Behind the Madoff Play’s Cancellation

D.C. theater head bowed to Wiesel’s request

Theater J Artistic Director Ari Roth.(Washington City Paper)

The always excellent Washington City Paper has a big feature all about Theater J’s cancellation, at Elie Wiesel’s request, of the world premiere of Imagining Madoff, a play that featured a fictional jailhouse meeting between Bernard Madoff and Wiesel.

The central irony is that the head of the theater (which is funded by the Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Center) has been known for pushing the envelope—he staged a controversial play about slain pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie, for example. Additionally, a rewrite of the script, in which Wiesel’s character was slightly altered (and no longer called Elie Wiesel), probably removed all grounds for legal action. Still, fear of the hassle that a lawsuit brings—as well as, just maybe, Artistic Director Ari Roth’s personal relationship with Wiesel—led Theater J to nix the world premiere, which will now take place this summer in upstate New York. (Roth has also pledged to stage the revised version of the play next year.)

As originally written, the play had only three characters: Madoff; Wiesel; and Madoff’s secretary. Yet, according to playwright Deborah Margolin, these figures, and particularly Wiesel, were primarily allegorical. Madoff stood for, well, all the bad stuff Madoff stands for; Wiesel stood for moral force. “A recurring element in the play,” WCP notes, “is Wiesel’s insistence that Madoff handle his personal assets as well as those of the foundation; by play’s end, Madoff has yet to agree, a poignant ellipsis that mirrors Madoff’s desire and inability to confess his sins to Wiesel.”

However, having received an advance copy of the script, Wiesel—whose foundation lost $15 million to Madoff, and who personally lost over $1 million—called it “obscene” and “defamatory,” prompting Margolin to change his character’s name. In the new version—which is the one being produced upstate—the character, a Long Island rabbi, is described as “Novelist, holocaust survivor, humanitarian, professor, lifelong witness,” which should sound familiar.

“Wiesel is part of the family,” Roth told WCP. He meant this figuratively, of course, except maybe not exclusively: His mother, who was hidden from the Nazis during World War II, has been friends with Wiesel for half a century. Though the altered version of the play almost certainly removed the chance that a court would find for Wiesel, “that wasn’t enough for Roth, who felt,” the paper reports, “that the gray areas of the law could land him in court—a place he’d willingly go to defend some sorts of creative freedom, but not the right to offend Elie Wiesel.”

Who’s Afraid of Elie Wiesel? [Washington City Paper]
Earlier: Madoff Play With Wiesel Scene Still On

Obama Calls For Two States, Broad Engagement

National Security Strategy emphasizes nonproliferation

President Obama yesterday.(Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

The Obama administration’s first National Security Strategy—the bedrock executive branch statement of principles, intentions, and methods for ensuring American security—has leaked. It is the first NSS since the Bush administration released one in March 2006, and if it has a single constant theme, running through the pages of diplomatic boilerplate and dry technocratic discussion on themes from foreign and military policy to economic growth, sustainable development, and cyberspace, it is this: “To succeed, we must face the world as it is.”

“Our close friend” Israel (and our “unshakable commitment to its security) of course comes up, though not at center stage. Most notable, I think, is the absence of more than the barest hint of “linkage,” the doctrine which states that the continued irresolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is harmful to U.S. interests in the region. It doesn’t really show up.

The administration considers the top threat to U.S. security to be the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The document focuses on the prospect of terrorists like Al Qaeda possessing them, as well as North Korea’s continued nuclear development. “For decades,” it argues, “the Islamic Republic of Iran has endangered the security of the region and the United States and failed to live up to its international responsibilities. In addition to its illicit nuclear program, it continues to support terrorism, undermine peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and deny its people their universal rights.” It proposes a combination of carrots and sticks to coax Iran onto a more integrated path; one subsection is titled, “Practicing Principled Engagement with Non-Democratic Regimes,” which is a controversial proposition.

The NSS specifically highlights the importance of the Non-Proliferation Treaty: “We will pursue a broad, international consensus to insist that all nations meet their obligations. And we will also pursue meaningful consequences for countries that fail to meet their obligations under the NPT or to meet the requirements for withdrawing from it.”

Then, there is the Mideast itself. The NSS calls for “a two-state solution that ensures Israel’s security, while fulfilling the Palestinian peoples’ legitimate aspirations for a viable state of their own.” (There are multiple Palestinian “peoples”?) And it declares:

The United States, Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab States have an interest in a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict—one in which the legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for security and dignity are realized, and Israel achieves a secure and lasting peace with all of its neighbors.

The United States seeks two states living side by side in peace and security—a Jewish state of Israel, with true security, acceptance, and rights for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestine with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.

From its lips …

Obama’s National Security Strategy: Advance Copy
[Laura Rozen]

Today on Tablet

The convert’s inconvenient zeal, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Taffy Brodesser-Akner notices that her husband, who converted to Judaism to marry her, desires to be more strictly observant than she. Music critic Alexander Gelfand profiles Mike Cohen, a New York Jewish woodwind player who collaborated with Abayudaya, or Ugandan Jews, on an album. The Scroll will be saying “Abayudaya” ten times fast all day.

Did Jordanian Leader Float Annexation?

The ‘Jordan as Palestinian state’ trope

The River Jordan.(Wikipedia)

Tuesday was Jordan’s independence day—the League of Nations mandate for Transjordan, as Israeli history buffs should know, was lifted on May 25, 1947—and on the occasion, the head of the country’s senate made a few interesting remarks. Specifically, he called for a Jordan “of two united banks, with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan emerging on both banks of the holy river”—that is, a country whose borders encompass not just its current area, east of its eponymous river, but area west of it, too.

But this is actually far more complicated than a simple expansionist statement directed against the Jewish state. In fact, Senator Taher al-Masri probably does not have Israel in mind at all.

Something you will hear from time to time on the Israeli and American right is that Jordan is the Palestinian state. Without getting into the historic or ethnic validity of that statement (to say nothing of its moral angle), for a time, Jordan maintained this line as well, until it strategically disowned it after 1987’s First Intifada. So Al-Masri’s statement is quite loaded: He may be implying that Jordan is the rightful home of the Palestinian people, and that the resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could involve Jordan’s annexation of Palestinian-inhabited land in the West Bank. Which, depending on where the line is drawn, could make many on the Israeli right—though probably not the religious right—quite happy.

In fact, it could—again, depending on where the lines are drawn—mesh with a recent statement from Al-Masri’s Israeli analog, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. A Likudnik, Rivlin said that he would prefer a one-state solution with all Palestinian Israelis gaining full citizenship than a two-state solution. It is easy to see how Al-Masri and Rivlin are at direct odds here. It is likewise not particularly difficult to see how their visions could be reconciled.

To be very clear, and so you don’t email me angrily: I am not endorsing Jordanian annexation of the West Bank; personally, I believe there are massive practical and moral problems with it, not least that the West Bank Palestinians would likely find themselves hugely and permanently screwed over by it. However, the fact that a prominent Jordanian politician seemed to float the idea strikes me as strategically and especially politically significant. You may hear more about it, is all.

Jordanian Official Speaks of ‘State of Two Banks’ [Ynet]
Israeli Official: Accepting Palestinian States into Israel Better Than Two States [Haaretz]

Daybreak: Fated Flotilla

Plus de Klerk denies nukes report, and more in the news

The ‘Freedom Flotilla.’(WSJ)

• The Gaza-bound “Freedom Flotilla,” carrying over 800 activists, will soon be halted by the Israeli military’s blockade. But what will the PR fallout be? [WSJ]

• Former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Florida) is being strongly considered as America’s next ambassador to Israel. He would constitute a “high-impact political appointee.” [Laura Rozen]

• F.W. de Klerk, the final leader of apartheid-era South Africa, vigorously denied the report that Israel offered to sell his country nuclear weapons. [JPost]

• Amnesty International, which believes Israel committed war crimes in last year’s Gaza conflict, accused the U.N. Security Council permanent members of shielding it from consequences. [Haaretz]

• A federal judge ruled that police acted constitutionally in uncovering a plan to blow up two Bronx synagogues. So the case will proceed. [NYT]

• Iranian President Ahmadinejad sniped at Russia for backing sanctions at the Security Council. [NYT]

Sundown: Remnick Sees Racism Among Orthodox

Plus nuclear ambiguity clarified, and more

New Yorker editor David Remnick.(Wikipedia)

New Yorker editor David Remnick senses racism in some (though by no means all) of the Orthodox community’s antipathy to President Obama. [The Jewish Star]

• Noah Pollak has maybe the fiercest and most complete conservative reaction to Peter Beinart’s essay that I’ve seen yet. [Commentary]

• The one-of-a-kind Eli Valley does noir. [Forward]

• The Dubai assassination of Hamas weapons man Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, probably by the Mossad, has made a star out of Dubai’s charismatic, spotlight-seeking police chief. [WSJ]

• Tablet Magazine contributor Matt Gross signs off after four years as the Frugal Traveler. [NYT]

• Israel’s nuclear ambiguity, explained Explained. [Slate]

More Bloggingheads: Has Israel lost young American Jews?

‘Holy Rollers’ Sacrifices Intrigue and Precision

For slightly oversweetened morality play

Jesse Eisenberg in Holy Rollers.(Holy Rollers)

Holy Rollers, the movie about Hasidic ecstasy smugglers that opened last week, is a reasonably good film that could have been a great one. Let’s start with my second contention: Holy Rollers could have been great because the true story it’s based on—the fact that much of the ecstasy circulating around New York City in the late ’90s was supplied by an Israeli mobster who hired ultra-Orthodox young men from Brooklyn as trans-Atlantic drug mules—is cinematic gold. Can you imagine what Tarantino or Scorsese or David Simon could have done with a cast that included not only the aforementioned black-hatters and Israeli drug kingpins but also ravers, feds, and rival drug cartels of varying ethnic origin?

All of these elements do appear in Holy Rollers, but their colors are muted and their interactions are half-hearted. Director Kevin Asch chose to go the gentle-coming-of-age story route, focusing on the journey of Jesse Eisenberg’s Sam Gold, a (fictional) 20-year-old straight outta Brooklyn who journeys from restless yeshiva bocher to naïve-but-eager smuggler to minor-league gangsta, until his own soul brings him down (well, and then the cops do). Eisenberg is totally cute in payes, but he basically plays the role as though Sam were any sweet, angsty white kid instead of one from a very specific cultural location. (more…)

Rivers on a Roll

The hardest-working woman in show business

Joan Rivers last month.(Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festiva)

Move over Betty White: Joan Rivers is the next young lady of the moment. Besides making two television series—her second season of TV Land’s How’d You Get So Rich? has just begun, and shooting for her WE reality show Mother Knows Best starts this summer—Rivers is the subject of a critically-acclaimed documentary that premiered at Sundance, and a profile in New York.

The article follows the 76-year-old comedienne as she goes to Sundance to promote Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work, set for a theatrical release on June 11. Along the way, we learn about:

• The Joan Rivers Diet, under which “You can eat anything you want before 3 p.m. and then nothing for the rest of the day.”

•Her friendship with Prince Charles. “Not inner circle,” she says. “Outer-inner circle.”

• Her age. “Age sucks. It’s the final mountain.”

The documentary also highlights the doggedness that keeps Rivers in a Versailles-like mansion on East 62nd Street, including her meticulous maintenance of an archive of one-liners, which are organized by category in an index card catalog (think your town library anytime before 1999). The documentary also apparently shows her soft side, including intimate moments with her grandson Cooper as they make a Thanksgiving food delivery to a wheelchair-bound woman living with multiple sclerosis.

This past Sunday night, on NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice —yup, she’s on that too; a former winner, she is host Donald Trump’s right-hand-woman this season—she kvelled over Bret Michaels’s rock-solid performance on the show as well as his tenacity to live through recent health problems. Perhaps Rivers should be kvelling about herself, too?

Joan Rivers Always Knew She Was Funny [NYMag]

Soul Khan Reps the Old Testament

Jewish rapper mocks ‘phony sequel’

Soul Khan.(Facebook)

When Mos Def, the dean of brainy hip-hop, calls a free-style rap showdown “one of the dopest battles I’ve ever seen,” you know you’re in for something of Biblical proportions. Quite literally, in this case: When West Coast rapper QP met Brooklyn’s Soul Khan—a mustachioed, bespectacled Jew who looks more like a summer intern in an accounting firm than an MC—the rhymes soon came down to Old Testament vs. New.

“His dad’s name is Judas,” rapped QP, “the same dude who betrayed Jesus / ‘Cause that’s the type of shit a Jew does.” (“Jew does,” “Judas”: Not a bad rhyme.)

Reaching back into his own tradition, Soul Khan quickly retorted with the perfect comeback. “You spit the ten plagues,” he rapped, “I can’t really lose / ‘Cause that was dope, but guess what / The plagues came from the Jews.”

A few quips later, Khan was even more definitive: “I’m part of the chosen people,” he shouted, “We wrote the Old Testament, you followed a phony sequel.”

Beinart Explains Himself

What AIPAC et al should do


Your lunchtime listening/viewing is Peter Beinart—he of that essay—and Washington Times reporter Eli Lake duking it out on Bloggingheads.

Below: Lake pushes back against the notion that AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and others in the American Jewish establishment have an obligation to publicly criticize Israel more than they already do; Beinart maintains that AIPAC worked against, for example, the 1990s peace process.

The Crisis of Liberal Zionism [BhTV]
Related: King Without a Crown [Tablet Magazine]
The Go-Between [Tablet Magazine]

Ground Zero Mosque Gets OK

13-story plan supported by ‘Jewish Uncle Tom’ Stringer

A press conference in front of the mosque site.(Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

The path has been cleared for a mosque to be built about two blocks north of the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan. Last night, the relevant community board approved the planned 13-story, $100 million mosque—to be called Cordoba House—at 45 Park Place.

Though the actual vote was overwhelmingly in favor, many are vocally against it. Foremost among these is Tea Party activist Mark Williams, who called the mosque “a 13 story middle finger aimed at 911 victims.” Earlier, he accused Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who supports the mosque’s construction, of being a “Jewish Uncle Tom.” Charming, those people!

Community Board Approves Mosque Near World Trade Center Site After Emotional Meeting [DNA Info]

Today on Tablet

A new way of remembering, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, contributing editor Robin Cembalest considers how a forthcoming Holocaust memorial in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, might break from past trends. Yoav Fromer culls lessons for the U.S. withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan from the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon ten years ago. Mideast columnist Lee Smith talks to Jordan’s ambassador about the new state that may soon exist on his country’s border. And The Scroll sure could use a second cup of coffee.

Author Confirms S. Africa Nukes Report

Describes different Israeli responses to apartheid

Sasha Polakow-Suransky.(Random House)

At Just Journalism, former Tablet Magazine staffer Michael Weiss interviewed Sasha Polakow-Suransky, whose new book, Unspoken Alliance, was responsible for the recent report (vigorously denied by Israeli officials) that in the 1970s Israel offered to sell apartheid-era South Africa nuclear weapons. (In fact, the titular “unspoken alliance” is that between post-1967 Israel and the white South African regime. Benjamin Pogrund praised the book in Tablet Magazine last week.)

Polakow-Suransky stands by his research, though he says that certain other revelations in his book—for example, that Israel purchased uranium from South Africa in the ‘80s without safeguards—were perhaps more worthy of front-page treatment.

Most interestingly, to me at least, Polakow-Suransky lays out his typology for where Israeli politicians fell regarding the apartheid state. He sees three broad groups:

The founding fathers, like David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir, who were morally opposed to apartheid and therefore had no desire for a South African partnership. “They represented the moral vision of Israeli policy,” Polakow-Suransky states.

The Labour Party realists, like current President Shimon Peres. Their desires to strengthen Israel’s security trumped other moral considerations, and therefore they sought out the helpful alliance. “It was strict realpolitik,” he explains. “So Israel and South Africa got in bed together.”

The Revisionist Zionists, like Ariel Sharon, who were hardcore anti-Communist and so approved of South African on that ground.

Polakow-Suransky explicitly denies that Israel currently has an apartheid system. However, it is nonetheless interesting to ponder how the three above categories might map on to present-day critics and supporters of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Interview with Sasha Polakow-Suransky, Source for Guardian Report on Israel and South Africa [Just Journalism]
Related: Binding Ties [Tablet Magazine]

Daybreak: U.S. Sanctions Brake For U.N. Ones

Plus Bibi to stop by D.C., and more in the news

Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday.(Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

• The Iran sanctions bill’s sponsors have deliberately slowed its progress—with AIPAC’s backing—now that multilateral U.N. sanctions are on track. [Laura Rozen]

• Come on down! President Obama told Prime Minister Netanyahu that, y’know, since he is going to be in Canada next week anyway, he should probably just drop by the White House and say hi. [Haaretz]

• And Netanyahu told chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel that, since he is in the neighborhood and all for his son’s bar mitzvah, they may as well meet today, and they are. [JTA]

• The “Gaza flotilla” of nine aid ships should hit the Strip by Friday or Saturday. It is not entirely clear whether the IDF will allow them through the blockade. [JPost]

• Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called Yasser Arafat’s Second Intifada “one of the worst mistakes of our lives.” [JPost]

• A New York left-wing activist named Lori Berenson was released from a Peruvian jail in order to raise her child, though she still may not leave the country until 2015, when her sentence for collaborating with terrorists is over. (Oh, and in case you’re wondering, her lawyer is her husband and the child’s father.) [LAT]

Sundown: Rahm Eats Trayf

Plus the death of a donkey, and more

Rahm Emanuel.(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

• Spotted! Rahm Emanuel and family, in Eilat! Eating shellfish! But don’t worry, folks: He bought his own shrimp. [Ben Smith]

• A $33 million grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation is to be divided between the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements. [JTA]

• A small, Gaza-based, Syrian-backed terrorist group blew up 200 kilograms of dynamite in a donkey cart. No one was killed; the donkey was. [Sighs.] [JPost]

• Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said he had not known of appointee Fred Malek’s Jew-counting past, and also vouched for him. [WP]

• A Belgian rocker named Eric Grossman called Elvis Costello a “douchebag” for canceling his Israeli tour. [Ynet]

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