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Today on Tablet

Daniel fries a potato, Abrams fries Obama, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, famed chef Daniel Boulud looks to another holiday when devising a Passover recipe for us: the fried potato pancake, after all, is pesadik. Esther Schor, author of Nextbook Press’s Emma Lazarus, discusses how to invite the famous Jewish poet of liberation to Seder. Reporting from the AIPAC Conference in Washington, D.C., Mideast columnist Lee Smith profiles Elliott Abrams, the Bush administration official who has emerged as the leading neoconservative critic of President Obama’s Mideast policies. And The Scroll gears up for Passover.

Maimonides Worked Here

Egypt (quietly) restores 1000-year-old school

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The restored site.(NYT)

A fine New York Times dispatch casts the restoration of an old Cairo synagogue and even older Jewish religious school as a symbol of the tension between Egypt’s political peace with Israel and its population’s deep-seated antipathy toward the Jewish state. Egypt spent nearly $2 million on the shul, only to mute awareness of the fact, and only to bar the news media from the re-opening. Weird.

But what’s really cool is just what the school was: It’s where Maimonides, the Rambam, worked! The synagogue was built in the 19th century in honor of the Rambam; the religious school is where he worked in the 1100s. I asked Sherwin Nuland, author of Nextbook Press’s Maimonides, for his thoughts. “For centuries after the death of Maimonides,” Nuland told me, “it was common for sick Jews to spend the night in this synagogue, in the hope that the great Rambam would heal them.” And they can again. If they’ve heard about it.

A Synagogue’s Unveiling Exposes a Conundrum [NYT]
Related: Maimonides [Nextbook Press]

Daybreak: They Talked, But What Did They Say?

Plus Russia, China get tougher with Iran, and more in the news

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Netanyahu exits the White House last night.(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

• Prime Minister Netanyahu spent over three hours at the White House, consisting of a 90-minute meeting with President Obama; a conferral with aides; and then a requested second meeting. Uncharacteristically, the White House released no statement. [WP]

• A news analysis concludes that Israel’s diplomatic isolation is increasing and that the U.S. Administration is less enthusiastic about the countries’ special relationship than ever before. [WP]

• While official responses were muted, informally, Israeli officials and politicians were extremely pissed at Britain’s expulsion of a diplomat in connection with the fake passports in the Dubai assassination; British intelligence, noted one, “know how things work.” [JPost]

• Russia and China are trying hard to convince Iran to accept a U.N.-backed nuclear fuel plan. [Haaretz]

• Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, told Netanyahu he favors putting the building announcement dispute behind everyone. [Foreign Policy]

• Israel’s U.N. ambassador complained about Libya and Iran’s apparent bids to join the Human Rights Council; Libya in particular will likely land a spot. [JPost]

Sundown: Britain Kicks Israeli Diplomat Out

Plus Shimon Peres’s ‘sex appeal,’ and more in the news

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President Shimon Peres earlier this week.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

• Great Britain expelled an unnamed Israeli diplomat. According to Foreign Secretary David Miliband, this was to protest the alleged misuse of fake British passports by “a state intelligence service” in the assassination of Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. [NYT]

• Bonus! Last paragraph of the same article notes that South African authorities reportedly couldn’t come up with footage of the assassins in a Johannesburg airport because said footage has been “mysteriously wiped.”

• 86-year-old Israeli President Shimon Peres said of the Negev Desert, “This is an attractive area. If I wasn’t a politician, I would even say it had sex appeal.” [Ynet]

• The Arab League head wants to cultivate closer ties with Iran. [Haaretz]

• Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California) said it was appropriate that health care passed when it did: “The meaning of the seder is that no one should be left behind.” [JTA]

• Mark Bittman tells you how to make olive oil matzah. [NYT]

AIPAC Round-Up: Israel to NATO?

Plus, Chuck wants his money back!

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Schumer and Netanyahu earlier today.(Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Image)

Other highlights of #AIPAC2010! For Allison Hoffman’s dispatches, see here, here, and here.

• AIPAC unveiled a comprehensive campaign to decrease Israel’s isolation, mainly by securing its membership to various international bodies—including NATO. [Forward]

• Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) claims Prime Minister Netanyahu owes him $1,800. Seriously. [Capital J]

• A little-noticed but interesting contention in Secretary of State Clinton’s address: that the new democratization of communication wrought by the Internet means Israel can’t as effectively control its message. [Ben Smith]

• Alan Solow (who Allison Hoffman profiled last week) focused, in his address, on Iran sanctions and international de-legitimization of Israel. [Capital J]

• Peace group CODEPINK took credit for the false press release claiming that AIPAC advocated a full settlement freeze. [CODEPINK]

It’s Free Cone Day at Ben & Jerry’s!

And we suggest Jewish-themed flavors

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Oh yes, it’s today. Find the nearest Ben & Jerry’s here and get your ‘scream.

Meanwhile, why don’t founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield encourage the company to honor their roots by offering a Jewish-themed flavor? Or five? Tablet Magazine staffers came up with the following suggestions (some of which have better chances than others):

Promised Land: Malted-milk flavored ice cream with honey swirls.

Jewcy Fruit: Berry ice cream with bits of (swallow-able) fruit-flavored gum.

Shaved Shabbat: Horchata-flavored ice cream with shaved ice.

A Great Miracle Happened Here: Potato ice cream with apple swirls.

The Big Tzimmes: Carrot ice cream with prune and apricot ‘core’.

Bubbelicious: Chicken broth-flavored ice cream with matzoh ball nuggets.

A Sweet New Year: Honey ice cream with cinnamon-apple swirl.

Macaroon Lagoon: Coconut with chocolate chips and fudge swirls.

Meshuggah Cookie: Sugar cookie-flavored ice cream with pieces of sugar cookie and rainbow sprinkles.

Find the Afikomen: Chocolate-dipped matzoh in a ginger ice cream.

The Exodus: Strawberry (red sea) on two sides, vanilla up the middle.

Gefilte Phish Food: Chocolate ice cream, caramel, marshmallow, and tiny chocolate carp, pike, and whitefish.

Got any others? Leave ‘em in the comments!

America’s New Health Care System

Should look more familiar to Israelis

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The health care signing today.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The U.S. health care system just became a lot more like Israel’s. This morning, President Obama signed the health care bill—formal title: Affordable Health Care for America Act—into law in a White House ceremony. Though it does not provide universal health care, it requires most Americans to have health insurance (and offers subsidies, discounts, and an expanded Medicaid for those who would have trouble affording it); it is expected to extend insurance to over 30 million uncovered Americans. Israel does have universal health care: all citizens are required to enlist in one of four health maintenance organizations. (The situation in the Palestinian territories is, unsurprisingly, a lot more complicated.) The state backs the HMOs, and there is a health insurance tax. There are, however, no death panels.

Obama Signs Landmark Health Care Bill [NYT]

AIPAC Delegates Hit the Hill

Groups see Congress, not administration, as most crucial

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Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, yesterday.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Why does AIPAC hold its annual policy conference in Washington, D.C.? It’s not just to make it easy for politicians to show up for its plenary sessions and gala dinners! This morning, a few thousand delegates, who have spent the two days focusing on various threats to the Jewish state—Iran, the Goldstone Report, daylight between it and the United States—are taking their umbrellas and fanning out across Capitol Hill to do what lobbyists do: lobby.

AIPAC’s machine is, of course, legendary. And its traditional wheelhouse is the two legislative chambers. Despite the fact that the group’s new president, Lee Rosenberg, was among Obama’s most active supporters, he pointedly told delegates the other night that, given the state of affairs between the administration and Israel, “It is Congress, the bedrock of American support for Israel, which must act.”

Act on what? On Iran sanctions, for starters. That’s the issue that tops a set of talking points staffers handed out to delegates yesterday afternoon in training sessions. What else? Obama requested $3 billion of assistance in the new foreign aid bill: given the economy, it could use some shoring from the pressure it will inevitably receive from all sides.

The delegates—most of whom have lobbied their members of Congress before, on these exact issues—seemed most anxious about how to respond if members asked about “the situation.” (The diplomatic one, not the Jersey Shore one.) One longtime legislative lobbyist for a left-leaning Jewish group told me that, at the end of the day, “This Congress isn’t going to move without the administration.” (Want evidence of that? Look no further than the fight to get the health-care legislation passed.) Accordingly, AIPAC staffers advised their charges to reassure members of Congress that the episode was “regrettable” but that they, at least, were not in conflict with the administration.

And Netanyahu? He’s also heading to the Hill for his own meetings this morning, before he goes to see Obama privately at 5:30 this afternoon.

Earlier: The Jews and their City. And Their Umbrellas.

Today on Tablet

A very Gettysburg Passover, Egypt to Israel in ‘56, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Dara Horn traces the similarities between Civil War re-enactment culture and the rituals of Passover—and finds more than you might think! Patrick Huguenin is our poor non-Jew who learns a kosher-for-Passover recipe in time for Seder. Books critic Adam Kirsch praises the new novel From the Four Winds, which depicts the little discussed “Exodus” of Egyptian Jews to Israel after the 1956 war. The Scroll has never been to a Civil War re-enactment, but has watched the great South Park about one.

The Jews and Their City. And Their Umbrellas.

At the AIPAC Conference with Netanyahu

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Netanyahu speaking last night.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Later today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will sit down with President Obama for the first time since November. The two leaders will presumably continue the conversation Netanyahu started yesterday in meetings with both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden. But Netanyahu’s comments last night here in Washington, D.C., to the more than 7,500 people attending the annual AIPAC convention, suggest he isn’t ready, at least publicly, to back off his right to keep building in Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement,” Netanyahu said, earning roaring applause for a line that was tested by other speakers earlier in the day. “It’s our capital.” To drive the point home, Netanyahu trotted out a story that he is, judging by the fact that he has told it before, pretty fond of: it’s the tale of the 2,800-year-old signet ring, which the prime minister keeps in his office, that has the name “Netanyahu” etched into it. This time, he embellished the story with a reference to Israeli President Shimon Peres, whose namesake was a brother of the first Benjamin, and roamed around Biblical Judea too. “The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied,” Netanyahu reasoned. “The connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem cannot be denied.” (more…)

Daybreak: In D.C., Bibi Backs J’lem Building

But Obama is more powerful than ever; and more in the news

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Shalit’s father, Noam, yesterday.(Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Image)

• “Jerusalem is not a settlement,” Prime Minister Netanyahu declared to the AIPAC Conference, defending Israeli building; “it is our capital.” More on Bibi’s speech at 10 am. [NYT]

• An IDF soldier was killed in friendly fire. His fellow troops were engaged in halting three Palestinians trying to cross over the Gaza border. [NYT]

• The parents of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit begged the U.N. Human Rights Council to pressure Hamas to release their son. [JPost]

• President Obama is in a stronger position to negotiate with Netanyahu than he was even 48 hours ago, due to the passage of health care reform. They meet at the White House tonight. [Politico]

• Britain is expelling the Mossad’s representative there in protest of the forged British passports allegedly used in the (probably Mossad-backed) assassination of a Hamas weapons man in Dubai. [Haaretz]

• The mayor of Jerusalem helpfully noted that the 1600 announced homes in East Jerusalem is just the tip of the iceberg: there are, he said, plans to build 50,000 homes in a united city over the next two decades. [Arutz Sheva]

Sundown: Liam Neeson’s Autograph Sold Separately

Plus the Jewish harmonica player, and more

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Sacha Baron Cohen earlier this year.(Charley Gallay/Getty Images for PCA)

• Schindler’s List—like, Oskar Schindler’s actual list—is on-sale for $2.2 million. [Page Six]

• The European Union formally condemned Israel’s “settlement activities” and requested a full freeze (and a top E.U. diplomat bewailed the Gaza blockade in an op-ed). [JTA]

• A top Hamas official criticized the launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, saying it distracts from and even lends justification to Israeli building in East Jerusalem. He suggested they’re being launched by groups seeking to undermine Hamas. [Ynet]

• The famed harmonica in movies such as Shane and High Noon? Those parts were played by Jerry Adler, a Baltimore-born Jew who recently died at 91. Incredibly, the one even more famous harmonica player from that era was also a Jew: Adler’s brother, Larry. [NYT]

• Sacha Baron Cohen and longtime girlfriend Isla Fisher—who converted to Cohen’s Judaism several years ago—were married in a Jewish ceremony in Paris. [JTA]

• A Seder, with robots:

Livni Says Not All That Much

No specifics on Bibi-Barack meeting, and more from the Conference

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Clinton speaking earlier today at the AIPAC Conference.(Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

We, both here in Washington, D.C., at the annual AIPAC Convention, and elsewhere, know the following: President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are going to meet tomorrow. But when? For how long? Will there be pictures? And what, after the fuss of the last two weeks, will they say to each other? As of this afternoon, these questions remained unanswered, according to officials in Israel’s Foreign Ministry. It’s more than a little reminiscent of what happened the last time the two leaders met, in November—only this time, the details of protocol are being held up until plans for the very public White House signing of the historic health-care legislation are finalized.

But Bibi will have his public turn tonight in front of the AIPAC crowd. He’s expected to declare that Jerusalem is “not a settlement”—hence his refusal to back down on the government’s plan to build 1600 new homes in a Jewish area of East Jerusalem. (The same line went over very well with the crowd this morning when AIPAC’s executive director, Howard Kohr, tested it out.) Perhaps even as you read this, he is meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who earlier today told the AIPAC audience that the problem was never the apartments themselves, but rather the exposure of that infamous daylight between the Americans and the Israelis. “It undermines America’s unique ability to play an essential role in the peace process,” she told the crowd. “This is not about wounded pride. This is about getting everyone to the table and creating and protecting an atmosphere of trust around it.”

One person who didn’t seem at all fussed about the fuss was Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who visited her friend, White House National Security Advisor James Jones—the same Jones who said last fall, at the J Street conference, that peace was Obama’s top foreign-policy priority —and then, looking almost Grace Kelly-esque in a smooth blonde ponytail and black boatneck dress, swanned over to a luncheon at the Renaissance Hotel across the street from the AIPAC convention headquarters. There, she told the capacity crowd that she, for one, had nothing to publicly say about her political rival Netanyahu, or the recent “disagreement.” “There are places and times to have these discussions,” she said, giving a sly shrug. “This is not the time and the place to do it.”

PM To Tell AIPAC Jerusalem Is Not a Settlement [Ynet]
Earlier: Obama, Netanyahu Meet, Stay Silent
Obama Adviser to J Street: Peace Deal Should Be Priority

Tablet’s Vols Reach the Sweet Sixteen

What did Ohio ever do to Tennessee?

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Coach Pearl and his team Saturday; #22 is son Steve.(Elsa/Getty Images)

Coach Bruce Pearl’s University of Tennessee Volunteers—Tablet Magazine’s official college basketball team—advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen round Saturday with a convincing win over underdog Ohio. Almost as importantly, the true Big Dog in Tennessee’s region, overall number-one Kansas, was defeated, in a stunning, thrilling upset, by Northern Iowa. Which means the Vols’ route to the Final Four just got a little bit easier …

… except first they will have to beat two-seed Ohio State, the Big Ten champion. The game goes down Friday night at 7 E.S.T., in St. Louis. Can you even wait that long?

Earlier: Tennessee Vols Advance
Go, Vols!

Dershowitz Picks Fight With J Street

Berates dovish group’s rep at AIPAC Conference

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Dershowitz at the Conference.(Haaretz)

That didn’t take long: this morning, there was a small to-do at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., over the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group J Street, which established itself explicitly to counterbalance the far more powerful AIPAC. Hadar Susskind, J Street’s policy director, was being interviewed at the gathering by a Haaretz reporter when, according to the reporter, none other than Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz “broke in to the conversation with a verbal onslaught against the group.”

Arguing that J Street “shouldn’t call themselves pro-Israel,” he accused them of prioritizing certain policy positions over others to cast Israel in a negative light. Noting that he, like J Street, opposes settlements, he nonetheless maintained, “But I spend 80 percent of my time supporting Israel.”

In response, Susskind told the reporter: “We have disagreements with AIPAC that I don’t want to minimize. But we are all on the same side.”

Not sure AIPAC itself will be thrilled to hear about this kerfuffle. For one thing, it thinks of itself—correctly—as significantly more prominent and influential than J Street, and wants its annual conference to showcase, well, itself, rather than its upstart alternative. For another thing, among AIPAC’s top messages at the conference is getting sanctions against Iran passed: a policy point on which AIPAC and J Street actually agree.

Dershowitz Lays Into J Street in AIPAC Conference Dust-Up [Haaretz]
Earlier: Israeli Ambassador Scolds and Praises J Street

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