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Today on Tablet

Lights, camera, funding, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Staff Writer Marissa Brostoff reports on the battle to fund the annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in light of money shortfalls and a controversial documentary about the dead pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie. Shalom Auslander knows which other daily activity most resembles writing, and it ain’t pretty. Ellen Umansky profiles Alain Cohen, a Tunisian-Jewish chef who has set up a popular kosher joint in L.A. The Scroll desperately wants to try his (presumably non-pork) andouille sausage.

Typical American Jews Speak About Israel

Why did NYT reporter schlep to Michigan?

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The New York Times today did what it does every month or two and published an article about Jews that is all but guaranteed to shoot to the top of its Most Emailed list (if it hasn’t already). This one is about a familiar topic: The disconnect between American Jews and Jewish-American institutional leaders on the subject of Israel. The leaders have vociferously criticized the Obama administration for its harsh treatment of Israel in the past couple months; but many American Jews find themselves agreeing with the criticisms and aligning with upstart J Street, prominently featured in the article. While Obama’s approval rating has probably plummeted among the leaders, it has been basically constant among all American Jews. The article reports:

A newly outspoken wing of Israel supporters has begun to challenge the old-school reflexive support of the country’s policies, suggesting that one does not have to be slavish to Israeli policies to love Israel.

The article concerns all American Jews, but it is datelined “FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich.” In other words, the Times’s religion correspondent traveled to this Detroit suburb for the piece. He gathered a focus group consisting of non-participating members of Birmingham Temple, a secular humanistic synagogue there, in order to ask them about Israel and get a response from “the demographic middle.” I was curious why the author went here, and not somewhere else. Are Farmington Hills and Birmingham Temple representative of American Jews generally? Unrepresentative? Turns out, probably a bit of both. (more…)

Daybreak: Bibi and George Break Bread

Plus a new Dubai murder development! and more in the news

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Netanyahu and Mitchell yesterday.(Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv via Getty Images)

• Prime Minister Netanyahu and U.S. envoy George Mitchell met yesterday (and will meet today) to discuss the proximity talks’ ground rules. President Abbas will have his chance to agree to them Saturday. [WP]

• Sorry I missed this yesterday, but an editorial notes that the administration’s pressure on Israel accomplished little to nothing, and calls on it to focus on getting the two sides talking to each other. [WP]

• British elections are today. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg tells a reporter that he cares deeply for British and Israeli Jews; is against cultural sanctions and Britain’s participation in Durban 2; but also questions the Gaza blockade. [Haaretz]

• There are five more suspects in the Dubai murder of Hamas weapons man Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, so 32 total. Plus, there might be a New Zealand connection! [WSJ]

• Comments from the new head of the International Atomic Energy Association seem to presage a firmer stance on Iran. [WP]

• The Czech Republic’s foreign minister told President Peres that Israel should follow Czechoslovakia’s two-state lead. Oh, okay! [JPost]

Sundown: NYT On The Jews. Discuss.

Plus the Jordan Riverbed, and more

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The Jordan River.(Flickr)

• Four people have probably already emailed this to you, but the Times reports on the Israel-related disconnect between American Jews and American-Jewish institutional leaders. The article fails to mention J Street, though. Just kidding! [NYT]

• In a similar vein, J.J. Goldberg argues that the silent majority of American Jews is getting drowned out. [Haaretz]

• An environmental group warns that the stretch of the Jordan River from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea is in danger of drying out. Between Israel, Jordan, and Syria, 98 percent of river water is diverted. [JTA]

• Yuri Foreman: The ESPN profile. [ESPN]

• Prime KO, a Japanese joint on the Upper West Side “where kosher aspires to be cool,” opens. [City Room]

• Jewish Funds for Justice, which initiated a Gulf Coast charity after Hurricane Katrina, is asking for donations related to the oil spill. [Jewish Funds for Justice]

Check out Deputy Editor Gabe Sanders’s interview with Chilean-American author Ariel Dorfman from the PEN festival.

What To Say Before Eating Turkey

For when you can’t recall the right brucha

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An iBless Food screenshot.(Macworld)

Yup, for that, too. iBless Food is an iPhone application that tells you which Jewish prayer to say before eating a given type of food. And lets you hear ‘em!

I want an app that tells me to just say the Motzi and be done with it.

What’s The Blessing for Sushi? There’s an App for That … iBless Food [appModo]

Marital Relations

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A sex joke, but not too dirty. At least in the usual sense.

The Ties That Bind

Where the U.S.-Israel alliance remains strong

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Gates and Barak, best friends forever!(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

U.S.-Israel relations have been a bit of a roller coaster of late. First, after the East Jerusalem settlement announcement coincided with Vice President Biden’s visit, things went way down; now, following the “charm offensive,” they seem to be back up. And who knows what tomorrow will bring.

However, notes a valuable Wall Street Journal report, throughout this whole time, relations between the two countries’ defense and intelligence establishments have been consistent—consistently improving. The United States is selling Israel ever more sophisticated military technology. Intelligence-sharing has increased, particularly where halting Iranian arms shipments is concerned. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are basically BFFs at this point.

Three main factors explain the close cooperation:

• Even if you buy into the concept of “linkage” (and Tablet Magazine’s Lee Smith believes you shouldn’t), the two countries’ interests, particularly vis-à-vis Iran and its proxies in Damascus and Hezbollah, remain largely aligned.

• A stable region depends on the perception that the United States has Israel’s back; if Israel appears overly weak, that is more likely to invite attacks from its enemies.

• Israel is less likely to take military action against Iran—which many U.S. military and diplomatic leaders don’t want to see happen—if it feels its security is guaranteed by America.

The two-track nature of the alliance is reminiscent of what happened a couple months ago, while Israel was sustaining a bad bout of P.R. due to the general belief that it had assassinated Hamas weapons man Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. No matter what the diplomats were saying, it seemed pretty clear that military and (especially) intelligence ties wouldn’t suffer. And, apparently, they didn’t.

U.S.-Israel Ties Remain Intact [WSJ]
Related: Linked In [Tablet Magazine]

Report from Venezuela

Eye-opening clip on Chávez regime’s anti-Jewishness

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Great, great report below from HDNet about the Venezuela government’s affirmative desire to make life difficult for the several thousand Jews who live there. You see the ransacked Tiferet Israel congregation, the Sephardic synagogue vandalized last year shortly after Operation Cast Lead. You see the graffiti (“David I Shit On Your Star”—clever). You see one Jewish Venezuelan report of these acts, “It cultivates an atmosphere of fear against authority, of vulnerability.” And, perhaps most of all, you see every person asked explain that the regime of President Hugo Chávez is not a passive bystander to all this, but rather in many ways the active ringleader.

Watch the whole thing.

Earlier: Hugo Chávez’s Uses for Anti-Semitism

Eddy Portnoy Explains Nasalogy

Getting ready for Dawn 2010

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Tablet Magazine contributing editor Eddy Portnoy will be among the presenters at Dawn 2010, the Tablet-sponsored late-night cultural arts festival going down in honor of Shavuot on the evening of Saturday, May 15 in San Francisco.

Portnoy will give a lecture on “nasalogy,” which is, as you etymologists probably guessed, the study of noses. (He’ll also be penning a column on the subject soon, so be on the look-out!) “It is a 19th-century pseudo-science that is an offshoot of phrenology—it was created by a phrenologist, in fact,” Portnoy told me, further describing it as “medical quackery.”

“And there’s a Jewish component!” he added. “As you’d expect.”

There are basically six main types of noses, and three of them are ethnic or nationally based: The Roman nose, the Greek nose, the Jewish nose. Then there’s the cogitative nose, which is actually the most desirable—deep thinkers have wide nostrils. Then there are the snub nose and the turned-up nose, neither of which are really desirable. What’s interesting about the Hebrew nose is it’s also known as the commercial nose—none of this is really a surprise—and if you have one, you are guaranteed an ability to do well in business.

Portnoy told me that he has never stayed up late for Shavuot, as tradition dictates, before. “I’m a person who tends to fall asleep very easily,” he confided. “But I should be able to survive it.”

Today on Tablet

All linkage all the time, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Mideast columnist offers a panorama of “linkage”: The notion (which is false, he argues) that several other regional conflicts could hinge on the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The Frozen Rabbi keeps chugging along. And boy does The Scroll ever do the same.

Israel Fears Foreign Secretary Clegg

Left-wing politico may be top U.K. diplomat

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Clegg campaigning in Liverpool, England, yesterday.(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The heated British elections are tomorrow, and with the out-of-nowhere Liberal Democrats still looking strong, Israeli officials have (unofficially) began to worry that, should neither the (leading) Conservative nor (incumbent but ailing) Labour Parties gain an outright majority of Parliamentary seats, one of the two will have to bring the Lib Dems into a coalition. And that, in turn, would likely make Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg—the most left-wing of the three major party leaders—the foreign minister. Much to the Israeli government’s chagrin.

Weeks ago, the Financial Times argued that Clegg (whom the Times profiled today) would likely be the foreign minister (or secretary of state, in American English). Junior coalition partners in other European countries frequently receive the foreign ministry. But new reports yesterday confirmed that the Lib Dems would demand six ministerial posts, including the Foreign Office, in exchange for serving as a coalition’s junior partner.

The problem, as Israel sees it, is that Clegg—potentially Britain’s chief diplomat—has severely criticized Israel over Operation Cast Lead and the subsequent Gaza blockade; at one point called on European countries to stop selling Israel weapons; and, maybe worst of all, is seen as overly soft on Iran. (Incidentally, a Clegg-run foreign ministry would also probably see a slightly less strong British-American alliance.)

As things stand now, the Tories have a decent chance at capturing an outright majority of Parliamentary seats, which would all but completely foreclose a major Lib Dem role in the government. However, if Tories fail to get a House of Commons majority (and if Labour, a longer shot, fails to as well), look for the Tories or Labour to secure the prime ministership by allowing a comparatively marginal party to run the country’s foreign policy. You know, like Israel’s government does.


A Worried Jerusalem Watches the Rise of Nick Clegg
[JPost]
Earlier: British Election Is Actually Kind Of Thrilling

Daybreak: Hopefully, They Didn’t Start the Fire

Plus de-linking ‘linkage,’ non-Ambassador Dershowitz, and more in the news

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Professor Dershowitz in 1996.(Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

• Palestinian leadership warned that a West Bank mosque fire yesterday could threaten the planned proximity talks. Many Palestinians believe Israeli settlers lit the flame; Israeli authorities are not yet convinced the cause was arson. [NYT]

• Before departing New York, President Ahmadinejad pledged that new sanctions wouldn’t halt Iran’s nuclear development—though they will, he added, kill any chance at reconciliation with the United States. [WSJ]

• Both Egypt and Jordan argued that a nuclear-free Mideast, which a 1995 U.N. resolution calls for, would make dealing with Iran easier. The only (unofficially) nuclear state in the Mideast is, of course, Israel. [JPost]

• President Obama had lunch at the White House with Elie Wiesel yesterday, in what is being seens as the most blatant symbol yet of the administration’s “charm offensive” toward American Jews and Israelis. [NYT]

• More charm: An Obama national security official assured the Anti-Defamation League that the administration does not overly “link” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to others in the region. [Jeffrey Goldberg]

• Israel reportedly tried and failed to convince Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz to make aliyah and serve as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations. [JTA/Forward]

Sundown: Recapturing a Lost Berlin

Plus the ‘schmuck’ wars, Boca in Japanese, and more

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• Prompted by a newly translated German novel, Roger Cohen imagines what it would have been like to be a Jew in Berlin when the Nazis came to power. [NYT]

• Israeli painter Avigdor Arikha, a Holocaust survivor who went on to become one of the world’s foremost figurative painters, died at 81. [JTA/Forward]

• A Yiddish word—you know it as “schmuck”—has become ensnared in a controversial movie-naming story. [NYT]

• The untold tale of the planned early-20th-century Japanese utopia in … Boca. [The Smart Set]

• The latest graphic novel from James Sturm, a recent Vox Tablet guest, gets “Lowbrow-Brilliant” treatment on the Approval Matrix. [NYMag]

• Contributing editor Joshua Cohen’s massive new novel Witz gets a tiny (but positive!) blurb. [The New Yorker]

Tonight, on ESPN’s E:60 at 7 pm E.S.T., a report on Yuri Foreman. Here’s the trailer:

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Iran?

Elliott Abrams wants ‘crippling sanctions’ … for now

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Elliott Abrams.(Council on Foreign Relations)

Yesterday, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “dominating” the first day of a United Nations conference on nuclear arms reduction just a few blocks up the street, three experts on the Iranian president’s ambitions—including Elliott Abrams, the influential Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush foreign policy adviser recently profiled by Tablet Magazine—took the stage at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women to discuss “What to Do About Iran’s Nuclear Program.”

Although Abrams is best known as an architect of neoconservative foreign policy, he, along with Robin Wright, a veteran foreign affairs journalist, and David Albright, an authority on the technical side of nuclear weaponry, all spoke with the profound intellectual ambivalence of chessmasters facing an equally brilliant opponent. “It’s hard to believe that Iran’s not making nuclear weapons, but it’s very hard to prove that Iran is making nuclear weapons,” Albright admitted. And the point at which the United States will decide to take stronger action against Ahmadinejad’s regime, he added, will likely be the point at which we can no longer say with certainty that Iran does not have nukes. It’s the kind of Schrödinger’s cat scenario that gave schoolchildren and senior policy analysts anxiety attacks during the Cold War.

No one on stage was itching for either an immediate U.S. or Israeli military strike on Iran, though Abrams, more than the others, argued that such a strike could eventually become the best available option. Even Abrams maintained that, for now, a window remains open for the U.N. Security Council to impose “crippling sanctions” on Iran—essentially, stopping the country from exporting oil and importing petroleum—in a bid to stoke government-toppling unrest among Iran’s civilians. But that window is closing, Abrams noted: “They don’t talk about ‘crippling sanctions’ anymore—they talk about ‘sanctions that bite.’ But I can tell you, what’s going to come out of the Security Council is sanctions that nibble.”

Ultimately, the crowd seemed to have a much clearer opinion of “What to Do About Iran’s Nuclear Program” than the speakers did. The panelists, seated beneath twin American and Israeli flags, only occasionally brought up Israel, and when they did, they discussed it as just one of several important players in the Iranian nukes game. But every time the prospect of an Israeli military strike came up, the crowd cheered. The garrulous man sitting next to me, a retired civil servant named Michael Kirmayer who wore a “Friends of the IDF” cap and wristbands calling for the release of Gilad Shalit, knew exactly what ought to be done: bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran. “Bush wanted to do it, but was stopped by liberal left anti-Israel people,” he told me. “I have no question,” he added, “that Obama’s not qualified or competent to be president of this country.”

I’ll take Elliott Abrams any day.

Related: The Shadow Viceroy [Tablet Magazine]

Obama Leaves ‘Our Lord’ Out of It

Stays squarely in the Common Era

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Jesus.(Wikipedia)

This is actually awesome. You would be hard-pressed to find a young Jewish boy or girl who didn’t at some point look at a parent’s diploma and wonder why it had to use the words, “In the Year of Our Lord,” given that Hhe really isn’t everyone’s Llord. (A.D. has the same problem, standing for “Anno Domini,” the Latin original of ITYOOL.)

Which is why, in this blogger’s opinion, it was super-cool of the Obama administration to omit any reference to the Christian divine in its announcement of Jewish Heritage Month. Instead, it merely said “in the year two thousand ten.” In addition to being more sensitive, it’s also more accurate: As pedantic Jews like me never tire of pointing out, Jesus Christ was actually born in 5 B.C.—that is, Before Christ. Which, come to think of it, would constitute something of a miracle.

White House Drops Christian Dating for Jewish Proclamation
[Ben Smith]
Earlier: Happy Jewish Heritage Month!

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