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Go, Vols!

Root for Bruce Pearl’s Tennesee in March Madness

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Coach Bruce Pearl of Tennessee. Awesome, right?(Baltimore Sun)

The NCAA Tournament begins today. And Tablet Magazine’s official team* is playing in the final game of the day. At 9:45 p.m., the sixth-seeded Tennessee Volunteers will face the 11th-seeded San Diego State Aztecs in Providence, Rhode Island.

The Vols are our official team because they are coached by Bruce Pearl, the highest-profile Jewish college basketball coach working today. Pearl, soon to complete his fifth season in Knoxville (though hopefully not too soon!), also coached the U.S. team at the 2009 Maccabiah Games in Israel. Despite a spate of injuries, Tennessee finished the season ranked 15th in the country and third in the Southeastern Conference.

Tennessee was put in the toughest region: If they win all their games and the favorites win theirs, they’ll next play three-seed Georgetown, two-seed Ohio State (which many consider a championship contender), and tournament favorite Kansas. March Madness, people, March Madness! Go, Vols!

* A motion for Tablet Magazine’s official team to be “whoever’s playing Duke” was, sad to say, struck down at a staff meeting. But for the record: Mike Krzyzewski (“Coach K”) is not a Jew.

Daybreak: The Crisis That Isn’t

Plus death by Gaza rocket and more in the news

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• While describing the East Jerusalem construction announcement as “not helpful,” President Obama denied that U.S.-Israel relations are in crisis. [JPost]

• Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren makes a similar description and the same denial in this op-ed. But he also stands by Israeli building in East Jerusalem. [NYT]

• Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas now says he won’t engage in proximity talks without a settlement freeze in East Jerusalem. [LAT]

• A Thai farm worker in Israel was killed by a Gaza rocket, the first such death since the January 2009 Gaza conflict. [LAT]

• Forty-nine percent of Americans believe Israel must stop building settlements; 22 percent think they should be allowed to continue. [Laura Rozen]

• The situation has U.S. officials mulling the prospect of their proposing the specific contours of direct peace negotiations, likely after several months of proximity talks. [NYT]

Sundown: Busting Bunkers?

Plus Bibi’s boy, to live and die in East Jerusalem, and more

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King Abdullah II (with Joe Biden).(Salah Malkawi/Getty Images)

• The U.S. military transported hundreds of “bunker-buster” bombs, which can burrow underground and destroy (for example) secret Iranian nuclear-weapon facilities, to its Indian Ocean airbase. [Haaretz]

• The Israeli leadership is taking steps to resolve its tensions with America. [NYT]

• Jordanian King Abdullah II accused Israel of trying to cleanse Jerusalem of Arabs. [Haaretz]

• Mazel tov to Avner Netanyahu, the 15-year-old son of Israel’s prime minister: After winning the Jerusalem competition last month, he won the Israel-wide Bible Quiz. He will compete in the world championships, in Jerusalem, in several weeks. [Arutz Sheva]

• The New York Times’s two Pulitzer Prize-winning op-ed columnists, Thomas L. Friedman and Maureen Dowd, both wrote about Israel today (and generally took the administration’s side). [NYT/NYT]

• Do you actually want to live in one of those planned East Jerusalem homes? Here’s how. [Slate]

Jam band Phish, two of whose four members are Jewish, announced its summer tour yesterday. They’ll be hitting many cities; here they are covering Talking Heads’s “Cities”.

Run, Steve Levy, Run!

The last best hope for a Jewish N.Y. governor

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy.(Suffolk County)

With Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson still clinging to power despite a pretty damning scandal involving his alleged intervention in an aide’s assault case, Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch likely won’t get the chance to cure the two-year-long drought in New York—the republic’s most Jewish state!—of not having a Jewish chief executive.

But on the Republican side, there’s now a chance. Some Republicans who are dissatisfied with the current prohibitive favorite for their nomination—that would be Rep. Rick Lazio, best remembered as Hillary Clinton’s original Senate opponent in 2000—have inquired as to whether Lazio’s fellow Long Islander Steve Levy, the Suffolk County executive, is interested in running for the GOP nod.

Levy is—how shall I put this?—a Democrat. But this is the same state whose main city has elected a lifelong Democrat who turned Republican, and then turned independent, as mayor. Three times. Besides, for us, Levy will be of neither the Republicans nor the Democrats, but rather of the Tribe. (OK, so his mother’s Italian. We’re trying here.)

GOP Sounds Out a Democrat as Governor [NYT]
Earlier: NYT Story Opens Door for Ravitch [NYT]
Paterson Won’t Run; Is Ravitch Next? [NYT]

Israel, Stateside

How the controversy has played in America

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Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) last month.(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Last week’s construction announcement in Israel has rippled through a political system halfway across the world. While most Republicans and many Democrats have criticized the administration, some have backed it and turned their criticism toward Israel. Anyway, the Obama Administration has its uses for that criticism, too: It may just help buttress its credibility in the Mideast as a genuinely honest broker. Below, several ways the controversy over Israel has played out in America:

• The most prominent elected U.S. official to criticize the Obama administration was Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia). He is the House Minority Whip, a GOP rising star, and the son of an Israeli. [JPost]

• In private, many pro-Israel Jewish politicians have expressed sympathy with Obama and frustration with Israel; at the same time, many have been reluctant to espouse these views all that publicly. [Laura Rozen]

• AIPAC asked its supporters to spread the word that the Obama administration went too far in its criticism of “our partner Israel.” The group’s annual conference begins Sunday in Washington, D.C. [Ben Smith]

• Sarah Palin, who has studied this issue long and hard from her perch on the Council of Foreign Relations, called for a “reset” of U.S.-Israel relations. [Ben Smith] (more…)

‘Exodus’ Hits Twitter

#Letmypeoplego

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Rabbi Oren Hayon: the man behind Tweet the Exodus.(Wall Street Journal)

What’s perhaps most impressive about Tweet the Exodus is that the group of rabbis, led by Rabbi Oren Hayon, behind it have set up not just a central feed containing provocative quotations, entertaining links, and, eventually, the story of the Jews’ departure from Egypt, but that they’ve set up a whole bunch of other accounts to represent players in the main story. So, @Young Miriam updates us: “Waiting to see what happens to my brother…” @The_Israelites remarks, “Did you hear something? It sounded like a crying baby.” And @Slavedrivers: “I love the smell of braided leather in the morning!”

Tweet the Exodus’s second entry reads, “In every generation, one is obliged to see oneself as if one personally came forth from Egypt.” In this age of online living, I can think of no more appropriate way to fulfill that demand.

Tweet The Exodus
Passover Meets Twitter [WSJ]

No Tzedakah, No Love

This week in ‘Millionaire Matchmaker’

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Doug: ‘looks fade, and dumb is forever.’(Bravo TV.)

Unfortunately, Allison Hoffman’s television was struck by one of the many loosened trees from last weekend’s nor’easter, so yours truly—Tablet Magazine Art Director by day, caped superhero by night—will fill you in on last night’s episode of the glory that is Millionaire Matchmaker. For previous coverage, go here.

I’d never watched Millionaire Matchmaker before; most of my knowledge of the show comes from commercials during Top Chef (which, if you didn’t see, is headed for D.C.). Is Patti Stanger going to be a bossy yenta? Or is she an awe-inspiring matchmaker who makes so many Shidduchim—official couple recommendations—that she deserves her own gold-foil version of the Book of Life? How many matches would she need? I ask my wife, who replies, “You should Google Shidduch, I think you need three,” before returning to her phone call with her mother, with whom she is discussing the competitive world of Temple preschool applications, leaving me to wonder: Is Patti a genuine shadchan (I just found that word using Google), or just a nudge?

Patti begins by reviewing the videos for her clients. DVDs, rather; back when I used a matchmaker, you see, I had to choose between VHS and BETA. The first client is Douglas (above), an eco-clothing designer who is looking for a man that will follow him around all day, like a puppy. We know Douglas is concerned with the environment because he drives a Prius. I know I am concerned about Judaism because I watched Waltz With Bashir. I’m already over him. Patti quickly diagnoses Douglas as narcissistic and scolds him: “Looks fade, and dumb is forever.” OK, Patti, I liked that one.

Douglas goes on his “master date” with David from Guam, who is clearly too nice for him. They start with a hot-air balloon ride. That’s a point against Patti—what kind of Jewish matchmaker would let them do something so dangerous? There’s a lot of hot air in that balloon, and they also used some of it to float! Get it? Later, Douglas chastises David for wanting to order beef and pressures him to order chicken. Douglas continues to insult his date to his face and later admits he doesn’t know exactly why “meat that comes from red animals is much more damaging to the environment.” Cut to Michael Pollan quietly weeping into his pillow.

Nicole, the other millionaire client, also has some eco-business, and also drives a Prius, so now I’m thinking everyone in L.A. just adds “eco-” to their job title. Nicole is South African and has the accent to match. Patti thinks she’s too masculine and plans to give her a signal at the mixer if she forgets she has a “va-jay-jay.” Patti then describes what her rules are for a first date: “You can kiss but you can’t put it in any hole.” There should be a little “bzang!” sound effect every time Patti blows your mind with one of those snappy comments.

During the show’s amazingly vapid and stale mixer, the men that approach Nicole can’t figure out where she’s from, and I feel ashamed as a North American man. Really, gents, you can only think to discuss her accent? Are you actually trying to make her uncomfortable? After a painfully shallow dinner party, Nicole chooses Bruce, the “eco-friendly James Bond.”

Bruce and Nicole take a Toxic Tour, though I have to wonder about the eco-friendliness of two people using a bus to tour Los Angeles. After, at dinner, Bruce can’t understand if Nicole is saying Baroque or Barack, because American guys can’t understand foreign accents. At the end of the date, he leans over for a kiss, and she awkwardly laughs in his face. That’s flat-out mean. Like, junior-high mean!

After my wife patiently endured my pausing and multiple rewinds, she asked me to search one more term: Tzedakah. These two Millionaires hang an eco-shingle on their door, but when it comes to giving, they can’t seem to step out beyond their driveway. I will say that Patti has taught me more about righteously fulfilling obligations by attempting to give some charity to these mostly unlikable characters. But I don’t predict any inscriptions in the Book of Life this week.

Today on Tablet

Israel in China (not just on Sunday nights), and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Matthew Fishbane previews Israel’s plans for World Expo 2010, to be held in Shanghai later this year. Joshua Cohen looks at the fascinating ways in which different Jews through history, religious and secular, have kept time. Check the latest goings-on in The Frozen Exodus, the novel we’re serializing. In honor of a new show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Jill Singer offers a retrospective of the work, so far, of Jewish South African William Kentridge. Even though we’re on the Internet and all, The Scroll prefers the Met.

A Very Jewish St. Patrick’s Day

And why not?

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Yup, Daniel Day-Lewis (Paris, last month) is part Jewish.(Francois Durand/Getty Images)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, to all our Irish friends! There have been not a few prominent figures who fell in the sweet middle spot of the Venn diagram between Irish people and—to use the common euphemism—readers of Tablet Magazine. And even more have wished they fell there! (See, for example, Abie’s Irish Rose, the popular 1920s play about Abie Levy and his wife, Rosemary Levy, née Murphy.) I’m not making this up—even if the most famous Irish Jew was made up (that would be Leopold Bloom, the star of James Joyce’s Ulysses, whom we celebrate on a different day).

I asked Jonathan Wilson, author of a great New York Times Magazine article on Ireland’s Jewish community, to suggest some favorite, real-life Irish Jews. He offered a few; intern Jenny Merkin came through with a few more.

• Robert Briscoe, Dublin’s first Jewish mayor (also a member of the Irish Republican Army);
• His son, Ben, another Dublin mayor;
• Chaim Herzog, the Belfast-born president of Israel from 1983 to 1993;
• Speaking of Herzog, Wilson said, “my Auntie Pearl who once dated him!”;
• Yitzah HaLevi Herzog, Israel’s first chief rabbi (and, naturally, Chaim’s father), had been Ireland’s chief rabbi;
• Daniel Day-Lewis (mother);
• Sen. John Kerry—remember, he learned during his presidential campaign that his grandfather was a Czech Jew;
• Liam Neeson: not actually a Jew. But he played Oskar Schindler … who was not actually a Jew. So an honorary Jew, twice removed.

So, have a happy St. Patrick’s Day. We’d say several cliché things now, and wish you several more, but instead we merely suggest you click on and print out this St. Patrick’s Day Bingo card and see how well you do.

The Fading World of Leopold Bloom [New York Times Magazine]
Related: Bloomsday Meets Second Avenue [Tablet Magazine]

Daybreak: Expect More Riots in J’lem

Plus wait ’til at least next year for Iranian nuke, and more in the news

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• The Hamas-organized “Day of Rage” saw mass East Jerusalem protests, and over 100 injuries. However, Israeli police do not believe a third intifada is in the offing (though they expect more violence today). [LAT]

• In a merely rhetorical shift that still means a great deal in the region, Secretary of State Clinton forcefully reaffirmed basic U.S. support for Israel’s security. [WP]

• An analysis argues that though President Obama has faced criticism from Israel, Republicans, and even some Democrats, his tough stance toward Israel could enhance his peacemaker bona fides, particularly in the region. [NYT]

• Gen. David Petraeus predicted that Iran, which is under his purview, will not produce a nuclear weapon by the end of the year. (The general also said he backs the Palestinian peace process and envoy George Mitchell.) [NYT]

• Robert Ford, the nominee for Ambassador to Syria, argued for keeping current sanctions but also talking directly to the leadership. [JPost]

• Chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel reassured prominent Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) that, contra reports, Vice President Biden did not tell Israeli leaders that settlements endanger U.S. troops. [ABC News]

Sundown: U.S., Israel Say Not All That Much

Plus Palin wades in, Breitbart is ridiculous, and more

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Sarah Palin, last December.(Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

• There is oodles of U.S.-Israel news, which I’ll deal with in a bigger round-up tomorrow. For now: Netanyahu defended Israel’s track record on peace, saying no further concessions were necessary now; the White House reiterated that it is totally committed to Israeli security. This is still a diplomatic crisis, though. [Haaretz/Laura Rozen]

• Okay, one more thing: Jeffrey Goldberg reports that what Obama is trying to do is further crack Netanyahu’s already fragile (and right-wing) coalition, ideally in order to pave the way for a more moderate Tzipi Livni government. [Jeffrey Goldberg]

Fine, one more: Sarah Palin accused the Obama administration of “missing the boat” (folksy!) on Israel and called for a hit of the “reset button.” [Ben Smith]

• The Simon Wiesenthal Center is still planning to build that controversial Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance. [AP/Haaretz]

• A long and fantastic profile of conservative Web journalist Andrew Breitbart notes that he was raised Jewish (though not very religiously) and contains this line of his: “You’ve gone to Hebrew school, you’ve gone to Auschwitz, you go, Never again, Never again. Then you go to Tulane and you go, Maybe never again. … Don’t include that.” [Slate]

• The Jews That Do Contest invites Jews who do … pretty much anything to submit video of themselves doing so. [Leadel]
Below: a Jew does something

Did Biden Link Israel to the Troops’ Safety?

A polarizing meme is born

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In addition to the main debate over whether the Obama administration was correct to upbraid the Netanyahu government over the timing of its East Jerusalem construction announcement (and over the construction itself), a secondary dispute has emerged, whose implications may well come to trump the larger debate. They center around the following statement, reportedly made by Vice President Joe Biden to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week:

This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.

A senior administration official clarifies—for Tablet Magazine contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg—that Biden does not believe that U.S. soldiers are put at direct risk by East Jerusalem building; he thinks, rather, that such construction makes it more difficult, from diplomatic and P.R. standpoint, for the U.S. military to achieve its objectives. “The extent to which Israel aggressively pursues peace,” the official said, makes efforts to sanction Iran, cultivate peace between Israel and its neighbors, and fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq “easier.”

It seems unlikely that Biden meant it literally; and it seems extremely unlikely that, taken literally, it’s accurate. But the meme that the special relationship with Israel is something of a problem for the United States, and particularly for the U.S. military, in fact has gained traction—particularly in the military.

And it is potentially explosive. If the debate over Israel travels from “what’s best for Israel” to “supporting the troops,” then it could become a real thing. Folks on one side could argue that getting tough with Israel’s government is a question not only of right versus wrong but of American national security; folks on the other side could argue that American supporters of Israel are being unfairly and inaccurately accused of a dual loyalty in a way that recalls classical, troubling charges about Jews everywhere.
(more…)

‘Day of Rage’ Rocks Jerusalem

Palestinians riot over building announcement

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Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem today.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

“Before today began, Hamas had called on Palestinians to make it a “day of rage” in response to the Israeli construction announcement. Many appear to have obliged. Dozens of Palestinians, and over a dozen Israeli policemen, have been injured in clashes. “Jerusalem is Islamic and, we act in accordance with that religious motivation,” said Hamas’s Gaza leader.

Clashes in Jerusalem Mark Rising Tensions [NYT]

Obama Looks Weak in the Middle East

Why pick on our friends but not our enemies?

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Obama last week.(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Foreign policy expert Walter Russell Mead has joined Thomas Friedman and others in congratulating the Obama administration for condemning Israel over the announcement it was building 1600 apartment units in East Jerusalem.

“The Obama administration had no choice but to respond strongly,” Mead writes. “Otherwise the administration would have looked weak and irresolute and the repercussions throughout the world could well have been grave.”

But in the Middle East, nothing reeks of weakness more than lashing out publicly at an ally. The administration is well aware of this, because it has endured the insults of virtually every one of its Arab allies (all except for Egypt). Most recently, for example, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal criticized Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to her face, explaining that the United States’s proposed sanctions against Iran were too little, too late.

On top of that, the White House has gladly swallowed the far worse taunts of actual adversaries, like Iran and Syria. At a Damascus banquet featuring Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, and Hamas’s Khaled Meshaal, Syrian President Bashar Assad openly mocked Clinton: he joked that he had misunderstood her demands that Syria distance itself from Iran, so instead, said Assad, he was waiving visa requirements for the Islamic Republic.

“The President of the United States cannot afford to look like a patsy,” writes Mead. “Any American president needs to be seen as a figure who commands respect.” Well, sure. But it is not clear why that respect should come at the expense of our allies instead of our enemies.

The Israel Crisis [The American Interest]

Smiling From The $50 Bill

The case for Ulysses S. Grant

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(Visiting D.C.)

Somebody give Ulysses S. Grant’s publicist a raise: Despite the fact that the 18th president has been dead for nearly 125 years, prestigious historian Sean Wilentz positively fawned over him in last Sunday’s New York Times. The reason? Some Republicans wish to replace Grant’s visage on the $50 bill with that of President Ronald Reagan. Wilentz—a progressive who nonetheless wrote an altogether admiring book called The Age of Reagan calls the proposal “a travesty that would dishonor the nation’s bedrock principles of union, freedom and equality.”

Now, leaving aside Grant’s reputation as a corrupt, passive chief executive, Jews may think of his notorious General Order No. 11, which in 1862 expelled all Jews in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky on the grounds of halting the black-market cotton trade. (The order was quickly rescinded; Lincoln condemned it.)

But actually, notes J.J. Goldberg, Grant ought to be remembered as, yes, good for the Jews! Grant was probably only vaguely aware of the order. Beyond that:

• Grant made the first nomination of a Jew to the presidential cabinet, asking close friend Joseph Seligman, a Wall Streeter, to be his first Treasury Secretary; Seligman turned him down, but remained a close adviser, with access unprecedented for a Jew.

• In response to anti-Semitism in newly sovereign Romania, Grant appointed as U.S. consul Sephardic attorney Benjamin Franklin Peixotto, who had just finished a stint as national head of B’nai B’rith.

• Grant was the first U.S. president to attend services at a synagogue (Adas Israel in Washington, D.C.—which, I think I’m obligated to add, is my family’s congregation).

Now might be a good time to mention that historian Jonathan Sarna is writing a book all about Grant and General Order No. 11 … for Nextbook Press.

General Grant, The $50 Bill, and The Jewish Question [J.J. Goldberg]
Who’s Buried in the History Books? [NYT]

Earlier: Adolf Lincoln?

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