has upheld a $20,000 fine a lower court judge levied against Orly Taitz, the Soviet Jewish émigré lawyer-dentist who has been at the forefront of the so-called “birther” movement, as punishment for filing lawsuits based on claims that Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States and therefore not qualified to serve as president.

Specifically, the order came from Justice Samuel Alito—one of the Court’s six Catholics and four staunch conservatives—after Taitz asked for a review of an identical order issued by Justice Clarence Thomas, on the grounds that she thought she’d read in a book co-authored by Justice Antonin Scalia that fewer than one percent of case filings actually get read, except in Alito’s chambers, where everything gets reviewed by a clerk. “I don’t believe the Justices read a word of the pleadings,” Taitz said. Oh, and also, Alito didn’t attend a meeting with Obama before his inauguration, which makes him the only justice whose word she’ll accept. “That’s a clear conflict of interest, that’s lack of impartiality, and Alito was the only justice who didn’t attend this meeting,” Taitz went on.

You’d think that means Alito’s order would be the end of it, but Orly Taitz is not a woman who takes no for an answer, if she can help it. This is a woman who managed to get herself from Moldova to Southern California, via Israel, where she’s built what appears to be a reasonably successful dental practice and sent her children off for Ivy League educations. She’s a woman who decided to run for Secretary of State of California, as a Republican, after the current Democratic officeholder failed to de-certify Obama’s candidacy; she lost, but 368,000 Californians voted for her. She’s someone who has stuck with the birther cause even after her old ally Lou Dobbs tired of the trope, filing lawsuits on behalf of military officers who insist they cannot be deployed to Iraq because Obama is an illegitimate commander-in-chief. And now she’s managed to get herself hearing with not one but two Supreme Court justices, and she is probably not going to rest until she sees a piece of paper with Alito’s signature on it. Which means, in the end, that Orly Taitz is sort of an American hero: she proves that the system, flawed as it may be, actually does work.

‘Birther Queen’ Taitz Vows to Keep Fighting [TPM Muckraker]
Earlier: In Doubt’s Shadow

The Right’s Worst Americans

Still with the Rosenbergs?

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.(Wikipedia)

Via Matthew Yglesias, a bunch of conservative blogs voted on and compiled a list of the 25 Worst Figures in American History. In a surprise twist, President Obama takes the number-two spot, losing out to former President Carter. Ted Kennedy, the Clintons, and Als Gore and Sharpton make the list.

There are four Jews: One of them absurd (Saul Alinsky, presumably on the theory that this barely-read minor intellectual inspired the Marxist Communist anti-American socialism of the president); two of them coherent as far as these things go (George Soros, who is indeed one of the biggest funders of Democratic causes, and Noam Chomsky, who is pretty left-wing); and one … kind of tasteless.

The Fourth Worst Figure in American History is … the Rosenbergs.

Now, look. Though my grandfather would probably roll over in his grave if he heard this, I think the Rosenbergs, though clearly victims of a miscarriage of justice (partly motivated by anti-Semitism), were probably guilty. Additionally, my sympathy for people who spy on my country is exceedingly small. However, the fact that the right wing to this day fixates on the Rosenbergs, of all the spies in our history (Benedict Arnold, Aldrich Ames, and Alger Hiss also appear on the list, although not as high), was a little shocking and disturbing to me.

Conservative Bloggers Select the 25 Worst Figures in American History [Right Wing News]

Hitchens Welcomes Your Prayers

Though he won’t be joining you

(Roger Ebert’s blog)

Upon hearing that people were praying for Christopher Hitchens, the Tablet Magazine contributor currently undergoing chemotherapy for esophageal cancer (the same illness that killed his father, which has apparently spread to his lymph nodes), I found it kind of offensive, given the tremendous time and intellectual energy Hitchens has devoted to his atheism.

I still wonder whether Page Six wasn’t trying to be snarky about the proud unbeliever Hitchens’s battle with mortality. However, Hitchens himself has clarifiedin numerous venues—that though he himself has not prayed for himself, and that reports of any deathbed conversion should be chalked up to the working of an enfeebled and unrepresentative state of his mind, he actually welcomes those who are praying for him to get well—though not those who are praying that his soul be saved by the God he does not believe exists.

Below: Tablet Magazine contributing editor Jeff Goldberg talks to Hitchens (as well as his “dearest friend,” the novelist Martin Amis).

Christopher Hitchens, Not Going Gently [NYT]
Related: Topic of Cancer [VF]
Earlier: No, Don’t Pray for Hitchens

Stanger Breaks Her Own Match

‘Millionaire’ yenta ends engagement

Patti Stanger.(Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

Oh, no! Patti Stanger, better known to readers of this blog as the self-appointed Millionaire Matchmaker, decided over the weekend to call it quits with her fiancé, Andy Friedman. We don’t know exactly how things went down, but on Friday afternoon, she was Tweeting lovestruck missives, and by Saturday morning she was announcing to her 42,000 followers that it was kaput. “I just ended my relationship with Andy,” La Stanger wrote, at 9:39 a.m. “It hit me really hard that I want kids in my life. You have to agree on the non-negotiables.”

Stanger, who had already pushed back the wedding date, told Life & Style that Friedman had apparently changed his mind about having kids. “Ever since our first date, he knew I wanted kids,” Stanger told the magazine. “A life without kids has no meaning to me. I think the most important job in the world is being a parent or step-parent!”

So, you know what? Good for her! She’s 49 years old, she makes her shekels selling people on the importance of finding lasting love, and she certainly has to know that, having forced even her most ardent fans to sit through dull, dull footage of her wedding planning, there will be more than a few people who harbor more than a little secret schadenfreude. This is a woman who clearly doesn’t give a damn what the rest of the world thinks about how she runs her life, instead placing the premium on her own happiness. And now, with her show shooting in New York, she knows what to do next. We quote: “You go to the fucking suburbs! You go to Westchester, you go to Long Island, you go to Jersey, you look around! Guys in Jersey buy fucking $4 million houses!”

L&S Exclusive: SPLIT! [Life & Style]
Earlier: ‘The Millionaire Matchmaker’ Comes to NYC!

Today on Tablet

A heist tale, what’s in Cordoba’s name, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Jon Kalish reports, on our Vox Tablet podcast, on Skipp Porteous, a former neo-Nazi hunter and converted Jew who has in years since tried to solve the only unsolved airplane hijacking. Staff writer Marc Tracy examines why the Cordoba Initiative is called that, and how different Jewish historians have used versions of medieval Spain to advance their own agendas. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall praises a new children’s book that kills two birds with one stone: It uses (and teaches) science to reassure short kids that all will be well. Josh Lambert has his weekly round-up of forthcoming books of note, starting with contributing editor Gal Beckerman’s look at the fight to rescue Soviet Jewry. The Scroll will try to get you through another of these August weeks.

Obama Backs Islamic Center, Sort Of

Clear on developers’ rights, less on wisdom

President Obama speaking Friday night.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

As you probably heard, on Friday night, while hosting a traditional Muslim Iftar dinner, President Obama expressed his support for Park51, the Cordoba Initiative Islamic center to be built a couple blocks north of Ground Zero.

Of course—perhaps because that side of the issue polls atrociously, both nationwide and even in New York City—it didn’t take 24 hours before the walk-back began: An Obama spokesperson said the president was merely passing judgment on religious freedom in the abstract, and then Obama himself added, “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have.” Not sure if that is anything we can believe in. (Though a former Bush speechwriter finds plenty.)

Republicans, meanwhile, pounced, both responsibly (“This is not about freedom of religion,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, “but I do think it’s unwise to build a mosque at the site where 3,000 Americans lost their lives as the result of a terrorist attack”) and irresponsibly (ahem), even as some wonder how Obama’s predecessor—a Republican, but one who made great strides to show tolerance toward Islam—would have handled this.

Meanwhile, someone makes the right-wing case for respecting property rights. At the most, Obama probably pushed the conventional wisdom in that direction. But beyond the civil libertarian angle—the only angle, incidentally, that in my humble opinion falls within, say, the Anti-Defamation League’s purview—is it right that the center be built there? Both the left and the right have their answers.

Obama Backs Manhattan Mosque [Ben Smith]
Republicans Slam Obama Over Ground Zero Muslim Center Remarks [Haaretz]

Daybreak: Direct Talks Coming, No Really

Plus Obama threatens Turkey, and more in the news

U.S. envoy George Mitchel and President Abbas last week.(Omar Rashidi/PPO via Getty Images)

• Not that we haven’t heard this before, but President Abbas is expected to agree to direct talks, and direct talks to resume, sometime this week. [LAT]

• George Will again emphasizes that Prime Minister Netanyahu sees a nuclear Iran as simply unacceptable, period. [WP]

• President Obama reportedly warned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that his newfound pro-Palestinian activism could jeopardize U.S. weapons sales. [Ynet]

• Israel began removing a barrier shielding a Jewish neighborhood (on the other side of the Green Line) of Jerusalem, in recognition of the quiet that had overtaken the particular area. [NYT]

• The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is urging member states to walk out of the United Nations during the annual General Assembly meeting, which starts September 14, if Iranian President Ahmadinjead speaks. [JTA]

Sundown: Is Park51 A Teachable Moment?

Plus Hezbollah says it’s got the goods on Israel, and more

President Obama earlier this week.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

• During tonight’s Iftar ceremony, there is a good chance President Obama will broach the Cordoba Initiative controversy. (A reminder: The pro-center side polls horribly nationwide, and even in New York City.) [Ben Smith]

• Tablet Magazine columnist Lee Smith breaks down the contemporary Middle East, where Arab nations like Saudi Arabia are joining with the United States and, yes, Israel against Iran. [Newsweek]

• Josh Marshall gets to the heart of opposition to the Islamic center. [TPM]

• The Los Angeles Times backs the center, too. [LAT]

• Hezbollah will turn over evidence that it claims implicates Israel in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. [Haaretz]

• Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary of State Clinton talked peace process last night. [Ynet]

Lea Michele, of Glee, says she is proud of her Jewish nose—although in her case, it’s actually an Italian nose. For my money, the best thing she has ever been involved with is not Glee, but Spring Awakening:

‘Where Did, Where Did, Where Did You Go?’

Your Vox Tablet preview

(Eric Molinsky)

On the next episode of Vox Tablet, coming to you Monday, we meet Skipp Porteous, a private investigator who thinks he’s found the answer to this question:

For those of you who don’t recall, D.B. Cooper is the alias for the man who, in 1971, pulled off the only unsolved aircraft hijacking in U.S. history. No, he wasn’t Jewish. And neither was Porteous, until he quit his ministry in the 1980s, moved East, and converted. It’s a damn good story, so don’t miss it.

The Bogeyman of Iran

‘The New Yorker’ visits Tehran

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier this month.(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

In the lull of August, major media outlets are turning a watchful eye on Iran. Jeffrey Goldberg’s lengthy piece offered a view from perches in Washington and Jerusalem. Meanwhile, The New Yorker dispatched its globetrotting reporter, Jon Lee Anderson, to Tehran, where he secured a very rare sit-down with the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Anderson’s report reveals a leadership stubbornly dismissive of external pressure, and outrageously blind to internal disputes.

It also shows a short, fiercely despised man trying hard to be press-savvy. As the interview begins, a press aide suggests Anderson avoid talk of war, whispering other topic ideas, like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill: Ahmadinejad apparently offered his help. But Anderson pushes at the pressing issue, questioning Ahmadinejad on his repeated calls for the destruction of Israel. “The Iranian nuclear-energy program and the issue of Palestine,” the president tells Anderson, “are two separate issues.” (more…)


Stallone’s Barney Ross versus our Barney Ross


Sylvester Stallone’s new movie, The Expendables, opens today. Under other circumstances, Tablet Magazine would have happily let this unremarkable display of aging meat puppets (we have heard it called “Valentine’s Day for dudes”) go by unnoticed. But Stallone challenged us, naming his character—the movie’s lead, naturally—Barney Ross. You know, like the famous Jewish boxer and subject of Douglas Century’s great Nextbook Press biography. So who would win the Battle of the Barneys? Let’s compare and contrast.

Barney Ross

Professional boxer, gun runner, champion of the Jewish people

Wartime Experience:
Displayed unusual bravery under fire in Guadalcanal, awarded the Silver Star

Memorable quote:
“A champ’s got the right to choose the way he goes out.”

Barney Ross

Professional mercenary, gun runner, champion of Dolph Lundgren’s career

Wartime Experience:
Displayed unusual bravery under fire in fighting Eric Roberts.

Memorable quote:
“We are the shadow, the smoke in your eyes, the ghosts that hide in the night.”

$200M Scam Involves $6M in Judaica

Must be some pretty expensive candleholders

(Gallery Judaica)

Prosecutors in New Jersey have charged a 35-year-old Orthodox man, Eliyahu Weinstein, with targeting fellow Jews as far afield as California and Israel in a $200 million real-estate investment scam. Weinstein’s lawyers claim the charges are just sour grapes from disgruntled former partners, but the New Jersey Star-Ledger reports that Weinstein may have had dealings with Solomon Dwek, the son of a prominent Syrian-Jewish family who last year turned state’s witness after pleading guilty to his own scam and informed on the Syrian community’s chief rabbi and more than two dozen elected officials in New Jersey.

But, whatever: Ponzi scheme, schmonzi scheme. The thing that caught our attention was this detail, from the U.S. Attorney’s office press release: “Weinstein used some of his victims’ investments to amass a substantial collection of art, jewelry and Judaica.” How substantial, you ask? Well, the IRS and FBI agents who swept into Weinstein’s peach two-story house in Lakewood, a heavily Orthodox suburb, seized $6.2 million worth of manuscripts and antique Judaica. Let’s see: That’s, like, enough for 38,750 of these Nambe hannukiahs, or 4,538 of these sterling silver washing cups (with tax). But perhaps Weinstein’s taste ran to loftier items, like this German gilt hanukkiah, cast in 1750, which Sotheby’s sold last year for $542,000, or these bound discourses on the Jewish religion, circa 1867, priced at a very reasonable $20-30,000.

Also seized? $7.2 million worth of clocks. Go figure.

Lakewood NJ Real Estate Developer Eliyahu Weinstein Arrested [Asbury Park Press]
Real Estate Scam Targeted Orthodox Jews, According to Prosecutors [WSJ]
Related: Crisis of Faith [Tablet Magazine]

Today on Tablet

The Jewish Dutchman, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Mica Wertheim, a Dutch comedian about to do English-language stand-up, explains why he’s here and what makes Jews funny. Liel Leibovitz thinks our educational system would be better if there were a little more haftorah mentality in it. The Scroll is very appreciative of your reading it on an August Friday, and will duly reward you.

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