A Quibble With a Magnificent Novel

Franzen gets much right, but gets D.C. neocons wrong

Jonathan Franzen.(Time)

I come to praise Freedom, not to bury it. Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, which drops next week (though President Obama got a hold of it already), is a wonderful book, one you get lost in and then come out at the other end of with an enriched understanding of your own life.

And Sam Tanenhaus’ review is fantastic in itself—it particularly helped me clarify how I felt about the novel’s haunting, literally breath-taking final section. (It is, granted, almost impossibly rhapsodic—here is a very positive but more measured take.) Tanenhaus is especially perceptive when teasing out all the permutations of the novel’s ambitious (and self-admittedly grandiose) title. He treats its political implications with particular sensitivity—sometimes more than Franzen does himself.

Here is where I step in as the Jewish blogger™ and say that, despite the above, I did have one problem with the novel. While its two most prominent Jewish characters—Patty Berglund, one half of the novel’s central couple, who grew up in a politically prominent Westchester County Jewish home, and the memorable rocker-cum-builder Richard Katz—are as finely drawn as any characters you will find in contemporary American fiction, there is additionally a minor Jewish character who left a distinctly metallic taste in my mouth. (Franzen himself is not Jewish.) (more…)

Daybreak: Avigdor Nixes Further Freeze

Plus Bloomberg continues crusade, and more in the news

Bloomberg last night.(Frank Franklin II-Pool/Getty Images)

• Foreign Minister Lieberman dismissed the notions that there would be peace in one year and that the West Bank construction freeze would be extended. [JPost]

• Mayor Michael Bloomberg clarified and extended his remarks defending Park51 at a Gracie Mansion Iftar dinner. [Politico]

• The U.N. probe into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s death wants more of Hezbollah’s alleged evidence that Israel is culpable. [Haaretz]

• Opening arguments were heard in the trial of four men accused of plotting to bomb Bronx synagogues. Defense lawyers argued their clients were illegally entrapped. [NYT]

• Israeli public schools in a pilot project will begin the cumpulsory study of Arabic in fifth grade rather than seventh. [NYT]

• Benjamin Kaplan, who helped prosecute Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, died at 99. [NYT]

Sundown: Whose Side Are You Really On?

Plus, it’s medicinal, man, and more


• The especially fearful and vigorous opponents of Park51 are actually playing into terrorists’ hands, argues one terrorism expert. [Laura Rozen]

• Guess which country has legalized medicinal marijuana! [Haaretz]

• Online praying, online synagogues. This just in: The Internet is not a fad. [JTA]

• All of these color pictures of Russia 100 years ago are awesome, but number 16 is of particular interest. [Boston Globel]

The New Leader shuttered for good. [Jewish Ideas Daily]

• Why Turkish EU membership is probably good for everyone, and how it ought to be done. [FT]

Via The Lede, Wikipedia for Zionists:

Direct Peace Talk

The freeze extension is the only issue right now

Shalom (L) huddles with Prime Minister Netanyahu Sunday.(Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Are there impending direct peace talks between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, or an impending direct peace talk? The September 2 session in Washington, D.C., will last one day only, and will deal with one subject only: The West Bank construction freeze, currently scheduled to expire on September 26 (which, naturally, is right after Sukkot, the ultimate holiday of building).

While that freeze is but the tip of very, very large iceberg of issues concerning Israeli-Palestinian peace, in a sense it is the only one worth talking about: Abbas has said peace talks will end if the freeze is not extended, period. The way out of this, say some on both left and right, is that Abbas could agree to recognize a freeze extension that excludes recognized settlements around Jerusalem, which, most assume, will be located in Israel proper under any comprehensive final deal. (It’s worth remembering, also, that Abbas has already moved on this issue: Earlier this year, he nixed direct talks without a freeze in East Jerusalem.) (more…)

‘Ah, There’s Another One’

Hitchens and Amis on English anti-Semitism


Do you want to watch Christopher Hitchens discuss Anthony Julius’s recent book on English anti-Semitism (based around his latest essay) with contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg?

How about, do you want to see Martin Amis talk about Philip Roth and how his father, the great (though not as great) novelist Kingsley, was a minor Jew-hater? English philo-Semites are great.

Related: Chosen [The Atlantic]
Albion’s Shame [The Atlantic]

Hitler Actually Probably Was A Little Bit Jewish

Gives new meaning to ‘self-hating’

Another famous Jew.(Wikipedia)

You’ve all heard the rumor, that Hitler’s paternal grandfather was Jewish. But a new DNA study shows that … well, actually, that Hitler did likely have some Jewish heritage. Specifically, a Belgian scientist and a Belgian journalist tested the saliva of 39 of the Führer’s relatives and found one chromosome—Haplogroup E1b1b1, since you ask—which is traceable back to both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.

At the very least, the result seems to demonstrate that Hitler was of mixed race, which was pretty much a no-no by itself, as I recall. “This is a surprising result,” said a Belgian geneticist. “Hitler would not have been happy.” Oh noes!

‘DNA Shows Hitler of Mixed Race’
Hitler Likely Had Jewish, African Roots [JTA]

Greene Tries for Senate

Jewish candidate has mom on Florida campaign trail

Jeff Greene and supporters.(Greene for Senate)

Today, Rep. Kendrick Meek faces real estate maven Jeff Greene in Florida’s Democratic Senate primary. If polls hold, Meek will win, but not for Greene’s lack of trying—and not for Greene’s lack of playing the heritage card. “My Jeff, he’ll shake things up in Washington,” the candidate’s mother, Barbara of West Palm Beach, is quoted telling Florida voters.

The Forward’s Nathan Guttman explored the particulars of the race: How Meek, a four-term African-American congressman, overcame the initial lead that Greene, a self-made billionaire, had built; how establishment Democrats, most of whom back Meek, worry that a Greene victory will tamp down black turnout come November. And then there is how Greene has tried to take attention away from his personal life—which apparently at one point featured an L.A. “love den” that hosted Mike Tyson and Paris Hilton (not necessarily at the same time)—with subtle references to his background.

Did I say subtle? Yesterday, Greene took Meek on over Israel. “As a Jewish-American man who grew up in a Jewish household,” he said in a statement, “and whose grandmother, mother, and sister are Jewish educators, has studied in Israel and taught Hebrew—it is without a doubt that I have a better understanding of Jewish issues.”

Of course, two can play that game. On Sunday, Meek magnanimously “forgave” Greene for his attacks—at a black church. We all, it seems, have our own landsmen.

What Will Determine Florida’s Democratic Senate Primary? [Atlantic Wire]
Florida’s Jews Face Stark Choice in Senate Race [Forward]
Ethnic Politics in Florida [Ben Smith]

Today on Tablet

Against binationalism, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Liel Leibovitz stands up for a Jewish state of Israel against the increasingly broadly popular “one-state solution.” Books critic Adam Kirsch reviews British potter Edmund de Waal’s new memoir, which uses family heirlooms to go back in time to his ancestors’. Rest assured, The Scroll will find something to write about on one of the slowest news weeks of the year.

Road to Damascus

How it could break the Palestinian impasse

Syrian President Bashar Assad last month.(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Faced with peace-process pessimism, the proper response is: Well, okay, if talking isn’t likely to accomplish anything, what is? To which (if you ask me, anyway), the response is: Creating a regional context in which both Israel and the moderate Palestinian West Bank leadership feel safer about making real concessions. The chief way to do this is to tamp down Iran as a potential nuclear state and very real sponsor of anti-Israeli terrorism. But another important (and related) way is to start solving the problem of Syria, which has never made peace with the Jewish state.

And—whaddya know?—coinciding with the announcement of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, there appeared a report in a London-based Arabic-language newspaper that the United States (with the aid of the French) is working behind the scenes to try to spur Israeli-Syrian talks. While a channel was first opened earlier this summer (through outgoing Jewish Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania), believe it or not), likely because of the effect U.S. sanctions were having on Syria’s sponsor Iran, a new push is apparently in the works. This is a smart move.

Report: U.S. Working To Resume Israel-Syria Negotiations [Ynet]
Earlier: Direct Talks, Next Month

Daybreak: Hope on Talks After All

Plus the coming Israeli energy boom, and more in the news

The scene at a future offshore Israeli gas field.(NYT)

• The Palestinians’ chief negotiator said peace was “doable,” if difficult. The first big roadblock—no unfortunate pun intended—will come September 26, when the West Bank construction freeze is scheduled to expire. [NYT]

• Another former negotiator, the American David Makovsky, agrees that peace is not implausible, and argues that talks are the essential complement to Palestinian state-building. [WP]

• While sanctions may be putting the hurt on Iran generally, the country’s Revolutionary Guard and those with ties to it may actually be thriving by using private firms as fronts. [LAT]

• A detailed look at Israel’s new natural gas opportunities. [NYT]

• Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s declining health has basically become a public joke in the country. Less funny is that no one knows who his successor will be. [LAT]

• Richard Cohen doesn’t want compromise on the Islamic center, like moving it to a new location, because one side is right and the other side is wrong. Instead, he calls for “moral suasion” from leaders. [WP]

Sundown: Charities Reluctant on Pakistan

Plus those crazy L.A. ‘Persians,’ and more

The spread at Adelle Nazarian and Alexander Borookhim’s nuptials.(LAT)

• Jewish and other charities are responding to the Pakistan flood, but more slowly than they did the Haitian earthquake; some suspect politics have played a role. [Jewish Journal]

• Goldberg v. Lazio on Meet The Press. [Atlantic]

• “It’s a community center. They’re going to have a gym. They’re going to have point guards. Muslim point guards.”—Al Franken [News Desk]

• Speaking of which, shortly after Amar’e, the NBA’s biggest big man is soon to visit Israel. Will we soon welcome Dwight Howard to the Tribe? Would we even want to? [JTA]

• Considering the Cordoba Initiative controversy, Ron Radosh considers not one but two Tablet Magazine articles, and quotes yours truly to boot. [Pajamas Media]

• This article is technically about opulent Persian weddings in L.A., but various hints make it pretty clear who they mean by “Persians.” [LAT]

It’s bad enough that Hapoel Tel Aviv’s Itay Schechter was yellow-carded for pulling a yarmulke out of his sock and putting it on after scoring against Austria’s FC Red Bull Salzburg. Turns out he wasn’t even aware of the anti-Semitic chants the Austrian crowd had offered. In fairness to the Austrian fans though, it must really suck to lose 3-2, at home, in a Champions League qualifying match to a bunch of Jews.

Obama and the Jews

Has he lost support over Israel?

President Obama last week.(Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

Over the weekend, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow considered the recent Pew finding that 33 percent of American Jews identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, which is significantly higher than in 2008 and 2006. Blow concludes that President Obama has alienated some members of this constituency by “having taken a hard rhetorical stance with Israel, while taking ‘special time and care on our relationship with the Muslim world,’ as Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, put it in June.” It is a pretty sloppy column: There are several problems with it, the chief one being that it fails to mention that this is an unusually Republican year overall, and the only weird thing would be if that weren’t reflected in the (still overwhelmingly Democratic) Jewish numbers.

Eric Alterman has a nice response: (more…)

Rabbi on the Fringe

Hasidic tale gets updated for the stage

Yehuda Hyman in The Mad 7.(Frank Wojciechowski)

Every August, the Fringe NYC arts festival does the great service of bringing hundreds of new shows to downtown stages during an otherwise-dead season. While a few of the productions have larger aspirations, hoping to catch a producer’s eye for a future run in a bigger house, most are decidedly non-mainstream fare: Some of the titles at this month’s festival include Amsterdam Abortion Survivor, Headscarf and the Angry Bitch, and Love in the Time of Swine Flu. (“And the Tony goes to … .”)

In the midst of all these hip new offerings, though, you’ll find something (at least partly) old and traditional: The Mad 7, a one-man show inspired by The Seven Beggars by Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, the legendary Hasidic storyteller who died in 1810 (and whose biography, by Rodger Kamenetz, is due out this fall from Nextbook Press).

“Nachman was definitely a Fringe performer in his time,” Yehuda Hyman, who wrote and performs The Mad 7, told The Scroll. “He went against the establishment. He was untraditional, adventurous, and somewhat outrageous. Besides all that, he would occasionally disappear from his followers and show up in another town in costumed disguise, pretending to be someone else. What could be more Fringe?” (more…)

Frank’s Favorite Tree Is Gone

Storm fells Amsterdam chestnut

The view of the tree from the Annex attic.(AP)

Earlier today, a storm knocked down the so-called “Anne Frank tree” in Amsterdam. The horse-chestnut tree, which lived to approximately 170, had already suffered from fungus and moth infestation; a judge stayed an order to remove it in 2007 following a popular outcry.

Fans will recall that Anne could view the tree from the Annex. “Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs,” she wrote, “from my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind. As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy.”

Because this was clearly your next question, “tree” or “trees” is mentioned in In the Aeroplane Over the Sea three times: (more…)

The New Anti-Semitism, Continued

Park51’s Khan sees resonance with Islamophobia

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Yesterday, Daisy Khan, the wife of Imam Abdul Feisal Rauf (who himself was profiled in the New York Times this weekend), compared opposition to her Cordoba Initiative’s plans for an Islamic center in lower Manhattan to “a metastasized anti-Semitism.” She added, “That’s what we feel right now. It’s not even Islamophobia, it’s beyond Islamophobia. It’s hate of Muslims. And we are deeply concerned.”

Separately, contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg notes, “Anti-Muslim sentiment in America today has many of the hallmarks of the anti-Semitism of yesteryear. American Jews should be able to see that.”

One American Jew who did see that was Daniel Luban, writing in Tablet Magazine last week about “The New Anti-Semitism”:

Many of the tropes of classic anti-Semitism have been revived and given new force on the American right. Once again jingoistic politicians and commentators posit a religious conspiracy breeding within Western society, pledging allegiance to an alien power, conspiring with allies at the highest levels of government to overturn the existing order. Because the propagators of these conspiracy theories are not anti-Semitic but militantly pro-Israel, and because their targets are not Jews but Muslims, the ADL and other Jewish groups have had little to say about them. But since the election of President Barack Obama, this Islamophobic discourse has rapidly intensified

Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism [Ben Smith]
What Is ‘The Seed of Islam’? [Atlantic]
Related: The New Anti-Semitism [Tablet Magazine]
For Imam In Muslim Center Furor, a Hard Balancing Act [NYT]

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