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Daybreak: Bibi Wants Face-to-Face Talks

Plus the futile Flotilla? and more in the news

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The Gazan naval police awaiting the Freedom Flotilla.(NYT)

• Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wants to move “as speedily as possible” from the current U.S.-mediated proximity talks to direct talks. [AP]

• Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will meet with President Obama at the White House in early June, three days after Netanyahu does. [Laura Rozen]

• Israel has alternately condemned and mocked the “Freedom Flotilla” now making its way toward Gaza, where it will attempt to breach the IDF’s blockade. The IDF has pledged to prevent the up to nine vessels from reaching Gaza. [NYT]

• Israel is set to announce its formula for compensating West Bank settlers hurt by the current six-month construction moratorium. [JPost]

• Syrian President Bashar Assad defended (to Charlie Rose) his backing of Hamas and Hezbollah, while also asserting that Iran supported informal Syrian-Israeli talks. [Haaretz]

• After a key House vote, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the U.S. military will almost certainly be repealed. Almost all the prominent non-Orthodox American Jewish groups are for this, as is Obama. [NYT]

Sundown: Son-of-Rahm Gets Presidential Gift

Plus how Israel doesn’t relate to the oil spill, and more

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Rahm Emanuel at the Western Wall today.(AFP/Getty Images)

• Chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel’s family met with Shimon Peres; the Israeli president gave the bar mitzvah boy a pocket watch a Kiddush cup and a book of Psalms. [Ynet]

• Shmuel Rosner wonders why many magazines—he singles out Foreign Policy—give disproportionate attention to Israel. [Rosner’s Domain]

• Cyprus denied permission for the Gaza-bound “Freedom Flotilla” to mass in its waters. Though the practical effect will be minimal, Israel lauded the island nation. [Ynet]

• A conservative organization is pushing one American Christian minister’s line that the oil spill in the Gulf is retribution for President Obama’s tough line on Israel. [Religion Dispatches]

• Doug Quinn—previously seen mixing Rosh Hashanah cocktails for Tablet Magazine—is New York’s best bartender: The Times said so. [NYT]

• The White House’s Jewish Heritage reception is going on right now. Allison Hoffman will file a dispatch tomorrow, but for now, it’s streaming live!

Prominent Arab Israeli Charged With Spying

Makhoul denies working with Hezbollah

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Ameer Makhoul.(Islam Times)

An Arab Israeli community leader arrested earlier this month, initially under a gag order, was indicted today on charges of spying for Hezbollah. Ameer Makhoul is accused of meeting with an operative of the Lebanon-based, Iran-backed terrorist group in Denmark in 2008; passing along information on Mossad, Shin Bet, and other security facilities; and trying to recruit other agents. He is the head of Ittijah, or The Union of Arab Community-Based Associations; his brother is a former Knesset member.

Makhoul denied the charges, and his lawyers—to which he was only recently granted access—assert that he was interrogated unlawfully. (The police deny this.) Some see the prosecution as political.

A second Arab Israeli was indicted separately for the lesser charge of meeting a Hezbollah agent.

This seems like one more thing that could make it a hot summer on the northern border.

Two Arab Israelis Charged with Spying for Hezbollah [LAT]
Earlier: Two Alleged Hezbollah Spies Arrested

Organ Donor Law Hits Orthodox Opposition

Controversial ‘presumed consent’ will have to go

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N.Y. Assemblyman Richard Brodsky.(Richard Brodsky for New York Attorney General)

Four years ago, Richard Brodsky, a Democratic Assemblyman from Westchester County, New York, abandoned his bid for state Attorney General after his ailing teenage daughter needed a kidney transplant. Last month, Brodsky (again trying to be New York’s top cop) stood with his daughter to announce his plan to significantly alter the state’s organ donor laws in a way that would dramatically increase the number of donors. But his proposal met swift opposition from several influential Orthodox organizations that, along with the Catholic League, are already working to squash the proposal.

Joined by representatives of the Orthodox communal organization Agudath Israel, Brodsky’s fellow Democrat, Dov Hikind, an Orthodox Assemblyman from Boro Park, Brooklyn, voiced his concerns to Brodsky in a congenial and productive discussion, according to both legislators. By meeting’s close, Brodsky made it clear that he would not push for the bill’s passage.

All the meeting participants, Hikind told Tablet Magazine, agreed that organ donation is “a huge mitzvah, a good deed.” The primary concern of the Orthodox community, he said, are “situations where the onus is put on the individual citizen.” And the bill’s proposal for “presumed consent” would do just that: Require a state resident who is opposed to being a donor to affirmatively indicate so, most commonly on a driver’s license. The legislation, Hikind said, “was tantamount to entrapment.”

For Brodsky, “presumed consent” is the point: It is a necessary step to reform and expedite the organ donation process. He cited the gap between those who are willing to donate, and those that are registered donors. The concern from the Orthodox community, Brodsky said, centered on the “opt-out” provision and its potential “unintended consequences.” (more…)

The ‘Forward’ Debuts Yiddish Cooking Show

Ess gezunterhait!

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The Forward’s Yiddish edition has debuted what may be the first Yiddish cooking show on the Internet. In the pilot episode of Eat in Good Health (Ess Gezunterhait), which is hosted by two of the paper’s writers, Rukhl Schaechter and Eve Jochnowitz, we learn how to make sour cherry varenikes, a kind of dumpling (the recipe is borrowed from The Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook). Did you know that Yiddish distinguishes much more sharply between sweet and sour cherries than English does? Can you tell a varenike from a varnishke? (The former’s dough is made from potatoes, while the latter’s is kasha-based.) The varenikes look great. I won’t spoil the rest.

Behind the Madoff Play’s Cancellation

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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’

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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

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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]

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