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Tablet Magazine Talks to Vice PM Shalom

How Turkey looks from Israel

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Shalom (L) huddles with Prime Minister Netanyahu last year.(David Silverman/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a trip to Washington, D.C., amid the aftermath of the Free Gaza flotilla raid. But other members of the Israeli cabinet, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, have been in the United States this week. Over the weekend, Tablet Magazine met with Silvan Shalom—a sometime Likud Party rival to Netanyahu who is currently Israel’s vice prime minister and minister for regional development, as well as its former foreign minister—to talk about the flotilla, and about Israel’s relations with American Jews.

Do you think Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, intentionally deceived Israel about the nature of the Free Gaza flotilla, as part of a regional power play?
Unfortunately, the Turks, in some way it looks like they’re trying to revive the Ottoman Empire that ruled the Middle East for 500 years until 1917. Before the English arrived they were ruling the whole territory. So unfortunately it doesn’t go in the right direction, but I don’t think we have to give up. Maybe there is still an option to make it better with the Turks, but it takes two to tango as you know.

I met the president Abdullah Gul, who was my colleague as foreign minister, many, many times, and we are still sharing good relations, personal relations.

Have you talked to him this week?

No, I didn’t. I let the Foreign Ministry and the prime minister [Netanyahu] and his minister of defense [Ehud Barak] deal with that but it might be that if I would be asked, I would do it. Because he is, I think, a good guy, and he was very positive during our meetings. Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize the State of Israel after the resolution that was taken in the UN, and since then we are having strategic relations, economically and militarily. So it’s very important for both countries.

I can’t tell you that they see that. There is a debate now within Turkey about the future of Turkey. They are facing an election in the near future and only after that will we be able to understand which direction Turkey’s moving.

Do you think the Obama administration was caught off-guard by Turkey’s actions on the flotilla?
I really don’t know. You have to ask them. What we know is that Turkey was close to the United States, as well as to Israel, for many, many years. And unfortunately it doesn’t look the same these days. I believe, personally, that it is still not a loss. I still would like to believe that there is still, let’s say, a glimmer of hope. But if not, we’ll have to face the new reality and get prepared for the future.

Do you think Turkey is trying to ally with Tehran, or trying to one-up them? (more…)

The Big Jewish Novel

Why Leopold Bloom has to be a Jew

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Columbia Professor Bruce Robbins once taught a seminar called “The Big Ambitious Novel in Contemporary America.” So, in the run-up to Tablet Magazine’s celebration of James Joyce’s Ulysses next Wednesday (a week from today!), I called him up and discussed the Big Ambitious Novel—from Ulysses to Witz, the new book from Tablet Magazine contributing editor (and Bloomsday celebrant) Joshua Cohen—and its Jewish roots.

Is there something intrinsically Jewish about the Big Ambitious Novel project?
It’s the internationalism. Joyce did that by making Bloom the universal figure. A figure of exile, in the sense of how Edward Said called himself the last Jewish intellectual, because his notion of what it was to be an intellectual is to be an exile. There’s something in the charge of rootless cosmopolitanism. Which continues to sound to me like it’s in our interest, maybe not all the time, to embrace. And that really does take you back to Bloom.

What prompted you to teach this course?
Well part of it was a desire just to teach really good things to students. It was also a bit out of a desire to argue with James Wood, who as far as I’m concerned is the origin of the phrase ‘big ambitious novel,’ in that Zadie Smith review. I think he believes, along with the rest of us, that the purpose of fiction is, as E.M. Forster said, “Only connect.” But authors of these novels have realized that the scale has become much larger, the project more difficult, because we live on an interplanetary scale now, and this is how you do that.

Where did your syllabus begin?
I started it with Gravity’s Rainbow. The novel at a certain point does what Pynchon does. You’re going to have to make a certain kind of connection.

How does Ulysses fit into all of this?
Ulysses is a kind of sacred book for me. Having a sacred book is a kind of odd thing. It’s the book that just turned my head around when I was 16 years old. As far as I know, I’ve never actually written about it.

I’m one of those who thinks it’s maybe the greatest novel ever written, and a great temptation for people to try to follow. I think of Colum McCann, or David Mitchell. [Mitchell’s] Cloud Atlas seems to me clearly inspired by Joyce—you do a different voice per chapter.

What do you remember about the first time you read Ulysses?
It’s such a wonderful trick that’s played on budding intellectuals. You think Stephen is the man. And you all of a sudden discover that he’s only Telemachus, and the Ulysses figure is this advertising canvasser. And I’ll say, as a Jewish kid at 16, discovering that the modern Ulysses was Bloom, and not the one I was supposed to identify with, was quite a moment.

Earlier: Celebrate ‘Ulysses’ with Tablet Magazine

Gaga Goes Jewish

Videos that’ll make you want to crawl under your kippah

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It has been a big week for Lady Gaga. First she was crowned Outstanding Music Artist at the GLAAD Media Awards, then she had her little sister’s high school graduation, and finally she released the much-anticipated, ode to Madonna “Alejandro” video.

We thought it might be a good time to do a round-up of some of the finest Jewish parodies of the songstress. Think Schlock Rock, but way schlockier.

You know you want to sing along:

There is even one for Yiddishists: (more…)

Even in California, The Establishment Wins

Taitz, Winograd, and Kaus all defeated in primaries

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Ex-Senate candidate Mickey Kaus, who did, in fact, quit his day job.(Bildungblog)

The Lakers won last night! But point guard Derek Fisher’s game-clinching shot occurred in Boston. What happened in yesterday’s home games? The California primary ballot was, recall, loaded with drama, much of it involving Jews, Israel, or some delightful combination of the two.

Let’s start with the big news: The Soviet Jewish “Birther Queen” Orly Taitz will not be the Golden State’s Secretary of State. She lost decisively to former NFL player Damon Dunn despite the fact that he refused to dignify his opponent with an actual campaign. Of course, as the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel pointed out, the news may be that 368,316 people voted for a woman with fewer than two dozen donors who claims that Barack Obama’s presidency is procedurally illegitimate. Thank you, California.

Now, the Senate races. On the Democratic side, incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer cruised to an easy victory over Slate blogger and descendant-of-Jewish-Gold-Rushers Mickey Kaus; he picked up just five percent of the vote share, although he does now have the right to say that 93,599 voters really, really like him. (Thank you, California.) Among the Republicans, Carly Fiorina, who made Israel an issue early in the race, earned a decisive win, polling 56 percent over moderate Tom Campbell (22 percent) and Tea Party conservative Chuck DeVore (19 percent). Was Israel the deciding factor, in the end? Almost certainly not: The venerable Field Poll indicated that Republican voters were angling not so much for their favorite choice as for the best setup for a slam-dunk win over Boxer in the fall. So, stay tuned!

Meantime, we learned exactly how much Israel is worth in the Los Angeles congressional district represented by Jane Harman, the Blue Dog Democrat who has been a longtime AIPAC supporter. Harman’s opponent, peace activist Marcy Winograd, tried to make the Gaza flotilla raid into a wedge issue in the last week of the race, and managed to net 41 percent against Harman’s 59 percent. That’s not bad for an underfunded upstart against a wealthy longtime incumbent, but when you note that she was starting from a base of 38 percent in the 2006 primary, well, it looks like Israel is worth approximately 3.7 points in said district.

See you in November!

Earlier: Israel Hits the West Coast
Related: In Doubt’s Shadow [Tablet Magazine]

Today on Tablet

A Kafkaesque oil leak, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Rodger Kamenetz, author of a forthcoming Nextbook Press book about Franz Kafka as well as a longtime New Orleanian, considers what Kafka would have thought of the current catastrophe in the Bayou. Mideast columnist Lee Smith profiles Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, who insists that Israel has been so good and loyal an ally to the United States that little can seriously threaten that relationship. And The Scroll is ready for another good year.

The Lion in Winter

Bernard Madoff in jail

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Bernard Madoff.(Wikipedia)

Following: The top five quotes from convicts in New York‘s profile of Bernard Madoff in prison.

5. “Food is a very big thing in prison.” -John Conza, convicted counterfeiter.

4. “Bernie adjusted better than I did. He didn’t seem like he had any worry or stressed too much or had nerve or panic attacks, like I did. Going from an $8 million house to an eight-by-ten cell, I would feel smothered. Bernie never complained that I heard.” -Shannon Hay, convicted drug dealer.

3. “You couldn’t get an ice-cream cone off him.” -John Bowler, convicted drug trafficker on Madoff.

2. “You are going to pay with God.” -Jonathan Pollard, convicted Israeli spy, to Madoff.

1. “Fuck my victims. I carried them for twenty years, and now I’m doing 150 years.” -Bernard Madoff, convicted Ponzi schemer.

Bernie Madoff, Free At Last [NYmag]

Daybreak: Obama and Abbas Sit Down

Plus Iran sanctions all set, and more in the news

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday.(Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Image)

• President Obama will offer President Abbas additional aid for Gaza when they meet at the White House today. [Reuters/Haaretz]

• 12 out of 15 members of the U.N. Security Council, including all five permanent membrers (including China), seem ready to approve limited new sanctions on Iran. Vote is today. [NYT]

• But savvy deal-making has allowed the Islamic Republc to insulate itself somewhat from sanctions. [WP]

• Israel has spent several months trying to persuade China that they should approve sanctions in order to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran and the economic instability that would follow. [NYT]

• Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose visit with President Obama several days ago was canceled amid the flotilla fallout, will meet with Obama when he is back in Washington, D.C., at the end of the month. [JTA]

• An exploration of how the blockade has decimated Gaza’s merchant class and, really, whole private sector. [WSJ]

Sundown: Obama Calls Thomas ‘Offensive’

Plus Yuri wants a rematch, and more

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Miguel Cotto (R) and Yuri Foreman (L).(Al Bello/Getty Images)

• President Obama called retired White House reporter Helen Thomas’s statements about Jews “offensive” and “out of line.” [JPost]

• The U.S. State Department wants “international participation” in Israel’s probe of the flotilla raid. Which is probably vague enough not to ruffle Israel’s feathers … for now. [Haaretz]

• Yuri “Star of David” Foreman, soon to undergo knee surgery following his loss Saturday night to Miguel Cotto, wants a rematch. Oh hell yes. [JTA/Forward]

• The generally hawkish Washington Post editorial page comes out in favor of a limited loosening of the Gaza blockade. [WP]

• Former Tablet Magazine editor Michael Weiss updates us on Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s state-building project six months after profiling him for Tablet. [Slate]

• Prime Minister Netanyahu is super-not getting along with his national security adviser. [Laura Rozen]

Jon Stewart explains who is going to get Helen Thomas’s seat.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
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Israel Has Some Success Pushing Flotilla Narrative

Half of Americans blame activists for deaths

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A pro-Israel boat in Israel yesterday.(Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

A new poll showed that a solid bloc of Americans continue to back Israel, while basically half—49 percent—blamed pro-Palestinian activists for the deaths in the flotilla raid. Only 19 percent said Israel was to blame.

Other relevant figures:

51 percent support an international probe of the incident; 25 percent are against.

58 percent say Israel is an ally, two percent say it’s an enemy, and 38 percent say it is somewhere in between. (By comparison, only 30 percent see the United Nations as an ally.)

• Israel is one of only five countries that Americans say the United States should be willing to defend militarily.

Half of Americans Blame Pro-Palestinian Activists for Flotilla [Haaretz/AP]

A Tea Party in North Jersey

Orthodox émigré takes a long shot at Congress

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Sergey Shevchuk.(Facebook)

Today is a big day for electoral primaries, those greasy pistons of a thriving democracy. All across the country, eager first-timers are entering the political fray, riding the tide of anti-establishment, anti-insurgent fervor as far as they can. One of the newcomers is Sergey Shevchuk, a Russian émigré, Orthodox Jew, and renegade Republican from northern New Jersey. He is vying for a chance to unseat six-term Democratic Congressman Steve Rothman.

It’s an uphill slog. But Shevchuk’s candidacy testifies to the resiliency of the Tea Party’s political moment, and the centrality of Israel in U.S. elections.

Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in New Jersey’s ninth congressional district, which covers most of Bergen County, nearly three to one. It went strongly for Gore, Kerry, and Obama, and was last represented by a Republican in 1982. For nearly three decades, in fact, Republicans have not had a primary. Today, though, there are three GOP contestants.

Shevchuk is running as the “Tea Party” candidate. (His Website redirects automatically to the candidate interviews with the NJ Tea Party Coalition.) But so are both of his primary opponents! All three have platforms of Ayn Randian disregard for big government, tax cuts, gun control, and “Obamacare.” One of them, Michael Agosta, received the support of the Republican Party; Shevchuk is using this against him. On Shevchuk’s Facebook page (his de facto campaign site), he proudly notes that he is running “without any party support.”

At the core of Shevchuk’s narrative is his experience living in Soviet Russia (like Ms. Rand!). (more…)

Can You Go on Birthright Just for the Free Airfare?

‘The Ethicist’ weighs in!

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For those unfamiliar, The Ethicist is a column in The New York Times Magazine in which Randy Cohen plays nondenominational rabbi to a flock of Times readers facing ethical dilemmas. This week, it took on an especially Jewish, and very au courant, cast. “Eddy” from Berkeley, California, told Cohen that his daughter had applied to go on a free trip to Israel through an unnamed organization that is clearly Birthright. The problem? “She has no interest in Israel but is eager to study Arabic in Egypt and is using the generosity of this organization to bankroll her round-trip airfare to the Middle East.” Eddy thought his daughter had “crossed an ethical line.”

The Ethicist disagreed. His reasoning: The point of Birthright is that kids who are indifferent to Israel will come along. “Think of this as the Zionist equivalent of those free Poconos weekends whose sponsors hope to sell you a time-share,” Cohen argued. “Apparently enough people, even those not merely uninterested but passionately anti-Poconos, come around to make this marketing technique worth continuing.”

As an analysis of Birthright’s strategy, Cohen’s response seems spot on: Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt have not shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars to preach exclusively to the choir.

I wonder, though, whether it’s in fact accurate that anyone who’s truly “passionately anti-Poconos” has ever “come around” and bought a time-share in Jerusalem “the Poconos”. Birthright takes a deliberately superficial approach to Israeli politics—if you’re trying to sell a time share in the Poconos, you don’t talk about anything deeply upsetting that’s going on there. That’s a strategy that works well for bringing the indifferent around, but the already-critical—not so much. And, though I don’t know Eddy or his daughter, I would guess that, as a young American who wants to study Arabic in Egypt, she may be less indifferent and more critical than he realizes.

The Scroll asked Birthright how they would have responded to Eddy’s letter. If they get back to us, we’ll let you know.

UPDATE: Here’s Birthright’s response—from Gil Troy, chairman of the Taglit-Birthright Israel International Education Committee:

“Birthright Israel is an organization that views a trip to Israel with a group of peers as an essential rite of passage for young Jews. It is a free gift of a ten day trip for Jews aged 18 to 26 who have not been on an organized tour to Israel before, from one, older, generation, to the next. One of Birthright Israel’s core values and defining slogans is “No strings attached.” The gift truly is free. No one is required to arrive at any particular conclusion, embrace any political or religious position, or take any action in return for the gift. All we ask is that each Birthrighter participate in all activities constructively and with an open mind.

“Many participants extend their stays, choosing to explore and enjoy Israel or its environs at the conclusion of the ten day trip. Birthright would welcome this participant, encouraging her – as the Ethicist did – to be candid about her motivations. As long as she was a willing and active participant during the ten days, and as long as she was not a negative force seeking to sabotage the program’s goals, Birthright would wish her well in her language studies – and on her Jewish journey, wherever that might take her.”

Should I Help Out the Ex? [NYT]

Rubashkin Cleared of Child Labor Charges

Kosher meat-packer acquitted

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The Pottsville, Iowa, Agriprocessors plant.(Wikipedia)

Convicted of 86 charges of financial fraud in the fall, Sholom Rubashkin, the ultra-Orthodox owner of the Agriprocessors Glatt kosher meat-packing plant in Postville, Iowa, was acquitted of an additional 67 counts of child labor violations yesterday afternoon by an Iowa state jury.

Rubashkin stood accused of hiring 26 teenagers from Guatemala and Mexico at the plant. Not only were the underage laborers knowingly on the payroll, prosecutors argued, but they were forced to work excessive hours around dangerous machinery and chemicals. While earlier trials against Rubashkin were held in neighboring South Dakota, the child labor hearings unfolded in Waterloo, Iowa—a short hour and a half drive from Postville.

The trial, which dragged on for nearly a month, revealed a company beset by divisive management and a vigilant anti-union streak. But the defense successfully cast Rubashkin as an unfortunate victim, uninvolved in day-to-day hiring practices that included workers’ falsifying documents. (more…)

Today on Tablet

Our anniversary, Kirsch on Hitch, and more

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Today, Tablet Magazine turns 1, and we celebrate with a list of our and your favorite articles from the past year. Elsewhere in Tablet Magazine, senior writer Allison Hoffman has the lowdown on Helen Thomas’s retirement. Books critic Adam Kirsch reviews contributor Christopher Hitchens’s new memoir, Hitch-22. Ryann Liebenthal offers a panoramic report on French Jews, and especially their relation to Israel. And it’s that time of the month—crossword time! The Scroll wishes you a happy Tamuz, and itself a happy birthday.

Israel Hits the West Coast

California’s primaries and the Jews

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Rep. Jane Harman (D-California).(Wikipedia)

Today is Primary Day in California—which, among other things, marks the beginning of the end of the Arnold Schwarzenegger Era. (The state’s term limits mean he won’t be baaahck, at least not as governor.) The marquee gubernatorial race features former eBay head Meg Whitman duking it out with technology entrepreneur Steve Poizner for the chance to face Jerry “Governor Moonbeam” Brown in November. But Tablet Magazine’s readers should pay attention to a few other contests, too.

First, the Senate race. On the Democratic side, Slate blogger Mickey Kaus—who proudly traces his California heritage back to Jews who moved West with the Gold Rush—is mounting a longshot (to say the least) challenge against seasoned incumbent Barbara Boxer (née Barbara Levy, of Brooklyn), mainly because he can. “Democrats deserve a choice, too,” Kaus writes on his campaign Website. Fair enough!

Over on the Republican side, former Hewlett-Packard chief and McCain-Palin adviser Carly Fiorina is fighting for the party’s nomination against Tom Campbell, a former congressman and Stanford Law professor, and Chuck DeVore, a state assemblyman. The race has largely followed the now-standard California pattern: Tea Party-favorite DeVore threatens to siphon conservative votes from Fiorina’s base, creating a window of opportunity for Campbell, the social moderate.

Israel came into play early in the race, when both Fiorina and DeVore pounced on Campbell for voting against increasing foreign aid to Israel, in 1990, and for taking campaign funds from a University of South Florida professor who subsequently pleaded guilty to helping the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. (more…)

Daybreak: Sanctions Vote Tomorrow?

Plus reverse flotillas, and more in the news

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President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today.(Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

• Tomorrow will likely see the postponed U.N. Security Council vote on the additional Iran sanctions, which at least before the flotilla received support from all five permanent members. [Laura Rozen]

• While opposing the blockade, the Palestinian Authority wishes Turkey would cease propping Hamas up and wants to be involved in the opening of Gaza’s border with Egypt. [JPost]

• At least two Israel groups are planning “reverse flotillas,” in which members would sail to Turkey to bring humanitarian aid to Turkish Kurds and Turkish Armenians. [JPost]

• Israel requested increased weapons purchases from the United States, including a boosting of its emergency stores. [Haaretz]

• A special report reveals just how Iran uses shell companies and the like to ship cargo in violation of sanctions. [NYT]

• Richard Cohen explains what the big deal over Helen Thomas’s comments was all about. [WP]

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