Talking Turkey, Blockade Bungled

And McCain blames Obama

Rural Israeli youths march in solidarity today.(Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

• Fred Kaplan explains just how routine a task it is to properly maintain a blockade, and so just how bizarre it is that the sophisticated Israeli navy failed to complete it. [Slate]

• The always-wise David Ignatius says the flotilla incident has hopefully revealed to the Israelis—and the world—that Turkey is serious about regional hegemony. The next step, he adds, is to make this the whole world’s problem. [WP]

• Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) says President Obama’s demand for a full settlement freeze led to the fiasco. Somehow. [The Hill]

• The Israeli government is not apologizing. [LAT]

• Noah Millman points out that, for better or (quite possibly) worse, the blockade receives broad support from the Israeli public. [The American Scene]

• Jeffrey Goldberg reports from Israel that people there are scared that their damaged reputation will make them look vulnerable. [Jeffrey Goldberg]

• Israeli novelist Amos Oz says the fiasco has shown the limits of the power of force. [NYT]

• David Frum says Oz’s dovishness would be more workable if he had more counterparts in Hamas. [Frum Forum]

• Thomas Friedman puts the incident in the context of fraying relations between “two of America’s best friends.” [NYT]

• Bernard Kouchner, France’s foreign minister and one of Europe’s most prominent liberals, called the raid “a very grave mistake” from Israel’s perspective. [Ynet]

• Hussein Ibish dissects why Israel’s attempt to sell its counter-narrative is failing. [Ibishblog]

• Tablet Magazine columnist Etgar Keret finds himself an unlikely diplomatic correspondent. [Haaretz]

• Israeli novelist David Grossman says the fiasco is merely the natural extrapolation of the cruel and unwise blockade itself. [Guardian]

The Flotilla Clarifies the Conflict’s True Nature

Your afternoon sanity break


This has been making the rounds, and deservedly so.

First, a little historical background. The side of the conflict that I support comprises nothing but honourable and courageous men and women. They are motivated by nothing more than a desire to defend their own families and rich culture. Their cause is right and these people are completely justified in every action, no matter what they do. By contrast, the other side is composed entirely of amoral murderous thugs who will stop at nothing to achieve their ends. Far from achieving a just settlement and a lasting peace, these thugs are only interested in perpetuating the cycle of violence and brutality.

Why The Gaza Flotilla Attack Proves That I Am Right About Israel/Palestine [Conniptions]

Turkish Delight?

Flotilla backers, majority of activists hail from Turkey

The Turkish and Palestinian flags wave at a protest.(Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

Lee Smith devoted today’s column to the Gaza flotilla’s Turkish connection, and the odd situation this puts the United States in. As further facts about the flotilla and its supporters come to light, this Turkish link seems all the stronger.

For the starters, there are the passengers. Of the 682 detainees, over half—380—were Turkish. Nearly half of the dead—4—were Turkish, too.

Then, as always, you must follow the money. I.H.H.—the group behind the flotilla—is funded, the New York Times reports, by many of the same wealthy, religious, Istanbul-based merchants that are credited with having brought Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist party to power.

Turkey has withdrawn its ambassador from Tel Aviv. For the record, it says it will normalize relations … when Israel lifts the Gaza blockade.

Bad Moon Rising [Tablet Magazine]
Israel Freeing Flotilla Detainees [Ynet]
Turkish Funds Helped Group Test Blockade [NYT]

The Yiddish Robin Hood

New musical has a greedy Jew, but in the neighborly way

Scene from The Adventures of Hershele Ostropolyer.(Michael Priest Photography)

Last weekend, I checked out a preview of The Adventures of Hershele Ostropolyer, a new Yiddish-language musical (with English and Russian supertitles) that opens tomorrow night at the Baruch (College) Performing Arts Center in Manhattan.

The show is produced by the National Yiddish Theater, or Folksbiene, and arrives as that 95-year-old troupe faces real competition from the New Yiddish Rep, which started three years ago partly in reaction to what its founders saw as a certain stuffiness in the older company. The New Yiddish Rep has been stealing a good deal of the very small limelight for Yiddish theater, and the companies have had their public spats. But Hershele seems to mark a reconciliation of sorts—New Yiddish Rep director Shane Baker (whom I profiled last year) appears in the new show. And Hershele is silly, but it’s not stuffy. (more…)

Shoah Stories Win Prestigious Prize

A love story swallowed by the Holocaust

The Grunewald tracks.(Photo by the author)

Congratulations are in order to Sarah Wildman and Slate magazine: Her and their series, “Paper Love: Inside the Holocaust Archives,” won the 2010 Peter R. Weitz Journalism Prize, which is given by the German Marshall Fund “for excellence and originality in reporting on Europe and the transatlantic relationship.” In five parts, Wildman reports on the recently opened International Tracing Service archive, as well as her quest to find the fate of her grandfather’s apparent lover, who was trapped in Berlin after he had escaped. Read it in parts on the Internet, print it out and read it on a train, but do read it.

The final installment closes with Wildman at the train tracks in Grunewald, the posh neighborhood in western Berlin. On these train tracks, “on Jan. 29, 1943—the day of Valy’s deportation, 1,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz, 100 to Theresienstadt. The tracks stretch out into the distance, covered with vegetation in places but still totally visible.”

This picture of the fateful Grunewald track comes from my post from a month ago about my own visit to Berlin.

Paper Love [Slate]
Earlier: Postcards From Berlin

Today on Tablet

The Turkish conundrum, video evidence, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Mideast columnist Lee Smith argues that the flotilla disaster represents the coming to a head of the United States’s contradictory alliance with an increasingly resentful Turkish regime. Staff writer Marissa Brostoff presents Harry Borden’s photographs of Holocaust survivors. Allan Nadler remembers the seminar he took with great Yiddish writer Chaim Grade at Harvard over 30 years ago. Max Boot introduces some videos you ought to see. And The Scroll steels itself for another day of this.

Passengers, Backers Spanned Globe

And we talk to Flotilla organizer Adam Shapiro

Protestors in Manhattan yesterday.(Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Early this morning, Israel began deporting more than 680 people detained aboard the Gaza-bound “Freedom Flotilla” to their home countries, from Australia to Yemen. According to Israeli authorities, more than half came from Turkey, but they were joined by contingents from Britain, France and the U.S.—and, in the case of bestselling author Henning Mankell, Sweden. It’s not clear how many Jewish activists, if any, took part in the convoy itself—85-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, who escaped Europe before the Holocaust, decided at the last minute to remain behind in Cyprus—but American Jews were certainly represented in the crowds who took to the streets in Jerusalem yesterday to protest the Israeli government’s decision to raid the convoy. Among them: Emily Henochowicz, a 21-year-old student at New York City’s Cooper Union, who lost an eye after being hit in the face with a tear gas canister.

Maybe it’s the Beinart effect, but we haven’t heard anyone publicly call Henochowicz a self-hating Jew, or any of the nastier names that have been used over the years. It’s a long way from 2002, when New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser declared one Adam Shapiro the “Jewish Taliban” after he spent the night with Yasser Arafat in Ramallah at the height of the Second Intifada. Shapiro’s parents, both schoolteachers, were subsequently harassed at their Brooklyn home and targeted by fliers denouncing their son as a traitor to America and the Jews.

As it happens, Shapiro was among the flotilla’s organizers, along with his wife, Huwaida Arraf, the American-born daughter of an Arab Israeli Christian. (Shapiro stayed in Washington, where he made TV appearances, while Arraf, who was aboard the largest ship, was featured by telephone on CNN.) Shapiro told Tablet Magazine yesterday that while he grew up celebrating Seders, he hasn’t considered himself Jewish since he was a teenager. “I consider Judaism to be a religion and not an ethnic identity,” Shapiro, now 38, explained. He hasn’t yet read Beinart’s much-discussed essay about American Zionism, but was glad to hear of American Jews wrestling with the occupation. “It seems like it’s shaking things up, and that’s good,” Shapiro told Tablet Magazine. “Obviously the American Jewish community has a role to play—if you want to engage as Jews, think about what it means to be Jewish, to follow the traditions of the Jewish people.”

However, he added, he was less concerned about the response of American Jews than of the American government, which he felt hasn’t been firm enough in condemning Israel for jeopardizing the safety of its citizens. “I identify as an American citizen, and that’s where my concern is,” he said. So was the flotilla a victory for the Free Gaza movement, at great cost to Israel’s image, as analysts across the board have declared? “I wouldn’t call this a success,” Shapiro told us, “because it’s a huge tragedy.”

Israel Begins Deportation of Activists Seized on Gaza Flotilla [Haaretz]

Daybreak: Israel Begins Deporting Flotilla Activists

And the fallout continues


• Israel has begun deporting the 600-odd flotilla activists captured on Monday. The country’s interior ministry said that about 400 Turkish nationals were being placed on flights back to Turkey, and a Jordanian news agency reports that another 126, among them citizens of several Muslim countries, had been sent by bus to Jordan. [NYT]

• The flotilla-as-Exodus meme–which, developed by several commentators on Monday, notes the parallels between the British public relations disaster in Mandate Palestine and the Israeli p.r. disaster this week–gains more traction, this time from a former Mossad agent. [Wash Post]

• Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon held a conference call yesterday evening with “more than 700 heads of Jewish federations and Jewish community leaders,” according to a press release. Ayalon’s talking points included linking the flotilla to Hamas and other Islamist organizations, and calling for a refocus on Iran. [Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs]

• But even some staunchly pro-Israel American Jewish leaders are voicing criticisms. “Why did it take so long to get the films [of the ship-board violence] out?” asked Malcolm Hoenlein, executive head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “It appears [the soldiers] weren’t prepared for what they found, even though they knew what they were going to find.” [Jerusalem Post]

Sundown: Soldier Recounts Raid

We’re getting all ver-Klimt, and more

Gustav Klimt’s Frauenbildnis (Portrait of Ria Munk III).(Business & Leadership)

• The commander who landed on the biggest flotilla ship says he was beaten, threatened by knives, and thrown down a deck. [Ynet]

• After confiscating weapons, and not including expired medicine (which was apparently most of it), the Israeli military transported the flotilla’s aid cargo into Gaza. [Arutz Sheva]

• Turkey’s foreign minister criticized the United States for preventing a stronger condemnation. [WSJ]

• Mossad head Meir Dagan, who is widely respected, testifed, “Israel is becoming less of a strategic asset for America.” [JPost]

• A Holocaust victim’s heirs are preparing to auction off a Gustav Klimt for as much as an estimated $26 million. [Ynet]

• Seeds from a kibbutz-made, genetically-modified type of cherry tomato are selling for $160,000 per pound (!). [LAT]

Kaus for Senate!

And, 20 years ago, Wellstone for Senate!

Those are some fast Jews!

What They Talk About When They Talk About Gaza

Your Flotilla opinion round-up

The Palestinian Ambassador to the Arab League.(Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

• Yoav Fromer argues that Israel’s pre-existing image problem and the activists’ relative savvy should have dissuaded Israel from attempting to “resolve a political challenge through military action.” [Tablet]

• While the American Jewish Committee (and the Anti-Defamation League too) fingered the Free Gaza movement, J Street called for a “credible, independent” Israeli-sponsored investigation. [JTA]

• Though he defends the soldiers, Peter Beinart blames their political leaders for the blockade itself and pro-Israel Americans who have succumbed to the “epidemic of not watching.” [The Daily Beast]

• Leslie Gelb goes the opposite route: He says the soldiers mishandled the raid, but that enforcing the blockade was legal and just, and “only knee-jerk left-wingers … would dispute this.” [The Daily Beast]

• Ralph Peters says the incident is best understood as Turkey’s assertion of increased hegemony. [NY Post]

If you buy the blockade, notes Shmuel Rosner, then enforcing it is clearly necessary. [Slate]

• To J.J. Goldberg, Israel is Charlie Brown, always thinking that, this time, it really can kick the football. [Forward]

• “One really does have to marvel at the incredible own goal the Israelis have just scored.” Hey, over here we prefer football—real football—analogies, Mr. Muqawama! [Abu Muqawama]

• Hussein Ibish notes that, in a sense, everything went exactly according to the activists’ plan, and according to their best wishes. [Ibishblog]

• George Packer sees “a classic triumph of civil disobedience over state power.” Oh, and nice headline, Mr. Packer! [Interesting Times]

• Reza Aslan says Israel’s “vaunted” hasbara, or public relations machine, even with all its storied “power and potency,” cannot clean up this mess. First, aren’t “power” and “potency” the same thing? Second, is there any evidence the hasbara has had either any time recently? [The Daily Beast]

Murder in Damascus

Who killed a top Iranian general?


And now for something somewhat slightly different: A top general in Iran’s increasingly prominent Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was reportedly assassinated on May 16 in Damascus. It is not clear by whom. His death had been known, but Syrian authorities described him as a businessman killed in the course of a robbery. According to Debka News, though, which cites French intelligence and Syrian exiles, the lethal intruders nabbed documents and laptops but no valuables.

Khalil Sultan (no, not that Khalil Sultan) ran the IRGC’s covert operations in Damascus and Beirut, Debka says. And it theorizes that his killers may be:

• A “foreign element” with “an interest in sabotaging Iran’s covert activities” (well, I can think of one);

• Syrian Sunnis, who want to minimize Shiite—read: Iranian—influence;

• Iran itself, which may have been troubled by Sultan’s close friendship with a top general who reportedly defected.

Western sources disclose that his death caused deep shock in top Syrian and Iranian government and security circles. His assassins’ success in reaching this top secret agent in the most closely-guarded neighborhood of the capital, seat of Syrian government institutions and domicile of senior officials, has caused Syrian intelligence and the regime as a whole deep embarrassment.

Me? I just can’t wait to see this summer’s new line of fake mustaches.

Iranian Guards General Assassinated in Damascus [Debka News]

Yes We Cohen!

Prominent politico forges Dutch Third Way

Job Cohen.(a href="">NYT Mag)

The New York Times Magazine—a weekly magazine of Jewish life and culture—profiles Job Cohen, the longtime former Amsterdam mayor now leading his Labor Party into the Netherlands’s June 9 elections. His parents hid from the Nazis and his grandparents were killed at Bergen-Belsen, and he is “in many ways a traditional European leftist.” But he has forsaken the European left’s typical (and bankrupt) multiculturalism, instead—like several charismatic left-wing Boomer politicians before him—crafting a Third Way “for mainstream parties on the Continent to successfully combat the swelling tide of populist, anti-immigrant voices” like that of Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party. (Perhaps Cohenism is the sort of thing author Paul Berman has in mind?)

Says author Russell Shorto:

Some see in Cohen’s rise the possibility of a new Dutch society, and with it perhaps a hint of how new national identities could form in Europe. In what would be confirmation of the worst fears of a Wilders, the new identity prototype has an inclusiveness that inverts the centuries-old formula. As the Jew and the Turk stood side by side with their fellow candidates—which included a good mix of other ethnicities as well as native Dutch—Cohen proclaimed, “This is the Netherlands!”

Read the whole thing. And, of course, check out the Yes We Cohen! Facebook group.

The Integrationist [NYT Mag]
Related: No Debate [Tablet Magazine]

Egypt Lifts the Blockade, ‘9/11 for Turkey’

Your midday Flotilla update

Prime Minister Netanyahu visits a wounded soldier in Tel Aviv today.(Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images)

The two biggest pieces of news are that Egypt, whose blockade of its border with Gaza has complemented Israel’s land-and-sea blockade, opened the Rafah crossing; and another boat, currently off the coast of Italy, is en route to Gaza, with a second likely to join it. Egyptian officials said the opening at Rafah is temporary and designed to allow humanitarian aid.

Turkey, whose government many suspect had a pretty big role in organizing and sponsoring the flotilla, continues to ratchet up the rhetoric. A day after the prime minister described the Israeli raid as “state terrorism,” the country’s foreign minister declared, “Psychologically, this attack is like 9/11 for Turkey.” (Ooof.) “Citizens of member states were attacked by a country that was not a member of NATO,” he added. Turkey has also recalled its ambassador.

Here is a helpful profile of the Free Gaza Movement, which is the group behind the flotilla.

The IDF’s top general praised the soldiers’ performance.

Finally, I linked to it in the morning round-up, but Ben Smith’s story is worth a closer look. For one thing, it gets at the terrible irony of this happening just when it was clear that the U.S. “charm offensive” aimed at winning over Israel (and American Jews) was making real progress. But it also provides a great illustration of the insane bizarro world you enter when the subject is Israel. On the one hand, this truly was a screw-up, to the extent that the United States’ exceedingly mild language could get it into real trouble with the Muslim countries to which it has been practicing outreach. On the other hand, seemingly the rest of the entire world does not yet even buy the basic fact that—whether or not enforcing the blockade (as well as the blockade itself) was right or wrong—these were not unarmed, harmless, passive civilians on those ships.

“The situation is that they’re so isolated right now that it’s not only that we’re the only ones who will stick up for them,” said an American official. “We’re the only ones who believe them—and what they’re saying is true.”

Egypt Opens Gaza Border as New Ship Tests Israeli Blockade [WSJ]
Israel Says Free Gaza Movement Poses Threat to Jewish State [WP]
Turkish Foreign Minister: Israeli Raid on Gaza Flotilla ‘Like 9/11’ for His Country [WP]
‘We’re The Only Ones Who Believe Them’ [Politico]
Israel Bites the Bait [Tablet Magazine]

Four Rabbis and a Wedding

Über-Jewish union in the NYT

Jews getting married.(Flickr)

Before spending the rest of the day discussing you-know-what, can we take a brief blogpost to recognize that the New York Times—whose new official Scroll epithet is “a daily magazine of Jewish life and culture”—chronicled the wedding of two rabbis by two more rabbis?

And there’s more! Gawker’s nuptial scorekeeper, one Phyllis Nefler (which could be a Jewish name, although I hear it’s a pseudonym), determined that the Glazer-Skloot union was actually not the weekend’s Jewiest. That honor, rather, belongs to the happy coupling of Julie Goldman and David Weinfeld. The bride’s father sits on the board of the American Jewish Committee’s Boston chapter; the bridegroom wrote his thesis on American Jewish humor and “identifies” with Larry David (wow). Only one rabbi at their wedding, though.

Erin Glazer and Joseph Skloot [NYT]
Scoring Sunday’s Nuptials: Welcome to Wedding Season [Gawker]

Today on Tablet

Ingall comments back, Kirsch on Scoop, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, columnist Marjorie Ingall addresses readers’ exclamatory objections to last week’s blockbuster column (here) on how liberals should educate their kids about Zionism. Books critic Adam Kirsch looks at the history of neoconservatism through the lens of hawkish Sen. Henry Jackson and his 1970s followers, so-called “Scoop Jackson Democrats.” F. Gregory Gause III crafts a valid isolationist critique of U.S. policy in the Mideast while debunking an invalid one. Josh Lambert has his weekly look at forthcoming books of interest. And The Scroll is back after a three-day weekend. What, did something happen while we were gone?

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