Ramadan and Lévy: Separated At Birth?

Mirror images at odds

Tariq Ramadan (L) and Bernard-Henri Lévy (R).(John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images (Ramadan); Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images (Lévy))

Two months ago, Columbia University rolled out the red carpet for French Jewish public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy when he headlined a panel discussion on secularism, Islam, and democracy in the West. Lévy asserted the need for Muslims to respect the Enlightenment value of free expression—including the freedom of Westerners, like the notorious Danish cartoonists of 2005, to criticize Islam without fear of censure or violence. Wearing his trademark spiffy, half-buttoned white Charvet shirt and blazer, fielding questions in his charming European accent from New Yorker editor David Remnick and flaking for the Intentional League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (the French Anti-Defamation League), which cosponsored his talk, Lévy, to my ears, was an entertaining but ultimately unbearable, grandstanding prig, and I said as much.

Last night, Swiss Muslim public intellectual Tariq Ramadan was welcomed with even greater fanfare—having been barred from America by the Bush administration, this was his first trip to the U.S. in six years—to Cooper Union (over 100 blocks down from Columbia!) to headline a panel called “Secularism, Islam, and Democracy: Muslims in Europe and the West.” Ramadan asserted the need for the U.S. and Europe to respect the Enlightenment value of free expression—including the freedom of Muslims like himself to criticize the West without fear of censure or violence. Wearing his trademark spiffy white shirt and blazer, no tie, most buttons buttoned, fielding questions in his charming European accent from New Yorker staff writer George Packer and flaking for the American Civil Liberties Union, which cosponsored his talk, Ramadan was … well, you get the idea.

Lévy and Ramadan hate each other. They feuded after Ramadan published an article in 2003 accusing Lévy and other French-Jewish intellectuals of selling out their political consciences for Israeli interests when they supported the Iraq War. I would like to propose that this is a classic case of sibling rivalry—classic even in the Freudian sense—as the two, as though separated at birth, compete for the love and legacy of the same father. Both men make fairly obvious points about the necessity of upholding “European values” despite the challenges of Muslim emigration to the West, and both give themselves massive credit for doing so. BHL believes Islam thus far has not shown itself to be compatible with these values, but offers prayers for a reformist Muslim intellectual to come along and resolve the clash of civilizations; Ramadan believes Islam is compatible with these values, and that he is the intellectual of BHL’s dreams. Oh Father Enlightenment, who is your favorite son?

Earlier: Live, From New York, It’s Tariq Ramadan
A French Intellectual’s French Views of Islam

Foreman and Cotto Meet at Fight Site

Warm-up conference for June 5 Yankee Stadium bout

Cotto (L) and Foreman (R) at Yankee Stadium today.(Matthew Fishbane)

The Battle of the Boroughs is on. Renderings of the ring as it will fit in right centerfield, with its boxy bad-weather canopy, are printed. The Ballans have graciously ceded their son’s Bar Mitzvah slot. The undercard of nine fights is filled with a melting pot: “a fighter from every ethnicity,” proclaimed promoter Bob Arum, without elaborating, save to mention a Pole from New Jersey who will fight an Irishman. Come June 5, the first boxing match in Yankee Stadium since Muhammad Ali beat Ken Norton back in 1976 will pit Puerto Rican superstar Miguel Cotto against the Brooklyn-based Belorussian and famously Orthodox future rabbi Yuri Foreman.

“If I win,” Foreman told reporters gathered for a packed press conference this morning just up the third base line, “I will have the chance to rename Yankee Stadium ‘Yankel Stadium.’”

Bad jokes aside, and despite being the a super welterweight world champion, Foreman—in plaid pants, a pink tie, and fedora, looking every bit the Brooklynite—played the giddy pup to Cotto’s demure bulldog. “We are the owners of our own destiny,” Cotto said. Foreman, meanwhile, called his discovery of Judaism “amazing.” Both are charged with helping to bring stellar performers from their home countries to sing their anthems; Foreman, who lived in Israel from 1991 to 1999, promised “the greatest singer in Israel” to sing the Hatikvah. Commenters, place your bets.

Promoters handed the fighters baseball bats and boxing gloves. “It’s not a golf club,” manager Alan Cohen reminded Foreman, who has obviously never played baseball before. Foreman was asked if, before now, he had ever imagined standing behind home plate. “When I flew in from Ben Gurion to JFK,” Foreman said, “the only thing I was looking for was a cab. I was 19 then. Now I’m 29. I’m certainly happy to be here.”

On fight Saturday, Foreman’s camp considered spending Shabbat in the stadium (“a Shabbas to remember,” Foreman said). But Yankee officials balked, and so instead, he’ll stay at a 96th Street hotel, with police escort standing by to race him to the stadium as soon as the sun hits the horizon. Boxing begins at 10:15 pm. Tickets go on sale next Friday. Is this something you want to miss?

Related: In Training [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: Yuri Foreman Battles a Bar Mitzvah

Montreal Police Test Holocaust Soap

Not of the clean variety


Montreal police are conducting an extensive scientific analysis of a bar of soap that a St. Laurent Boulevard store was peddling for $300 last week. Why? Well, this is that bar of soap, stamped with a swastika, that shopkeeper Abraham Botines claimed was discovered at a Nazi concentration camp in Poland and was therefore “probably” made from … yeah, you get the idea. Botines said he bought it from a Canadian soldier who discovered it in Poland. The assumption that the soap was the product of human remains was apparently left up to Botines himself.

This isn’t the first talk of Nazis allegedly having produced soap from human remains. Last year, Tablet Magazine covered the “Nazi Soap Myth,” with Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum asserting that the making of soap from human fat would have been financially infeasible for the Nazis, and that several tests have shown that soap presented as “human soap” has in fact been nothing of the sort. As the good folks at Montreal PD will no doubt soon learn.

Alleged Holocaust Soap To Be Tested [JTA]
Earlier: Is ‘Nazi Soap’ A Myth?

What’s The Deal With ‘Heeb’?

If you’re going to offend, at least make a point


I get, and to an extent can get behind, the magazine Heeb’s stated goal of pushing the envelope in order to redefine what it is to be a contemporary Jew. Explaining an earlier controversy, the publisher said that his magazine “interrogates stereotypes and ideas (hopefully in creative ways) that many hold sacred in order to represent the complex and nuanced perspectives that many Jews have about their identities.” If the satire occasionally borders on the offensive, that can be a price I’m willing to pay. (And certainly I wish them all the best with their rumored business troubles. Almost any place that pays writers to write gets my support.)

… But it’s really difficult to see the point of the magazine’s “take” on T. Alan Hurwitz, who is the first Jewish president of Gallaudet University. Gallaudet is a school for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in Washington, D.C., and Hurwitz himself is profoundly deaf. There’s probably something interesting worth saying about that; maybe there is even a provocative, counter-intuitive position on it. I would love to read a creative argument against the 1988 Deaf President Now movement (which the post cites), in which the students demanded a deaf president, perhaps analogizing it to Jewish tokenism.

But this? It feels mean, offensive, gratuitous, and—maybe worst of all—not funny.

Gallaudet University Gets a Deaf Jewish President [Heeb]
Earlier: ‘Heeb’ Explains Hitler Image
Is ‘Heeb’ On Its Way Out?

Live, From New York, It’s Tariq Ramadan

Formerly banned from U.S., professor preaches limited reform

Professor Ramadan last May.(Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images)

“I want to welcome you to the U.S.,” New Yorker writer George Packer told Professor Tariq Ramadan last night. Ramadan, wearing a suit and an open oxford shirt, had kicked off the evening by welcoming “the new we.” “Look around this room,” he said from a podium set up in front of his fellow panelists. “Muslims, non-Muslims, atheists, Christians, Jews.” Ramadan is a Swiss, Egyptian-born Muslim, and of his people, he argued: “We are not here in a host country. We are home, and Islam is a Western religion.” But the country now hosting him had, until recently, withheld its hospitality.

It’s Cooper Union Hall in Greenwich Village—Lincoln spoke here, but unfortunate pillars under Roman arches partially obstruct probably 75 percent of the viewpoints. Yet the seats are full of people who walked through metal detectors to see the 47-year-old man with the salt-and-pepper hair and the elegant, aristocratic mien. And he is an aristocrat, in an infamous way: His grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood. Now he is a professor and activist, who wants to reform Islam, from within, so as to allow Western Muslims to stay true to the faith while fully participating in their socities. Under the Bush administration, the United States banned Ramadan from entry for the past six years; he once donated money to a charity which once donated money to Hamas. For the record (even if his harsher critics would say it’s only for the record), Ramadan has spoken out against violence and particularly anti-Semitism.

The three other panelists agreed that Ramadan should be allowed in the country. They also agreed that rectifying class disparity would go a significant way, particularly in Europe, toward easing Muslims’ disenchantment with the West. But beyond that lies line-drawing, and there they differed: over gender equality, over the stoning of women. They discussed Ramadan’s grandfather and his backing of the Nazi-supporting Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Ramadan supports his grandfather and the Mufti. It’s a bit more complicated than that, though, except maybe it’s not at all more complicated than that. A little of both. Really! You try to pin Ramadan down at your peril, and not at his. (more…)

Today on Tablet

A great escape, a really long book, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, we mark Yom HaShoah with Gila Lyons’s story of Sonya Oshman, who dramatically escaped from a Polish work camp in 1943. Liel Leibovitz takes a step back and ponders what he’s learned writing about the Torah and Tanakh each week over the past two years. The Scroll reminds you not to forget Yom HaShoah, and not to forget, period.

Daybreak: Bibi Bows Out of D.C. Summit

Plus Russia takes foot off Iran’s gas, and more in the news

Prime Minister Netanyahu Wednesday.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

• Prime Minister Netanyahu will not attend President Obama’s nuclear arms summit in Washington, D.C., next week as previously planned. Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor will go instead. [WSJ]

• Israel cited several countries’ rumored plans to raise Israel’s nuclear weapons at the meeting. However, some analysts suspect the cancellation is traceable to reports that Obama may draw up his own peace deal. [Politico]

Haaretz tells its side of the Anat Kamm imbroglio, accusing Shin Bet of violating an agreement under which investigative reporter Uri Blau, who wrote the controversial article, would be in the clear. [Haaretz]

• Five people, one a confidante of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, were arrested over an alleged bribery scandal involving the ugly Holyland Park apartment buildings in Jerusalem. [LAT]

• In Prague yesterday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told President Obama he would almost certainly not agree to Iran sanctions involving petroleum. [WSJ]

• The three Americans who were arrested after hiking into Iran from Iraq have been accused of being spies. [NYT]

Sundown: U.S., Russian Presidents Talk Iran

Plus Gallaudet’s Jewish head, survivors’ cancer, and more

Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz.(University of Rochester)

• Presidents Obama and Medvedev, in Prague today to sign a landmark nuclear arms treaty, also discussed Iran in a bilateral meeting. It was “a step forward” for sanctions, said an adviser. [Laura Rozen]

• An overview of Tel Aviv’s eclectic, advanced dining scene. [WP]

• In New York City tomorrow night? Tablet Magazine columnist Josh Lambert is moderating a pre-Shabbat discussion with novelists Gary Shteyngart and Amy Sohn at the 92nd Street Y’s Tribeca branch. [92Y Tribeca]

• A good profile of T. Alan Hurwitz, who is the first Jewish president of Gallaudet University, the school for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in Washington, D.C. [Forward]

• Holocaust survivors who subsequently moved to Israel have a cancer rate 17 percent higher than that of European-born Jews who left before or during World War II. [Reuters/The Province]

• In Belgrade, Serbia, there is a campaign afoot to make a monument out of a Modernist 1930s fairground turned Nazi concentration camp (where over 7,000 Serbian Jews were murdered) turned seedy nightlife district. [NYT T Magazine]

Tiger Woods returned to golf today. As of this writing, he completed the front nine of the Masters’s opening round at -3, a five-way tie for third place. After all that has happened, it’s at least worth remembering why so many people care about him in the first place.

Tablet on a Tablet

Okay, so technically they called it something else

(Ashley Tedesco)

A whole new way to experience your favorite magazine of Jewish life and culture!

The Stupid Anat Kamm Gag Order

Yossi Melman explains why he couldn’t report the facts


TEL AVIV—Was I a chicken? Should I have published the story once I learned of it more than three months ago? Could I have continued to obey a judge’s gag order when I had a no less fundamental duty to the freedom of the press and the public’s right to know? I have been torn between the requirements of the law and the dictates of my conscience.

I knew the details of the case of Anat Kamm, the young journalist under house arrest on charges of serious espionage (in other democracies, she may have been praised as a whistle-blower). But I was blocked from reporting on it because a court issued a non-disclosure order at the request of Israel’s attorney general, who is representing the Israeli Army and the Shin Bet, or General Security Service. The situation, though, became so absurd this week that I could no longer remain totally silent. Additionally, Israeli authorities partially lifted the gag order today.

Only the mainstream newspaper, radio, and television media in Israel remained silent. I can understand why, and it isn’t because they want to shut up. Anyone who published on it would be liable to charges of contempt of court, or worse. We would undermine the principle of obeying the law and might even be accused of lending a hand to illegal activity. That could deal a blow to the prestige and credibility of us in the media.

Left with little choice, my paper, Haaretz, and Israel’s Channel 10 filed court appeals, a month ago, to lift the gag order. But judges in Israel are never in a rush. Once an issue gets to a court, time tends to stand still.

Some international media outlets are confused. They attribute the restriction and blackout to the military censorship which operates in Israel. They are wrong. This time it has nothing to do with the censorship, which falls under a department in the Ministry of Defense. Instead, the gag order is only because of a court decision.

Here’s a basic primer, which I present as a veteran of legal battles against Israel’s defense establishment. (more…)

Try The Long Island Duck

An old Jew tells a joke


Pretty, pretty good!

The Low-Down on Israel’s Jailed Journo

With gag order lifted, there is a tale to tell!

Anat Kamm.(Wikimedia Commons)

Tablet Magazine has just published Haaretz spy correspondent Yossi Melman’s account of the Anat Kamm affair. It’s a great basic summary, and you should read the whole thing.

Kamm is a journalist who, while in the army (into 2007), stole documents from IDF Central Command and handed them to Haaretz investigative reporter Uri Blau. He used them to publish a damning 2008 article reporting that Israeli military commanders knowingly planned to violate a Supreme Court ruling that barred the assassination of terrorists where arrests were feasible. Several months ago, prosecutors placed Kamm under house arrest and charged her under treason law; Blau lives in Britain, fearful of returning.

“Israel’s military censors approved Blau’s article, finding that its publication would not damage Israel’s national security,” Melman says. “Yet an intention to do such damage is precisely what Kamm is now accused of.”

Israel had imposed a gag order over the whole case, so that most reporting had been done by American reporters like Richard Silverstein and Ron Kampeas. Even the New York Times ran yesterday’s article on it with no byline to avoid breaking the gag (h/t Ben Smith). That order was lifted today; you can see that reflected on the Websites of the Israeli papers, as well as our own.

The Source [Tablet Magazine]
Israel Lifts Gag Order on Ex-Soldier Spy Case [AP/Google]
Earlier: Israel’s Semi-Secret Espionage Case

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss?

Spitzer may return to the political arena

Spitzer at the 2007 Columbus Day Parade.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Scroll’s crusade to put a Jew in the governor’s mansion of America’s most Jewish state (that would be New York—in absolute numbers and by percentage, in fact) may soon get a new leading man. Eliot Spitzer, New York’s previous governor (and previous Jewish governor), has begun a process of rehabilitation following the sex scandal that doomed his tenure. (The scandal itself did not involve abuse of public funds or trust but was embarrassing enough that, coupled with other things, Spitzer decided to resign.) The New York Times reports that Spitzer has turned himself into an able pundit, mostly on financial matters, to great acclaim. It’s an unorthodox, and compelling, comeback route.

As things stand now, New York’s next governor is most likely Democratic Attorney General Andrew Cuomo; Republican candidate Steve Levy is not seen as the likely victor.

Needless to say, Spitzer demurs when asked if he has specific political plans. He is only 50, though. Next time there will be an opening for the Democratic candidate, he’s likely to be either 54 or 58. Can New Yorkers wait another eight years before they are once again ruled by a Jew? Stay tuned …

Spitzer’s Long Road To Redemption [NYT]
Earlier Run, Steve Levy, Run!

Today on Tablet

Spy games, evading the next Holocaust, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, top Israeli spy correspondent Yossi Melman and CBS Newsman Dan Raviv give the skinny (and the fat) on historic cooperation and tensions between U.S. and Israeli intelligence. Shalom Auslander ponders what he and his family will do when They come for the Jews. Poetry critic David Kaufmann reviews top poet Edward Hirsch’s new collection. The Scroll loves spy movies but is unclear just how true-to-life they are.

Whose Side Is Time On?

The Palestinians wait; Syria could be Israel’s shortcut

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

The main argument of today’s column from Ari Shavit, who is likely Israel’s foremost political columnist (think Tom Friedman, except a little to the left), is that solving Syria could be something of a skeleton key for an Obama Administration increasingly intent on producing Mideast peace: A treaty there would “help Iraq, isolate Iran and indirectly contribute to the cause in Afghanistan,” Shavit says. Additionally, it will “guarantee slow but certain progress on the Palestinian track.” Shavit also argues against President Obama’s apparent goal: “Pleasing Islam by quickly closing the file on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The road to Ramallah, as they say, leads through Damascus.

Among other things, the piece is a helpful reminder that even if you think you have the answer to the West Bank, there are many other variables in play—Syria, Iran, and Hamas in Gaza most quickly coming to mind.

But Shavit’s analysis of the West Bank stood out to me: Broadly speaking, he pointed out, there’s actually little dispute over what will happen! (more…)

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