The Too Jewish Jewish State

Avishai aims at Newhouse, misses

Bernard Avishai.(

Bernard Avishai detects chauvinism in editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse’s argument against Israel’s controversial conversion bill. I’ll leave aside the ordinarily astute Avishai’s downright creepy choice of words—one doubts that, if he had been responding to a male writer, he would have used the word “sassy” or conjured up an image like “brunette fetishists.” The real discourteousness of his argument lies in his refusal to accept Newhouse’s ontological premise, which is that Israel is first and foremost a Jewish state, and as such is inherently connected to Jews the world over.

Resorting to the parlor game of what-if, Avishai invokes an imaginary scenario in which a newly independent Quebec announces that only Catholics are true Quebecois and accordingly awards them excessive rights. If that happened, Avishai quips, no serious intellectual would ever think that what’s at stake is merely a question of Catholic pluralism; instead, they would decry the fact that a democratic state “should presume to define or legally designate” an individual’s religious affiliation, “or award material privileges to individuals based on this legal designation.” (more…)

NYC Beauty Chain Targeted by Boycott

Code Pink continues anti-Ahava crusade


Ask New Yorkers: They love their Ricky’s. (Well, except this New Yorker, who will never forgive it for supplanting Morningside Heights’s movie-rental emporium.) But now an Israeli settlement-related boycott threatens to sever city residents’ link to their favorite beauty-store chain. The boycott targets Ahava, which produces skin moisturizers with materials from the Dead Sea and which women’s antiwar group Code Pink made a target, as Tablet Magazine’s Liel Leibovitz reported last year, because it is headquartered in a West Bank kibbutz. (“I knew there was a plastic bottle of Ahava Eucalyptus Mineral Bath Salts sitting on the windowsill next to the tub in my bathroom,” one activist memorably told Liel.)

The Israeli government notes that the kibbutz in question was settled on uninhabited land in 1970—that is, before the settlement project got underway—and that Ahava itself employs Palestinian workers. (The kibbutz is in one of the settlements abutting the Green Line, not in an illegal outpost, which may or may not be meaningful to you.)

Anyway, the boycott has now come home: Specifically, to Brooklyn’s Montague Street, where there is music in the cafes at night, revolution in the air, and protests the Ricky’s store. If you want to tell Ricky’s CEO Dom Costello to keep selling Ahava products, go here.

Mud-Slinging on Montague! [Brooklyn Paper]
Related: Pink Panthers [Tablet Magazine]

New Kafka Papers To Be Revealed

Disputed Swiss boxes opened today

Franz Kafka.(Random House)

The dispute over Franz Kafka’s extant papers seems primed to take a further turn with four sealed boxes in Switzerland being opened. Readers with good memories will recall that there is a conflict over the contents of these boxes involving the literary executor of Kafka’s estate, Max Brod; Brod’s heirs (who in fact may or may not be his rightful heirs, since his will is disputed); the state of Israel; and a German museum. I wish there were a single adjective that could fully capture this byzantinely complex legal dispute, but it’s not coming to me.

It’s always fun to remember that there should not even be a dispute over Kafka’s papers: The great writer instructed Brod to burn everything. (Rodger Kamenetz explores this in detail in Nextbook Press’s forthcoming Burnt Books.) What does it mean to be quarreling over words that should no longer even exist? Again, I am reaching for the appropriate adjective, but it’s not coming to me.

No one knows exactly what documents will be found. Or perhaps inside the box there is another box, which can only be unlocked by a key, which is inside that very box …

Lawyers Open Cache of Unpublished Manuscripts [Guardian]
Related: Burnt Books: Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka [Nextbook Press]
Earlier: Dispute Over Kafka’s Papers Is Transparent and Simple

Today on Tablet

Tisha B’Av, The Rebbe, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine (and everywhere else), it is Tisha B’Av: Here is everything you need to know about the holiday. Books critic Adam Kirsch has a long meditation on the continued relevance of Rabbi Menachem Scheerson. And The Scroll will no longer be so bashful about posting music by the end of today (there was some shame these past three weeks).

Glenn Beck Goes There

Basically says the Jews killed Jesus

Glenn Beck on his show last week.(HuffPo)

The Jewish Funds for Justice ad that ran in last week’s Forward may have been a bit premature. The message, which was supported by more than 250 Jewish and Christian clergymen, Jewish American community leaders, and prominent figures within groups like the labor movement and the NAACP, condemned Fox News host Glenn Beck’s “attack on our shared values” and “demagoguery.” It referred to Beck’s earlier comment concerning JFJ head Simon Greer’s stated belief that “government is essential to quest for social justice”: Such, Beck suggested, is the sort of logic that “leads to death camps.” (“A Jew, of all people, should know that,” Beck added.)

But, guys, if you thought that was bad … well, here was Beck last week (and sorry I missed it then):

Jesus conquered death. He wasn’t victimized. He chose to give his life. … If he was a victim, and this theology was true, then Jesus would’ve come back from the dead and made the Jews pay for what they did.

I’ll keep my checkbook handy, just in case.

Glenn Beck: Jews Killed Jesus [HuffPo]
Jewish Group Runs Ad Criticizing Glenn Beck [JTA]
Earlier: Glenn Beck Says Jew Follows Nazi Logic

Daybreak: Main al-Qaida Man Slams Leaders

Plus Iron Dome is fully forged, and more in the news

Ayman al-Zawahiri in new video.(AP/Haaretz)

• Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s number-two man, blames Arab leaders for “surrendering” to Israel in a new tape. [Haaretz]

• What exactly are the U.N. soldiers in southern Lebanon supposed to do? No one is actually sure, and Hezbollah is exploiting the confusion. [LAT]

• Israel’s “Iron Dome” rocket-defense system is ready and will be deployed starting in Sderot this fall. [NYT]

• An update on the play that imagines a meeting between Elie Wiesel and Bernard Madoff, which opens upstate later this week. [NYT]

• A womens’ group periodically drives Palestinian children from the West Bank to an Israeli town on the Mediterranean coast in order to give them a day at the beach. [WP]

• Head-Jew-in-charge (and contributing editor) Jeffrey Goldberg nominates editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse to be his replacement following her essay on the Rotem Bill. [Atlantic]

Sundown: Frenchmen Want Their -Bergs Back

Plus the post-Mubarak Mideast, and more

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.(Moshe Milner/GPO Via Getty Images)

• Many young French Jews wish to use their forefathers’ original, decidedly un-French-sounding surnames. In related news, from now on please think of me as Marc Tracovutzki. [LAT]

• A report on how the United States and Israel are preparing for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s death, which is generally expected in the not-so-distant future. [Washington Times]

• A former Nazi airport is now a park. This is basically the perfect way to explain Berlin. [LAT]

• Uri Brodsky, the alleged Mossad agent accused of fraudulently procuring a German passport for one of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s assassins, is appealing his extradition from Germany. [JTA]

• A Brooklyn cab driver was arrested for handing out “Kill Jews” fliers. Probably better cities—or boroughs—to do that in. [ADL]

• Spotted: Roman Polanski, chilling at his wife’s concert on Lake Geneva. [Arts Beat]

Tablet Magazine will be up and running as usual tomorrow, but for those observing Tisha B’Av, have an easy fast.

Palin ‘Refudiates’ Cordoba House

Colorfully opposes Ground Zero Islamic center

Sarah Palin.(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Noted wordsmith Sarah Palin announced on Twitter yesterday that “peaceful” Muslims ought to “refudiate” Cordoba House, the Islamic center (invariably misreported as being a mosque) that planners are hoping will be located a couple blocks from Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan. (Tablet Magazine’s Mark Bergen reported on the controversy last week.)

Of course, the political media being the political media, the story has become Palin’s use of the, shall we say, neologism “refudiate”; her subsequent correction of her Tweet to “refute”; and then her defense of her own flexible use of the English language: “‘Refudiate,’ ‘misunderestimate,’ ‘wee-wee’d up,’” she Tweeted. “English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!” (Does that mean the Constitution is living as well?)

The real story here, though, is that prominent moderate New York Jewish politicians like Michael Bloomberg and Scott Stringer all have no problem with the Cordoba House, which, by the way, is actively modeled on Jewish Community Centers. Another reason, in other words, why Jews may hate her. Also her sublimely grandiose view of herself.

Palin Invents Word ‘Refudiate,’ Compares Herself to Shakespeare [WP]
Earlier: Ground Zero for a Fight
Why We Hate Her

American Jewish Congress Closes Shop

Venerable group lost most funds to Madoff


The 92-year-old American Jewish Congress, which started hurting financially right about the time all the rest of Bernard Madoff’s clients started hurting financially, has suspended operations. It is still not clear whether, as some suspect, the Congress will be salvaged by the American Jewish Committee, which at the least would mean the Congress would not have to get its towels re-monogrammed.

Jerome A. Chanes has a fond eulogy:

The AJCongress pioneered the use of legislative and judicial action to improve conditions for American Jews. This direct-action method—using the law and litigation, often in coalition with like-minded groups such as the NAACP and the ACLU—concentrated on actively fighting discrimination, not simply on reforming prejudicial attitudes. …

The model of democratic governance in the Jewish community was a creation of the AJCongress, and was its hallmark from its earliest days. (The AJCongress did not make the transition until recently to the model of elite—that is, moneyed—governance that had long characterized many other national Jewish organizations.)

American Jewish Congress Suspends Activities [JTA]
Related: What The Congress Gave American Jews [Forward]

Top Ten for the Ninth of Av

Movies for the Mourning

Your number one Tisha B’Av movie.(IMDB)

Growing up and going to many a Jewish summer camp, I experienced Tisha B’Av in scores of unique ways along with my whole generation of Jewish-Americans, for whom watching video (no DVDs yet!) was both a fun and exciting part of the camp experience. Since campers and staff are fasting for 25 hours and all fun activity is forbidden, including learning Torah, films about Jewish suffering and morality make up the ultimate program for this definitive day of mourning.

In a survey, I asked my peers to let me know their top 10 Tisha B’Av films. From Camp Moshava to Camp Galil to Camp Ramah to USY to Camp Lavi (and more), these folks spent their summers across the United States, and while their experiences did span religious, political, and cultural backgrounds, they all had one thing in common: Intense Tisha B’Av experiences.

10- Operation Thunderbolt (1977)
9-Hester Street (1975)
8-The Chosen (1981)
7-Paper Clips (2004)
6-The Wave (1981)
5-Exodus (1960)
4-School Ties (1992)
3- Life is Beautiful (1997)
2-Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

And the top of the list is…

1-Schindler’s List (1993)

Other recommendations were Pleasantville, Night and Fog, Cast a Giant Shadow, Eichah, Pay it Forward, The Devil’s Arithmetic and Hotel Rwanda.

Bibi v. Rotem

Opposing bill, PM challenges coalition partners

Netanyahu at his Cabinet meeting.(Ronen Zvulun-Pool/Getty Images)

While you were likely spending your weekend trying to cool off, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was heating things up at his cabinet meeting Sunday, taking a stand against the proposed, and controversial, conversion bill.

“The Prime Minister said today in the cabinet meeting that he objects to the proposed conversion bill, which could tear the Jewish people apart,” said an official statement released yesterday by Netanyahu’s office. “Efforts will be made to consensually remove the bill, but if they fail Netanyahu will ask members of Likud and other coalition parties to reject the bill.”

As someone who normally does not find himself in the position of praising this particular Israeli prime minister, let me say that the latter half of that statement speaks volumes: By taking a principled stand against the bill, Netanyahu is rejecting its author, David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, as well as Rotem’s political patron, party boss Avigdor Lieberman, a rift that could spell the downfall of Netanyahu’s precarious cabinet. While Lieberman has said repeatedly that neither he nor his party is slated to leave the government anytime soon, the foreign minister has nonetheless engaged in a series of provocative steps against the prime minister: On Friday, for example, Lieberman appointed a new ambassador to the United Nations without following protocol and first clearing the appointment with Netanyahu.

Seen in this light, Netanyahu’s position is even more impressive. While some skeptics noted that the prime minister originally supported the bill and changed his mind only when American Jewish leaders expressed their dismay, Netanyahu is nonetheless required to pay a steep political price for his struggle against the Rotem Bill, and opponents of that disastrous bit of legislation should take heart in knowing that Bibi’s up for the battle.

Interior Minister Yishai: Absence of Conversion Law Poses Danger to Jewish People [Haaretz]

Today on Tablet

The clothing rules, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall ponders shatnez, the ban against clothing made with two different kinds of fabric, in light of her son’s seemingly equally arbitrary dressing laws. Josh Lambert’s weekly look at forthcoming books of note focuses, appropriately, on beach reads. The Scroll focuses, appropriately, on what’s going on today.

A Sweaty Send-Off

The old East Village gathers for Kupferberg

Tuli Kupferberg, 1923-2010.(Steve Ben Israel; additional photos by the author)

One speaker at Tuli Kupferberg’s memorial service, which was Saturday at St. Mark’s Church, observes that the ‘60s radical bohemian par excellence and co-founder of underground rock band The Fugs had been a living testament to the principle that, in the end, “It’s not about the aspiration to great heights, but the perspiration.” The 150 or so folks packed in—yes, a funeral for a Jew on Shabbat at a church (Tuli died last Monday)—should have patted themselves on the back for fully living up to this tenet: It was well over 90 degrees outside, well over 80 inside, and perspiration came, to everyone except Tuli, as easily as breathing.

It was the kind of event that could make an upper-middle-class twenty-something who lives in a market-rate apartment nearby—for example, me—feel that maybe, even now, there still is something to the idea of the East Village. The previous happening that had so comprehensively attracted this group, according to one guy I overhear, was the auction of Allen Ginsberg’s possessions. This man says that he had bid on a tape recorder that Dylan had given Ginsberg; he then casually mentions that he had been there the night Dylan had made the gift; or, rather, he corrects himself after a pause, he had been there the morning after, and had heard about it then. Responds his friend, a woman named Judith Cohn: “Oy, it’s hot.”

The crowd skews old and, surely, Jewish and lefty: The sorts of people you imagine listening to NPR religiously, or producing NPR programs. Judith Malina, founder of The Living Theatre, is pointed out to me like she is a major star (which, in this orbit, she is). One guy is literally carrying around his own hair: Light gray and hard-stringy, like a metal sponge, it flows down, almost to the floor, but only because its bottom nine inches have been doubled back up onto the prior nine inches and held in place with a cafeteria-server-style netting; at times, this man would hold this big hunk of hair in the crook of his arm while chatting with people. The median age cannot be below 50, although one small boy—I find out that he is there because his babysitter is Tuli’s daughter, Samara—is there to drag down the mean. I am one of no more than seven people wearing a tie.


Daybreak: Bibi Opposes Conversion Bill

Plus Mubarak backs direct talks, and more in the news

Netanyahu and Mubarak yesterday.(Moshe Milner/GPO Via Getty Images)

• Prime Minister Netanyahu came out against the so-called Rotem Bill, which would place Israeli conversions in the power of a small coterie of ultra-Orthodox rabbis. [JTA]

• Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (who is probably dying) said he supports direct Israeli-Palestinian talks following his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. [WP]

• Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy figure, visited Gaza and called for the territory to be opened further. [NYT]

• Thomas Friedman writes that the Mideast is a complicated place, in which the brief mourning of a figure with truly troubling ties is not necessarily a display of wrong-headedness. [NYT]

• Jean-Louis Bruguière, a world terrorism expert, reminded Israelis that back in 1996 he had reported that IHH, the charity behind the Gaza flotilla, was itself a terrorist organization. [Haaretz]

• Journalist David Twersky, who spent a good deal of his career at the Forward, died at 60. Tablet Magazine contributing editor Seth Lipsky’s New York Sun, which maintains a Website, has an obit worth reading. [JTA]

Sundown: Obama Turns from The Peace Process

Plus the awesome all-female IDF unit, and more


• Why past presidents have saved peace for their final years in office, and why President Obama may prove no exception. [Time]

• The dozen or so Senate Jews are backing a letter Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) is sending to Ambassador Michael Oren expressing grave concern over the conversion bill. [JPost]

• The latest Kabbalah red-string wearer? Gov. David Paterson of New York. [Daily News]

• The IDF has established the Nahshol, “the world’s first female-only unit dedicated to combat intelligence missions, combin[ing] the fighting capabilities of combat forces with advanced intelligence-gathering skills.” That is so insanely hot. [Ynet]

• Israeli political scientist Asher Arian died at 72. [JTA]

• Contributing editor Gary Shteyngart on how technology alienates us from each other. [NYT Book Review]

They say, ‘Sing while you slave,’ I just get bored.

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