The health care signing today.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The U.S. health care system just became a lot more like Israel’s. This morning, President Obama signed the health care bill—formal title: Affordable Health Care for America Act—into law in a White House ceremony. Though it does not provide universal health care, it requires most Americans to have health insurance (and offers subsidies, discounts, and an expanded Medicaid for those who would have trouble affording it); it is expected to extend insurance to over 30 million uncovered Americans. Israel does have universal health care: all citizens are required to enlist in one of four health maintenance organizations. (The situation in the Palestinian territories is, unsurprisingly, a lot more complicated.) The state backs the HMOs, and there is a health insurance tax. There are, however, no death panels.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, yesterday.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
Why does AIPAC hold its annual policy conference in Washington, D.C.? It’s not just to make it easy for politicians to show up for its plenary sessions and gala dinners! This morning, a few thousand delegates, who have spent the two days focusing on various threats to the Jewish state—Iran, the Goldstone Report, daylight between it and the United States—are taking their umbrellas and fanning out across Capitol Hill to do what lobbyists do: lobby.
AIPAC’s machine is, of course, legendary. And its traditional wheelhouse is the two legislative chambers. Despite the fact that the group’s new president, Lee Rosenberg, was among Obama’s most active supporters, he pointedly told delegates the other night that, given the state of affairs between the administration and Israel, “It is Congress, the bedrock of American support for Israel, which must act.”
Act on what? On Iran sanctions, for starters. That’s the issue that tops a set of talking points staffers handed out to delegates yesterday afternoon in training sessions. What else? Obama requested $3 billion of assistance in the new foreign aid bill: given the economy, it could use some shoring from the pressure it will inevitably receive from all sides.
The delegates—most of whom have lobbied their members of Congress before, on these exact issues—seemed most anxious about how to respond if members asked about “the situation.” (The diplomatic one, not the Jersey Shoreone.) One longtime legislative lobbyist for a left-leaning Jewish group told me that, at the end of the day, “This Congress isn’t going to move without the administration.” (Want evidence of that? Look no further than the fight to get the health-care legislation passed.) Accordingly, AIPAC staffers advised their charges to reassure members of Congress that the episode was “regrettable” but that they, at least, were not in conflict with the administration.
And Netanyahu? He’s also heading to the Hill for his own meetings this morning, before he goes to see Obama privately at 5:30 this afternoon.
Today in Tablet Magazine, Dara Horn traces the similarities between Civil War re-enactment culture and the rituals of Passover—and finds more than you might think! Patrick Huguenin is our poor non-Jew who learns a kosher-for-Passover recipe in time for Seder. Books critic Adam Kirsch praises the new novel From the Four Winds, which depicts the little discussed “Exodus” of Egyptian Jews to Israel after the 1956 war. The Scroll has never been to a Civil War re-enactment, but has watched the greatSouth Park about one.
Netanyahu speaking last night.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
Later today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will sit down with President Obama for the first time since November. The two leaders will presumably continue the conversation Netanyahu started yesterday in meetings with both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden. But Netanyahu’s comments last night here in Washington, D.C., to the more than 7,500 people attending the annual AIPAC convention, suggest he isn’t ready, at least publicly, to back off his right to keep building in Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem is not a settlement,” Netanyahu said, earning roaring applause for a line that was tested by other speakers earlier in the day. “It’s our capital.” To drive the point home, Netanyahu trotted out a story that he is, judging by the fact that he has told it before, pretty fond of: it’s the tale of the 2,800-year-old signet ring, which the prime minister keeps in his office, that has the name “Netanyahu” etched into it. This time, he embellished the story with a reference to Israeli President Shimon Peres, whose namesake was a brother of the first Benjamin, and roamed around Biblical Judea too. “The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied,” Netanyahu reasoned. “The connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem cannot be denied.” (more…)
• “Jerusalem is not a settlement,” Prime Minister Netanyahu declared to the AIPAC Conference, defending Israeli building; “it is our capital.” More on Bibi’s speech at 10 am. [NYT]
• An IDF soldier was killed in friendly fire. His fellow troops were engaged in halting three Palestinians trying to cross over the Gaza border. [NYT]
• The parents of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit begged the U.N. Human Rights Council to pressure Hamas to release their son. [JPost]
• President Obama is in a stronger position to negotiate with Netanyahu than he was even 48 hours ago, due to the passage of health care reform. They meet at the White House tonight. [Politico]
• Britain is expelling the Mossad’s representative there in protest of the forged British passports allegedly used in the (probably Mossad-backed) assassination of a Hamas weapons man in Dubai. [Haaretz]
• The mayor of Jerusalem helpfully noted that the 1600 announced homes in East Jerusalem is just the tip of the iceberg: there are, he said, plans to build 50,000 homes in a united city over the next two decades. [Arutz Sheva]
Sacha Baron Cohen earlier this year.(Charley Gallay/Getty Images for PCA)
• Schindler’s List—like, Oskar Schindler’s actual list—is on-sale for $2.2 million. [Page Six]
• The European Union formally condemned Israel’s “settlement activities” and requested a full freeze (and a top E.U. diplomat bewailed the Gaza blockade in an op-ed). [JTA]
• A top Hamas official criticized the launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, saying it distracts from and even lends justification to Israeli building in East Jerusalem. He suggested they’re being launched by groups seeking to undermine Hamas. [Ynet]
• The famed harmonica in movies such as Shane and High Noon? Those parts were played by Jerry Adler, a Baltimore-born Jew who recently died at 91. Incredibly, the one even more famous harmonica player from that era was also a Jew: Adler’s brother, Larry. [NYT]
• Sacha Baron Cohen and longtime girlfriend Isla Fisher—who converted to Cohen’s Judaism several years ago—were married in a Jewish ceremony in Paris. [JTA]
Clinton speaking earlier today at the AIPAC Conference.(Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
We, both here in Washington, D.C., at the annual AIPAC Convention, and elsewhere, know the following: President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are going to meet tomorrow. But when? For how long? Will there be pictures? And what, after the fuss of the last two weeks, will they say to each other? As of this afternoon, these questions remained unanswered, according to officials in Israel’s Foreign Ministry. It’s more than a little reminiscent of what happened the last time the two leaders met, in November—only this time, the details of protocol are being held up until plans for the very public White House signing of the historic health-care legislation are finalized.
But Bibi will have his public turn tonight in front of the AIPAC crowd. He’s expected to declare that Jerusalem is “not a settlement”—hence his refusal to back down on the government’s plan to build 1600 new homes in a Jewish area of East Jerusalem. (The same line went over very well with the crowd this morning when AIPAC’s executive director, Howard Kohr, tested it out.) Perhaps even as you read this, he is meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who earlier today told the AIPAC audience that the problem was never the apartments themselves, but rather the exposure of that infamous daylight between the Americans and the Israelis. “It undermines America’s unique ability to play an essential role in the peace process,” she told the crowd. “This is not about wounded pride. This is about getting everyone to the table and creating and protecting an atmosphere of trust around it.”
One person who didn’t seem at all fussed about the fuss was Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who visited her friend, White House National Security Advisor James Jones—the same Jones who said last fall, at the J Street conference, that peace was Obama’s top foreign-policy priority —and then, looking almost Grace Kelly-esque in a smooth blonde ponytail and black boatneck dress, swanned over to a luncheon at the Renaissance Hotel across the street from the AIPAC convention headquarters. There, she told the capacity crowd that she, for one, had nothing to publicly say about her political rival Netanyahu, or the recent “disagreement.” “There are places and times to have these discussions,” she said, giving a sly shrug. “This is not the time and the place to do it.”
Coach Pearl and his team Saturday; #22 is son Steve.(Elsa/Getty Images)
Coach Bruce Pearl’s University of Tennessee Volunteers—Tablet Magazine’s official college basketball team—advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen round Saturday with a convincing win over underdog Ohio. Almost as importantly, the true Big Dog in Tennessee’s region, overall number-one Kansas, was defeated, in a stunning, thrilling upset, by Northern Iowa. Which means the Vols’ route to the Final Four just got a little bit easier …
… except first they will have to beat two-seed Ohio State, the Big Ten champion. The game goes down Friday night at 7 E.S.T., in St. Louis. Can you even wait that long?
That didn’t take long: this morning, there was a small to-do at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., over the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group J Street, which established itself explicitly to counterbalance the far more powerful AIPAC. Hadar Susskind, J Street’s policy director, was being interviewed at the gathering by a Haaretz reporter when, according to the reporter, none other than Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz “broke in to the conversation with a verbal onslaught against the group.”
Arguing that J Street “shouldn’t call themselves pro-Israel,” he accused them of prioritizing certain policy positions over others to cast Israel in a negative light. Noting that he, like J Street, opposes settlements, he nonetheless maintained, “But I spend 80 percent of my time supporting Israel.”
In response, Susskind told the reporter: “We have disagreements with AIPAC that I don’t want to minimize. But we are all on the same side.”
Not sure AIPAC itself will be thrilled to hear about this kerfuffle. For one thing, it thinks of itself—correctly—as significantly more prominent and influential than J Street, and wants its annual conference to showcase, well, itself, rather than its upstart alternative. For another thing, among AIPAC’s top messages at the conference is getting sanctions against Iran passed: a policy point on which AIPAC and J Street actually agree.
There is an upstart Yiddish theater company on the East Side, and it has ruffled the feathers of the much more established Yiddish theater company. What, you should be surprised by this?
The New York Times has the story. You have the Folksbiene group, which has been around for almost a century, and still insists, to some extent, on doing things the old-fashioned way—the old productions, acting troupes dominated by big burly men with big burly beards. And you have the upstart New Yiddish Repertory Company, which started only two years ago, and does things clearly outside the purview of traditional Yiddish companies. There has been talk of Folksbiene taking New Yiddish Rep under its wing; negotiations are mediated in part by Jack Lebewohl, the owner of the Second Avenue Deli. Of course, that’s now on Third Avenue in Murray Hill, which is as good a commentary on the evolution of old Lower East Side culture as you could find.
One of New Yiddish Rep’s productions is The Big Bupkis, the one-man-show from non-Jewish Yiddo-phile Shane Baker. Marissa Brostoff profiled him for Tablet Magazine a few months ago.
Today in Tablet Magazine, Marjorie Ingall profiles Margaret and H.A. Ray, the German Jews who created Curious George (and the man in the yellow hat). To kick off our coverage of Passover, which begins early next week, we offer everything you need to know about the holiday, as well as a special Vox Tablet podcast featuring Managing Editor Gabriel Sanders and his one-year-old (almost two!) Ezra. As he does every week, Josh Lambert notes forthcoming books of interest. And The Scroll is pleased that it can get health care on its own, now that blogging is not a pre-existing condition.
This year’s annual AIPAC Policy Conference, which kicked off yesterday in Washington, D.C., promises to be one of the most watched and important ones ever. Not only does it have the highest attendance (more than 7500 people will attend), but it follows upon probably the greatest crisis in U.S.-Israel relations—the very thing AIPAC is dedicated to cultivating—in over three decades. Because it’s so important, and because it lies squarely within what we hope is our wheelhouse—Israel’s impact on U.S. politics—we will have plenty of coverage of the goings-on here at The Scroll, including dispatches from Senior Writer Allison Hoffman, who is there. And we will have even more coverage of it on our Twitter.
For now, here’s what people have been saying about the conference, and what happened on the first day.
• Secretary of State Clinton reassured the crowd that the administration has a “rock solid” commitment to Israel and its security. She also noted, “It is our responsibility to give credit when it is due and to tell the truth when it is needed.” [AP/WP]
• In his remarks, new AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg declared, “allies should work out their differences privately.” [Capital J]
• A profile of “Rosy,” the new president, who made his bones in the jazz recording industry and was a major Obama campaign fundraiser. [Arutz Sheva]
• The opening ceremonies featured zero mention of the recent spat, instead focusing on celebrating Israeli technological innovation and highlighting the Iranian threat. Hoffman emails in to report that “the images were all about friendship,” with pictures of Obama with Prime Minister Netanyahu and with President Shimon Peres. [Forward]
• AIPAC will lobby Congress for “crippling sanctions” targeting Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (which the administration doesn’t necessarily want). [Ben Smith]
• Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate, was eagerly making the rounds. [Capital J]
• A panel dicussed the proximity talks and the promise of future direct negotations. [Capital J]
• Jeffrey Goldberg accuses AIPAC of “presenting an oversimplified vision of the Middle East.” [Atlantic.com]
President Obama and Vice President Biden, late last night.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
• It’s officially on: Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama will meet Tuesday at the White House. It’s going down because Bibi agreed that forthcoming proximity talks can address substantive, in addition to procedural, issues. [WSJ]
• Clashes with the IDF resulted in four Palestinian deaths over the weekend, raising tension in the West Bank. [LAT]
• Lee “Rosy” Rosenberg, the new AIPAC president, kicked off the group’s annual conference with a call for “allies” to “work out their differences privately.” Much more on the conference at 10 am. [Capital J]
• As the diplomatic spat begins to fade, both the U.S. and Israel, unsurprisingly perhaps, think they won. [NYT]
• Visiting Ramallah, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a total settlement freeze. [NYT]
• The House of Representatives passed the Senate’s health-care reform bill, meaning it will become law. [WP]
Said the National Jewish Democratic Council:
This action culminates a 100-year effort to ensure that the people of the United States have the same type of access to health care as citizens of nearly every other industrialized nation. We are confident that when historians look back on this day, they will equate the passage of this bill with such monumental legislative achievements as the passage of Social Security in the 1930’s. This bill also reflects the clear groundswell of support in the American Jewish community—both among individuals and organizations—for the change in our health care system that’s so desperately needed today.
• Eric Joffie, the top American Reform rabbi, called for an East Jerusalem settlement freeze. [JTA]
• Jorge Puello, the alleged human-trafficker who claims to head the Dominican Sephardic community (but probably doesn’t, and may not even be Jewish), was apprehended in the Dominican Republic. [Fox/Failed Messiah]
• Steve Levy is officially running in the Republican primary for governor of New York. [Ben Smith]
• The newly expanded Jewish Museum London sounds really cool! [NYT]
The Armenian genocideslaughter whatever-it-was (it was a genocide) is a touchy subject for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as it is for many Turkish people. His button was pushed most recently by the U.S. House of Representatives’s passage of a resolution referring to the Armenian catastrophe of the early part of the 20th century as, for the first time, “genocide.” Most recently, Erdogan vowed that if such resolutions continued, he would deport 100,000 Armenians from his country. Specifically, these are those Armenians—the majority of Armenian residents of Turkey—who are not citizens, but rather visiting workers. (A status that, ironically enough, describes many Turkish people living in Germany and elsewhere.)
What dog do Jews specifically have in this fight? Leaving aside Erdogan’s penchant for making extremely questionable (to say the least) statements about Jews and particularly Israel, the histories of the Armenian genocide and the Jewish genocide—the Holocaust—are intertwined. Most famously, Hitler told his troops as they prepared to invade Poland, “Go, go kill without mercy. Who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians?”
In other words, if it is to be fully honored, the injunction to “Never Forget” must not apply to the Holocaust, or to the Jews, alone.