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Boycotting Hits the Mainstream

‘Forward’ and J Street folks debate tactics with lefties

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Last night, around 200 people packed into an un-air-conditioned room in Manhattan and did something possibly unprecedented within the organized American Jewish community: Had a serious, civil, public debate about the prospect of applying BDS—or boycott, divestment, and sanctions—tactics against Israel. There was an unpolished, church-basement feel to the event (partly because it was literally held in a church basement) that I haven’t often encountered within the community. Thing is, according to the event’s organizers, every synagogue and Jewish community center they approached turned them down.

No one on the panel—including the anti-BDSers, former Forward newspaper editor J.J. Goldberg and Kathleen Peratis, a J Street board member and onetime New Israel Fund vice president—felt uncomfortable asserting that after decades of administering an occupation, Israel has basically gone rogue. But this underlying assumption is treated in much of the Jewish world as an apostasy, which is why Goldberg and Peratis were by far the more mesmerizing side of the debate to watch. J Street, in particular, has been answering to critics from the right since its birth; in fact, that’s why it was born at all. (This evening, in a lovely bit of symmetry, J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami will be debating a different Goldberg—that would be Atlantic writer and Tablet Magazine contributing editor Jeffrey—who will, presumably, be sitting to Ben-Ami’s right.) But there are plenty of Jews, and Jewish organizations, to the left of J Street as well, albeit ones who are usually left out, and sometimes explicitly blacklisted, from talking to anyone in the community beyond themselves. Watching Goldberg and Peratis reorient themselves to define their positions when challenged from that, other side was fascinating and a bit vertiginous.

Goldberg and Peratis differentiated sharply between Israel-the-occupier, which they condemned—Peratis said she even supported boycotting products made in the settlements—and Israel-the-Jewish-state, even if this latter thing, which they support, is corroded, they said, by the former.

Their pro-BDS opponents—led by Hannah Mermelstein, a member of the pro-BDS group Adalah New York, and Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli-air-force-pilot-turned-left-wing-activist (and, from a show of hands, representing more than half the audience)—convincingly laid out the problem and, perhaps, illusion of the distinction between Israel-the-occupier and Israel-the-Jewish-state. (more…)

A Very Jewish Bloomsday

Everything you need to know for today

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We are very, very excited about our Bloomsday celebration tonight (COME!), and everyone else is excited about Bloomsday, too.

• Contributing editor Ben Greenman, who will be joining us to celebrate, has made this an all-Ulysses day on his Letters With Character Website. (Also, congrats to Ben on being named a Big Jewcy.) [Letters With Character]

• Contributing editor Josh Cohen, who will also be joining us to celebrate, points out that every country has its own Ulysses. [Daily Beast]

• Our goal tonight is to reclaim Leopold Bloom for the Jews. But what about his wife, Molly, who was born Irish Catholic? An interesting, provocative post makes the case for Molly’s figurative—and maybe, even, literal?—Jewishness. [Sisterhood]

• After tonight’s event, turn up the dial for Radio Bloomsday, featuring Jerry Stiller, Alec Baldwin, and Caraid O’Brien (who translated the Yiddish section that will be featured tonight). [Radio Bloomsday]

• Bloom Tweets! [@LeopoldBloom]

• Bloom in Tweets! [VF.com]

• A nice round-up of various Bloomsday goings-on in New York (including, er, ours). [Paper Cuts]

• How Bloomsday is celebrated around the world. [HuffPo]

• And please revisit my interview with Professor Bruce Robbins on the essential Jewishness of Ulysses. [The Scroll]

See y’all tonight!

Dershowitz Endorses First Ever Republican

Is Joel Pollak from a new mold?

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Joel Pollak.(Facebook)

Alan Dershowitz, the star Harvard Law Professor and de facto Jewish American leader, is endorsing apparently his first-ever Republican politician, backing former student Joel Pollak against Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) in this year’s House race. His cited reason is Schakowsky’s alleged refusal to “speak out” against the Obama administration’s (alleged) deaf ear to American Jewish concerns about Israel and Iran. (Both candidates are Jewish.)

The endorsement is an interesting sign of how the need for a tough line on Israel could trump other concerns for Jewish American liberals. After all, Pollak, who espouses the sort of rigidly strong support for Israel that you’d expect, is on other issues clearly to the right of center, and even more to the right of most Jewish voters, who in 2008 went for President Obama over Sen. McCain by a nearly four-to-one margin. According to his Website, Pollak supports the repeal of Obama’s health bill and a discretionary spending freeze, and opposes cap-and-trade laws aimed at greenhouse gases—all positions of staunch conservative orthodoxy.

And yet, and yet! Pollak thinks decisions about abortion and gay marriage should be left up to the states (which is a moderate position), and even opposes torture (unlike his endorser, Dershowitz).

So Pollak is no Tea Partier. He is also attractive and married, and has Chicago roots. For what it’s worth, he is not expected, according to Ben Smith, to give Schakowsky much of a fight (almost no challengers of House incumbents are). On the other hand, the Dershowitz endorsement was enough to provoke a retaliatory volley from J Street. I’m almost wondering if Pollak is a new sort of candidate, almost jerry-rigged to draw strongly pro-Israel Democrats over to the Republican fold.

Dershowitz Backs Schakowsky Challenger [Ben Smith]

Israelis Corner the Vuvuzela Market

Yes, those horrific soccer horns

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Man blowing a vuvuzela.(Flickr)

I do not believe that if one of Israel’s policies is angering the rest of the world, that is reason in and of itself for Israel to halt that policy. The Gaza blockade, for example: The effect it has on the world’s view of Israel is not unimportant, and ought to be factored in to any decision over whether or not to keep it; but ultimately, it is at least arguable that Israeli policymakers could legitimately determine that the pros outweigh the cons and that the blockade should stay.

But today I’m making an exception. Apparently several Israeli Internet entrepreneurs figured out last year that they could make a lot of money acting as middlemen for the buying and selling of vuvuzelas—those horrible, noxious, bzzzzzzz-sounding cheap plastic horns that South African “fans”* have been playing incessantly during World Cup matches—and, so yeah, www.buy-vuvuzelas.com (please don’t) is Israeli-owned.

This may not be why some hate Israel. But it sure ain’t helping.

Israeli Company Leads Charge To Supply World with Vuvuzelas [Haaretz]

*Any notion that the horns have anything to do with rooting for one team, or rooting for good play, is B.S., because the noise doesn’t change no matter what is happening on the pitch, or no matter which team is doing what. I don’t even see how you can pay attention to what’s happening on the pitch if you spend the whole game blowing on your damn horn. It’s not like football, where the home crowd makes more noise when the other team has the ball to try to force a false start. It’s just horrible and stupid and wrong and it’s probably partly responsible for how few goals there have been and FIFA is going to regret not having banned them. End rant.

Today on Tablet

Extreme awakening, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Mideast columnist Lee Smith argues that even as President Obama continues his rhetoric about appealing to Muslim moderates, his diplomats have begun to shift toward negotiating with extremists in the region. A Vox Tablet podcast features the rock outfit Yiddish Princess. The Scroll is really excited about Bloomsday tonight, and hopes you can make it!

J Street Challenges AIPAC Over Flotilla Letter

Relatedly, senators are inundated with mail

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(Flickr)

J Street has not openly warred with AIPAC—the more conservative Israel group whose dominance J Street was partly founded to counterbalance—in awhile. As far as energy sanctions against Iran are concerned, the two groups have actually been on the same team (which has not necessarily been the Obama administration’s team). But now, a letter AIPAC is circulating for signatures is drawing a direct challenge from the newer, smaller, “pro-Israel, pro-peace” outfit.

The AIPAC letter calls for U.S. support for Israel in the face of international condemnations of the flotilla incident and calls for an international probe. “Israeli forces used necessary force as an act of self-defense and of last resort,” it argues.

“These letters,” responds J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami, “have been drafted primarily for domestic political consumption rather than to advance the U.S. interest in peace and security in the Middle East.” (I received his letter in a press release, but haven’t seen it online yet; I’ll post it after the jump.) “J Street urges members of Congress to seek changes to the letters currently circulating before signing—or to write their own.” Among other things, Ben-Ami argues (in—what else?—a letter to legislators), the other letters do not sufficiently recognize the suffering of Gazans.

A J Street spokesperson clarified for me yesterday evening that the “letters” Ben-Ami refers to are the AIPAC one in the House, which has been lead-signed by Reps. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) and Ted Poe (R-Texas); and the one signed by Senate Majority and Minority Leaders Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), which urges the State Department to put IHH, the Turkish charity behind the flotilla, on the official U.S. terrorist list. I’ve received a letter from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations urging senators to sign on to that one.

Now you know why your congressperson didn’t answer that letter you sent them about the pothole on your block: They get quite a few!

Members Defend Israeli Flotilla Action [Ben Smith]
Reid-McConnell Letter: Consider IHH for Terrorist List [JTA]

After the jump, J Street’s letter. (more…)

Daybreak: Actual Aid To Finally Get Through

Plus Moonbeam and Goebbels, and more in the news

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• In the coda, the United Nations expects to deliver the flotilla’s humanitarian cargo to Gaza soon. [NYT]

• In Istanbul, Tom Friedman warns that U.S.-Turkey relations could be headed for catastrophe. [NYT]

• The Israeli flotilla probe will meet for the first time next week. [Haaretz]

• The East Jerusalem construction plan whose announcement three months ago, when Vice President Biden was in town, sparked tensions was just ratified. [JPost]

• California’s former governor (and current gubernatorial candidate) Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown says he regrets having compared a rival’s tactics to Goebbels’. [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

• Many at the U.N. still endorse the Secretary General’s plan for an international flotilla probe. [Ben Smith]

Sundown: Al and Laurie

Plus Devendra gets back at Natalie, and more

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Larry David.(Wikipedia)

• Al Gore reportedly cheated on Tipper with Laurie David (Larry’s ex). So not only Bill had a yen for Jewish girls! [NY Daily News]

• Entertaining profile of Micah Lasher, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s wunderkind negotiator. [NYT]

• A kosher vendor is suing the New York Mets for not letting it sell hot dogs on Friday nights and Saturdays. Wait, what? [JTA]

• A biography of the late Rabbi Schneerson has caused a stir among his followers, the Chabad Lubavitchers. [NYT]

• One reviewer says this of Emily Gould’s And The Heart Says Whatever: “I am Jewish, and grew up in an affluent Jewish suburb. I knew a lot of girls like Emily Gould. We called them Jewish American Princesses, girls who passed notes in class and made cruel fun of selected peers.” [PopMatters]

• Devendra Banhart becomes the latest artist to cancel Israeli gigs. Could this be related to his (Israeli) ex, Natalie Portman? [Jewcy]

Two Big Jewcies.

An Unaffiliate Stands Before the Law

Blogging Joshua Cohen’s ‘Witz’

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The Scroll will be blogging selected sections of Witz, the new novel from Tablet Magazine columnist Joshua Cohen. Josh will be celebrating James Joyce’s Ulysses with us this Wednesday, June 16.

It’s Kafka rather than Joyce who haunts the final section of Witz, in which the world’s remaining Unaffiliated—that is, those who have not converted to the brand of something-like-Judaism that has come to dominate the post-apocalyptic future, or “not chosen to be chosen” in the Newspeak of this new order—are rounded up and sent to their deaths (by a reconstituted Sanhedrin, naturally) in the reopened concentration camps of Polandland. The new genocide victims are, simultaneously, tourists, and their journeys to Whateverwitz, Whywald, and Nohausen, though mandatory, are also luxury vacations. “Give them the Grand Tour, show them the sites, take it all in, the works, allinclusive: then, terminal transfer to extermination facilities situated at the outer limits of major metropolises throughout the Pale … and then to murder them, every one of them, dead, and so only the pure will be left; that’s the plan.” They are flown first-class to Eastern Europe; “gifted with oodles of ointments to apply to their new tattoos”; taken to barracks with minibars and flat-screen televisions. “They’re not scheduled but punctually leisured to death, that’s how we like to think of it.”

But that’s not the Kafkaesque part. Each Unaffiliate either initially passes through one of several gates that leads directly to death or instead gets to pass through the Tourist Gate, and this is determined by a series of gatekeepers on loan from K’s famous parable “Before the Law” (which, I am personally convinced, is a parable about rabbinic Judaism and which I’m also sure inspired the structure of A Serious Man).

In Kafka’s version, a man stands before the gateway of the Law. (more…)

The Global Sport

Photo of the day

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(Musa al-Shaer/AFP/Getty Images)

Palestinians and Americans watch Saturday’s United States-England World Cup match on a screen mounted to the separation wall, in Bethlehem, in the West Bank.

Carrie Brownstein’s Torrid Affair With Phish

Big Jewcy has great taste

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Carrie Brownstein, rocking out.(Damon Green/Flickr)

Our roommates’ Big Jewcy list continues apace with a look at Carrie Brownstein, late of Sleater-Kinney.

My favorite thing about Carrie Brownstein? She gave Phish an honest chance:

Phish occupies a unique space in music: It is extremely popular with a large group of people, yet simultaneously misunderstood, judged and dismissed by another—particularly self-identified music snobs, indie rockers and a whole slew of other folks. … Phish has never had a radio hit for non-fans to use as fodder or evidence. In fact—and this is the most shocking, and what makes the band a rare breed—many Phish-phobes have never even heard Phish’s music!

Listening, everyone??

For those who don’t recall, the Big Jewcy’s Big Party is this Thursday in New York.

The Big Jewcy: Carrie Brownstein, Musician/Writer

Jews Debate Jews Debating Obama

Plus the other half of ‘Dysentery’ weighs in

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Commentary, the right-wing journal published founded by the American Jewish Committee [Ed.: The AJC no longer publishes it], has a massive symposium in which 31 “prominent American Jews” briefly discuss whether American Jews are likely to shift from the 4-to-1 support they gave President Obama in the 2008 election. Notable respondents include Elliott Abrams (whom Lee Smith profiled in Tablet Magazine), Alan Dershowitz, Abraham Foxman, Aaron David Miller (whom Lee Smith also profiled), Norman Podhoretz, Nextbook Press author Ruth Wisse, and Rabbi Eric Yoffie.

I’ll defer to J.J. Goldberg for a summary of the findings:

Don’t count on those American Jewish blockheads to stand up for Israel: 11.
Well, they’d better / Hey, they just might: 7.
I’m hoping Obama will see the light and we won’t have to choose sides: 7.
Obama isn’t Israel’s enemy / This symposium is a right-wing set-up: 4.
Miscellaneous (Both sides are nuts / We haven’t properly taught Israel to our young’uns): 2.

Meanwhile, from the other half of Dysentery, Dissent posts an essay co-written by founding editor Irving Howe in the aftermath of the Six Day War. “Israelis should take a constructive and humane attitude toward the problem of the Arab refugees,” the 1967 essay argues, “who, even if exploited by the Arab governments, are suffering human beings and deserve more sympathy and active help than they have gotten from a nation itself comprised of refugees.”

Obama, Israel, and American Jews: The Challenge—A Symposium [Commentary]
‘Commentary’ Polls the Experts [J.J. Goldberg]
From the Archives: Irving Howe and Stanley Plastrik, ‘After the Mideast War’ [Arguing the World]

Today on Tablet

The northern problem, Birthright, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Nicholas Noe sets the stage for what could be the forthcoming Israel-Hezbollah conflict. Books critic Adam Kirsch considers Birthright, and what its true goals are (hint: you put lots of young people on a bus together for several days). The Scroll needs to get on one of those trips.

Weather App Divides Jerusalem

But which side has better weather?

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(The author.)

Earlier this month, Mideast iPhone users checking the device’s weather application found that Jerusalem had been divided into … you guessed it: West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem. Ditto visitors to Yahoo!’s weather page.

The American Israeli Action Coalition drew the long straw and duly issued a press release condemning the “blunder” (which “bites Yahoo! and Apple to their Cores”). By Sunday, Jerusalem was reunited.

What’s weird is that Facebook allowed Golan residents to say they were Israeli nine months ago, and still no peace deal with Syria!

iPhone’s Two-City Solution Disturbs the Mideast Peace [LAT]
Earlier: Facebook Updates the Golan’s Status

Daybreak: U.N. Wants Its Own Probe

Plus more ships set sail, and more in the news

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• As two Iranian-sponsored ships set sail for Gaza, the United Nations will press ahead with plans for an international probe into the flotilla incident in addition to Israel’s. [Haaretz]

• No U.S. citizen is involved in Israel’s probe—the international observers are Irish and Canadian—in an effort to lend it credibility. [JPost]

• Israelis are trepidatious about what the probe will find and the consequences thereof, but glad it’s not an international one. [LAT]

• What’s Egypt to do? It can’t let Turkey become the new top pro-Palestinian Sunni state … but it sure likes that blockade of bordering Gaza. [WP]

• Ireland is asking Israel to withdraw a designated diplomatic staff member over the eight fake Irish passports allegedly used in the January assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. [Ynet]

• A former Jersey City, New Jersey, deputy mayor got three years for corruption charges stemming from Syrian Jewish scion Solomon Dwek’s whistle-blowing. [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

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