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Brandeis Students Protest Oren

Israeli ambassador is the commencement speaker

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Oren speaking last year.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who earlier this year was shouted down and called a “Killer!” while speaking at the University of California, Irvine, is once again a subject of campus controversy: Brandeis University’s selection has prompted the inevitable Facebook petition protesting the choice, and the equally inevitable counter-petition supporting Oren and Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz.

The anti-Oren petition is (somewhat) careful to couch its opposition in terms of Oren serving as a distraction from graduating students rather than of specific opposition to the policies he represents: “commencement has been hijacked to serve as part of a debate about Middle Eastern politics,” it argues. It wears its politics a bit more on its sleeve when it calls Oren “a divisive choice.”

While not technically officially totally Jewish, Brandeis, located outside Boston, has highly Jewish student and faculty bodies and was named, at its founding in 1948, after the first Jewish U.S. Supreme Court justice (who was also, as Jeffrey Goldberg puts it, “the leading Zionist in American history”).

Oren will also receive an honorary degree, as will American Mideast adviser Dennis Ross; novelist Antonio Muñoz Molina (whom some of us are big fans of); and Paul Simon. Personally, I am outraged—outraged!—that the perpetually underrated Garfunkel is not to be similarly honored. So if you’ll excuse me, I have a petition to write.

A Kerfuffle at Brandeis [Jeffrey Goldberg]
Earlier: ADL, J Street Condemn UC-Irvine Incident

Today on Tablet

Going to Goa, considering kiruv, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Matthew Schwarzfeld files his first of three dispatches from Goa, on the southwest Indian coast, where the more hippie graduates of the Israeli military like to go and chill out. Books critic Adam Kirsch take the measure of Chief British Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s new manifesto for a more modern, engaged Judaism. Samantha M. Shapiro interviews Miriam Lowenbraun, a prominent figure in the Orthodox kiruv movement, which seeks to persuade Jews to be more observant. And The Scroll could use some time on the Goan beach right about now.

Postcards From Berlin

Time hasn’t healed it, and the people aren’t helping

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Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.(All photos by the author)

I was recently on vacation, and in the interest of claiming the whole thing as a tax write-off, I may as well write about it (kidding!). It seems most natural to write about Berlin, where I spent three days sightseeing, seeing people, and cutting an album (kidding again!). Berlin’s uniqueness has much to do with its Jewish experience and with the experience of the Jews of Europe who were murdered at the direction of residents of the city. Ich bin ein that?? Well, maybe.

Some cities paper over their history, whether by encasing an idealized version of itself in immortal amber (Paris) or constantly rebuiliding so that it is never more than six months of construction away from total modernity (I am told parts of Beijing are like this). Other cities may be said to be haunted by their pasts, the ghosts truly existing only in the minds of the beholders—a main tourist destination in Prague, which I also visited, is the crammed, surreal Jewish cemetery whose youngest corpses date to the 18th century.

But Berlin is scarred. The horrific wounds that history has slashed across the city (and which, in many cases—and as the Germans are at the front of the line to admit—Berlin invited upon itself) remain. A glass cone sits atop the Reichstag, a deliberately obvious reminder of the 1933 arson that enabled the Nazis to solidify their grip on the country’s steering wheel. Around the corner, in front of the Brandenburg Gate, a line of bricks traces the path of the wall that once divided the free city from the unfree one. And just around the corner from that (and pictured above), in the middle of Berlin’s Mitte, or central neighborhood, is the city’s (or one of the city’s) Holocaust Memorial. It is rows of endless gray slabs, which don’t reach your knees at the installation’s edges but tower above you in its middle. Official name: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. (more…)

Daybreak: Popping In, Just to Say Hi

Plus Cohen’s feeling up, J’lem’s mayor’s feeling down, and more in the news

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Oh hey, sup? Obama yesterday.(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

• President Obama “dropped by” a meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Washington, D.C., to convey his support for Israel’s security. Barak meets Secretaries Clinton and Gates today in the run-up to U.S.-mediated proximity talks next month. [Haaretz]

• Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also backs the proximity talks and will take the proposal to the Arab League this weekend. [WSJ]

• In an interview, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat calls the U.S. request for a full settlement freeze “an illegal demand.” [LAT]

• The Israeli millitary killed a Hamas man thought to be responsible for the 2004 death of a border policeman. [NYT]

• The normally sorrowful Roger Cohen feels optimistic about the peace process, thanks to (he says) Obama’s realism, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s state-building, and Israeli unease with the status quo. [NYT]

• An IDF investigation just found that soldiers made mistakes in the deaths of four West Bank Palestinians last month. [JTA]

Sundown: ‘Tikkun’ O-Loves Goldstone

Plus the jokes Jones should have used, and more

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• Liberal Jewish magazine Tikkun, edited by Rabbi Michael Lerner, is giving its 25th annual ethics award to Richard Goldstone—he of the infamous Report. [JTA]

• Vox Tablet subject Mark Oppenheimer profiles the Jewish Review of Books. He also name-checks Tablet Magazine. Logrolling in our time! [NYT]

• President Shimon Peres hosted a delegation from J Street even as the Foreign Ministry called the U.S. “pro-Israel, pro-peace” outfit “problematic.” [Arutz Sheva]

• The New York Times reviews James Sturm’s graphic novel Market Day, which was recently featured on Vox Tablet. [NYT]

• There’s controversy about it, but I hadn’t even heard the news: Professional wrestler (and animal welfare activist) Bill Goldberg is set to be inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. [Kaplan’s Korner]

• An alternate Jewish joke for Gen. James Jones. [Jeffrey Goldberg]

Here’s my choice:

Lord, You Are My Sole Desire

Your daily poetry fix

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In 11th-century Spain, where the great Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi composed many of his masterworks, poetry was, for the educated classes, the language of everyday life. In his biography of Halevi, published this year by Nextbook Press, Hillel Halkin describes the young Halevi improvising poetry (about the pleasures of wine, of course) in a busy tavern—which, Halkin explains, would not have been an unusual way to spend an evening. “If calling an age ‘poetic’ refers, not to some supposed collective sublimity or imaginativeness of mind, but, more mundanely, to the widespread use of poetry in ordinary life as a medium of communication and social exchange, the young man was born in one of the most historically poetic of ages,” Halkin writes. “Poems were an everyday vehicle for the expression of emotion; for the sending of messages and requests; for the carrying of news from one encampment to another; for the recording and remembering of unusual events; for the wooing of the opposite sex; for the enhancement of celebrations; for the flattering of authority; for the vaunting of one’s exploits; for the praising of one’s friends and the derogation of one’s enemies, and the like.” (more…)

Jones Apologizes for Controversial Humor

An old non-Jew tells a joke

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Did you hear the one about the non-Jewish top administration official who told a classic Jewish joke to a crowd containing lots of Jews? Yeah, not everyone found the punch line so funny.

General James Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser, told a joke—video and transcription after the jump—that is easily recognizable as one of those jokes about Jews, making fun of stereotypical Jewish traits, that Jews tend to tell affectionately about each other. However, there’s an unwritten rule about these jokes that states that these aren’t really offensive … so long as it is a Jew telling them. Which is arguably fair, arguably unfair. But pretty clearly the reigning rule.

So anyway, Jones told the joke over the weekend last week at the 25th anniversary party for the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs. This is a generally pro-Israel think tank with many Jewish donors. And you can hear lots of laughter on the tape. (It’s a pretty funny joke!) But a think-tanker who was present said it “demonstrated a lack of sensitivity.” Then Abraham Foxman called it “inappropriate.” And, yup, Jones just apologized (“It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct”).

For what it’s worth, Tablet Magazine contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg doesn’t think it’s a big deal. I don’t feel offended, either, though I certainly also don’t see the point, and it was clearly a dumb thing to do. And you?

(more…)

AJC May Merge With AJC

Headline writers rejoice

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(The American Jewish Congress)

The venerable American Jewish Congress, which is hurting from a funding shortfall, is in talks with the slightly more venerable American Jewish Committee over some sort of merger arrangement (via The Fundermentalist). Which would mean there will be no more confusion over just which AJC is being referred to the next time you read about it.

Oh, and yes, this is Madoff’s fault.

After Madoff, AJCongress Looks For Merger [JPost]

What They Have at the Fruit Store

An old Jew tells a joke

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Hoo boy.

Was Irène Némirovsky an Anti-Semite?

New bio defends ‘Suite Française’ author

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Némirovsky and cat.(New York Times)

Irène Némirovsky was shipped off to Auschwitz before she could complete her magnum opus, Suite Française. But the Ukrainian-French-Jewish novelist has remained in the news, thanks to the blockbuster reception that book received when it was first published in English a few years ago, and thanks also to controversy surrounding her attitudes toward her own people.

In a 2006 essay for Nextbook.org (Tablet Magazine’s precursor), novelist Paul La Farge marshaled the evidence that this woman who was murdered for being a Jew was perhaps something of an anti-Semite. During her life, her institutional supporters and personal admirers were invariably right-wing. A previous biography detailed her apparent distaste for poor, unassimilated Jewry. Suite Française is “curiously apolitical” for a novel about the occupation of France. And an early novel, David Golder,

abounds in caricatures that it would not be unfair to call anti-Semitic: Golder’s associate Simon has the “heavy, drowsy eyes of an Oriental” and teeth “paved with gold, [which] sparkled strangely in the shadows.” Simon’s wife has a “thin face with a large hard nose in the shape of a beak … her round bright eyes shone intensely beneath pale eyebrows, placed in a strange way, unevenly, very high up.” And so on.

But the French authors of a new biography flat-out reject the line that Némirovsky was an anti-Semite. Instead, reports the New York Times, they trace her apparent distaste for her co-religionists to her acute loathing of her (eminently loathe-able) mother.

That seems fair enough. Less fair is the Times‘s comparison of David Golder to another “book that also earned its author the label of a ‘self-hating Jew’”: Philip Roth’s 1959 Goodbye, Columbus. I haven’t read David Golder, but this seems tenuous: Roth’s lovely story collection has a Yiddish proverb as its epigraph and depicts postwar American Jews’ self-constructed shtetls with as much affection as unease; meanwhile, David Golder reportedly features “a greedy and crude Jewish banker with a long hooked nose and a grasping wife.”

For her part, Némirovsky denied being an anti-Semite. Describing David Golder in 1935—merely six years after it was published, but an epoch away—she said, “It is absolutely certain that had there been Hitler, I would have greatly softened David Golder, and I would not have written it in the same way. And yet,” she added, “I would have been wrong, it would have been a weakness unworthy of a real writer!”

Assessing Jewish Identity of Author Killed by Nazis [NYT]
Related: Behind the Legend [Nextbook.org]

Most Austrians Shun Right-Wing Candidate

Rosencranz defeated soundly

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Poster photographed in Vienna on Wednesday.(Marc Tracy)

Returning from vacation, I was greeted with the news that Barbara Rosenkranz, the presidential candidate for Austria’s right-wing, anti-immigrant Freedom Party—which many say is unduly sympathetic to neo-Nazis—won more than 15 percent of the vote yesterday. Meanwhile, Social Democrat incumbent Heinz Fischer secured an overwhelming majority.

In other words, while it would be ideal if Rosenkranz had gotten a vote total roughly 15 percentage points lower, this outcome was good news: It showed that most Austrians agree with whoever touched up this Rosenkranz poster that I saw in Vienna a few days ago.

Extreme Right Wins 15.6% in Austria [JPost]

Today on Tablet

Getting ‘Wisenheimer,’ a primer on lice, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, writer Mark Oppenheimer speaks on the Vox Tablet podcast series about growing up argumentative, and writing about it in his new memoir. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall offers a valuable charticle on lousy lice. Josh Lambert provides his weekly rundown of forthcoming books of interest, including columnist Joshua Cohen’s Witz. And after a phenomenal week-and-a-half of temporary receivership, The Scroll is back under old management.

New Schalit Video Aims for the Gut

Hamas’s ploy to re-start talks

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The chatter in Israel this morning was no doubt the brief new video released by Hamas in what the Jerusalem Post characterized as “a cynical attempt by Hamas to jump-start the negotiations with Israel over a prisoner swap.” It depicts, in some sort of 3D computer graphics, Noam Schalit trying to get his son back.

While the clip’s most viscerally impactful moment is no doubt its final one, the Post notes that what may resonate most is its accurate depiction of the Israeli government’s repeated promises to get Gilad back. “This movie is a reminder of that promise,” it reports. Is it enough of one, and powerful enough of one to re-start the conversation and to allow the prisoner swap to go through?

Analysis: Hamas’s Schalit Film—Cynical and Smart [JPost]

Daybreak: Proximity Talks Are in Proximity

Plus Highway 443 revisited, and more in the news

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U.S. envoy George Mitchell and Palestinian President Abbas.(Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty Images)

• People in the know say proximity talks will begin next month. President Obama admitted to Palestinian President Abbas that while he didn’t secure a total settlement freeze, Israel will commit no “significant” actions during negotiations. (Also, Abbas was invited to D.C.) [Haaretz]

• As it happens, however, President Abbas disclosed that he had actually asked the Americans to “impose” a peace solution. [WP]

• And meanwhile, rumors abound that—though he denies it—Prime Minister Netanyahu has ordered a de facto freeze in East Jerusalem. [Haaretz]

• An ultra-right-wing march through the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wade Hilwe set the region ever more on edge yesterday. [NYT]

• “If the Israelis and Palestinians can’t agree over how to share nine miles of pavement,” asks an article about the West Bank’s Highway 443, “how will they ever resolve the far more complex issues that divide them?” [WP]

Sundown: Orthodox “Rabba” Not Universally Beloved

Plus a new music school, a ‘Housewives’ spat, and more

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Sara Hurwitz(WSJ.com)

• Sara Hurwitz, the first female Orthodox rabbi—or “rabba”—has become the center of a growing schism over women’s roles in the movement. [WSJ]

• Move over Mamma Mia! A school for religious musicians will open in Israel and is already considering a “rock opera based on the life story of Rabbi Nachman from Breslev.” [Ynet]

• The South African Jewish Board of Deputies has announced that Richard Goldstone will be attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah after all, and “requests…that all parties immediately desist all public activities on this matter.” We certainly hope to. [SA Times]

• A reminder that Iran doesn’t have a monopoly on all the wingnuts when it comes to explaining natural phenomena: Back in 2008, an Israeli politician blamed gays for recent quakes. [Haaretz]

• Is NYC really not big enough for the Bravo’s two biggest Jewish drama queens? [AOL]

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