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Sundown: Watching Human Rights Watch

Plus Israel’s gas king, and more

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Energy tycoon Isaac Tshuva.(Bloomberg BusinessWeek)

• A long exposé reveals the civil war within Human Rights Watch over the group’s treatment of Israel, and concludes that the side which is less sympathetic to Israel have won. [TNR]

• An entertaining profile of Israeli natural gas magnate Isaac Tshuva. [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]

• An interesting, reported essay argues that while the wisdom of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is arguable, it is clearly preferable for such a strike to be undertaken by America than by Israel. [TNR]

• The U.S. Holocaust Museum has endowed a fund in memory of the security guard who was shot and killed in last year’s attack. [JTA]

• Tablet Magazine Deputy Editor Gabe Sanders is interviewing Chilean-American novelist, intellectual, and activist Ariel Dorfman this coming Sunday in New York City as part of the PEN World Voices Festival. [PEN]

Alef magazine wants your b’nai mitzvot pictures! Send at your own risk. [Alef]

“Bombs Over Tehran” would make a nice sequel. As a song, anyway.

Israeli Chef is ‘Rising Star’

So says ‘Food & Wine’

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Yonatan Roshfeld has two Tel Aviv tapas joints, Herbert Samuel and the less formal Tapas Ahad Ha’am. If you’re the food porn type, then trust me: You could do far worse than to spend several minutes poking around Herbert Samuel’s Website, staring at the lush salads and scrumptious desserts.

Israeli Chef Named Food & Wine’s ‘Rising Star’ [Ynet]

Be Still, You Booming Surf

Your daily poetry fix

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In 11th-century Spain, where the great Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi composed many of his masterworks, poetry was, for the educated classes, the language of everyday life. In his biography of Halevi, published this year by Nextbook Press, Hillel Halkin describes the young Halevi improvising poetry (about the pleasures of wine, of course) in a busy tavern—which, Halkin explains, would not have been an unusual way to spend an evening. “If calling an age ‘poetic’ refers, not to some supposed collective sublimity or imaginativeness of mind, but, more mundanely, to the widespread use of poetry in ordinary life as a medium of communication and social exchange, the young man was born in one of the most historically poetic of ages,” Halkin writes. “Poems were an everyday vehicle for the expression of emotion; for the sending of messages and requests; for the carrying of news from one encampment to another; for the recording and remembering of unusual events; for the wooing of the opposite sex; for the enhancement of celebrations; for the flattering of authority; for the vaunting of one’s exploits; for the praising of one’s friends and the derogation of one’s enemies, and the like.”

21st century America is a little bit different. For most of us, poetry is something outside of the everyday—but to celebrate National Poetry Month, Tablet is trying to be a bit more like medieval Spain by including a Halevi poem, in Halkin’s new translation, on the Scroll each afternoon. Halevi wrote today’s poem while far out at sea, where the world seemed deserted to him. “Neither bird, beast, nor man?” he asks. “Has nothing remained?” Enjoy your daily drink of Andalusian wine below—or download and print out a pocket-sized version here. Plus, check out a bonus poetry feature from our archives, and don’t forget to enter Nextbook Press and Tablet Magazine’s Yehuda Halevi poetry contest!

Be still, you booming surf, enough to let
A pupil go to kiss his master’s cheek!
(That’s Master Aaron, whose unflagging rod
The years have not made tremulous or weak.)
A teacher who never says, “The lesson’s done,”
A giver who never fears to give too much,
He makes me bless the east wind’s wings today
And curse tomorrow’s gusts out of the west.
How can a man who feels as though a scorpion
Has stung him leave Gilead’s balm behind?
How trade the shade of a grand, leafy tree
For winter’s ice and summer’s savagery,
The shelter of a masterly mansion
For the shriving of God’s rain and sun?

U.S., Israel: Mere Distant Cousins?

Top thinker says Mideast peace would barely affect us

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Yesterday, Richard Haass, the prototypical foreign policy éminence grise–he is literally the president of the Council on Foreign Relations—had an interesting Wall Street Journal op-ed his voice to the gathering chorus that favors putting the peace process on hold, not because it is fatally flawed or unfair to one side or the other, but because the time is just not quite right. Specifically, he says, “The Palestinian leadership remains weak and divided; the Israeli government is too ideological and fractured; U.S.-Israeli relations are too strained for Israel to place much faith in American promises.”

But that’s not what most caught my eye. What I found interesting is that Haass spends most of his essay repudiating the controversial notion, prominently expounded by Gen. David Petraeus and even President Obama, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hinders the completion of vital U.S. military and national security goals in the region. Dubbed “linkage” by its critics, the idea is that the dispute cultivates enmity toward the U.S. throughout the region, thereby making it more difficult for U.S. troops to pacify Afghanistan and Iraq and for U.S. diplomats to stymie Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

According to Haass, this is wrong: an equitable Palestinian settlement would not calm Iraq, subdue the Taliban, cause Iran to cede its nuclear ambitions, win over Arab governments, or halt terrorism.

What do I find interesting? When the question is simply Israel-Palestine, those most inclined to support Israel are the first to point to Israel’s tremendous importance to the United States as a strategic and intelligence-gathering partner, while those advocates of taking the special out of the “special relationship” tend to downplay Israel’s direct importance to U.S. interests. When the subject becomes America’s troops in the field, though, the most pro-Israel folks find themselves saying Israel is one thing and America is another, and the left-wing folks find an intimate connection between the two countries.

The Palestinian Peace Distraction [WSJ]
Earlier: What Petraeus Actually Said

Brandeis Students Protest Oren

Israeli ambassador is the commencement speaker

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Oren speaking last year.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who earlier this year was shouted down and called a “Killer!” while speaking at the University of California, Irvine, is once again a subject of campus controversy: Brandeis University’s selection has prompted the inevitable Facebook petition protesting the choice, and the equally inevitable counter-petition supporting Oren and Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz.

The anti-Oren petition is (somewhat) careful to couch its opposition in terms of Oren serving as a distraction from graduating students rather than of specific opposition to the policies he represents: “commencement has been hijacked to serve as part of a debate about Middle Eastern politics,” it argues. It wears its politics a bit more on its sleeve when it calls Oren “a divisive choice.”

While not technically officially totally Jewish, Brandeis, located outside Boston, has highly Jewish student and faculty bodies and was named, at its founding in 1948, after the first Jewish U.S. Supreme Court justice (who was also, as Jeffrey Goldberg puts it, “the leading Zionist in American history”).

Oren will also receive an honorary degree, as will American Mideast adviser Dennis Ross; novelist Antonio Muñoz Molina (whom some of us are big fans of); and Paul Simon. Personally, I am outraged—outraged!—that the perpetually underrated Garfunkel is not to be similarly honored. So if you’ll excuse me, I have a petition to write.

A Kerfuffle at Brandeis [Jeffrey Goldberg]
Earlier: ADL, J Street Condemn UC-Irvine Incident

Today on Tablet

Going to Goa, considering kiruv, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Matthew Schwarzfeld files his first of three dispatches from Goa, on the southwest Indian coast, where the more hippie graduates of the Israeli military like to go and chill out. Books critic Adam Kirsch take the measure of Chief British Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s new manifesto for a more modern, engaged Judaism. Samantha M. Shapiro interviews Miriam Lowenbraun, a prominent figure in the Orthodox kiruv movement, which seeks to persuade Jews to be more observant. And The Scroll could use some time on the Goan beach right about now.

Postcards From Berlin

Time hasn’t healed it, and the people aren’t helping

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Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.(All photos by the author)

I was recently on vacation, and in the interest of claiming the whole thing as a tax write-off, I may as well write about it (kidding!). It seems most natural to write about Berlin, where I spent three days sightseeing, seeing people, and cutting an album (kidding again!). Berlin’s uniqueness has much to do with its Jewish experience and with the experience of the Jews of Europe who were murdered at the direction of residents of the city. Ich bin ein that?? Well, maybe.

Some cities paper over their history, whether by encasing an idealized version of itself in immortal amber (Paris) or constantly rebuiliding so that it is never more than six months of construction away from total modernity (I am told parts of Beijing are like this). Other cities may be said to be haunted by their pasts, the ghosts truly existing only in the minds of the beholders—a main tourist destination in Prague, which I also visited, is the crammed, surreal Jewish cemetery whose youngest corpses date to the 18th century.

But Berlin is scarred. The horrific wounds that history has slashed across the city (and which, in many cases—and as the Germans are at the front of the line to admit—Berlin invited upon itself) remain. A glass cone sits atop the Reichstag, a deliberately obvious reminder of the 1933 arson that enabled the Nazis to solidify their grip on the country’s steering wheel. Around the corner, in front of the Brandenburg Gate, a line of bricks traces the path of the wall that once divided the free city from the unfree one. And just around the corner from that (and pictured above), in the middle of Berlin’s Mitte, or central neighborhood, is the city’s (or one of the city’s) Holocaust Memorial. It is rows of endless gray slabs, which don’t reach your knees at the installation’s edges but tower above you in its middle. Official name: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. (more…)

Daybreak: Popping In, Just to Say Hi

Plus Cohen’s feeling up, J’lem’s mayor’s feeling down, and more in the news

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Oh hey, sup? Obama yesterday.(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

• President Obama “dropped by” a meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Washington, D.C., to convey his support for Israel’s security. Barak meets Secretaries Clinton and Gates today in the run-up to U.S.-mediated proximity talks next month. [Haaretz]

• Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also backs the proximity talks and will take the proposal to the Arab League this weekend. [WSJ]

• In an interview, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat calls the U.S. request for a full settlement freeze “an illegal demand.” [LAT]

• The Israeli millitary killed a Hamas man thought to be responsible for the 2004 death of a border policeman. [NYT]

• The normally sorrowful Roger Cohen feels optimistic about the peace process, thanks to (he says) Obama’s realism, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s state-building, and Israeli unease with the status quo. [NYT]

• An IDF investigation just found that soldiers made mistakes in the deaths of four West Bank Palestinians last month. [JTA]

Sundown: ‘Tikkun’ O-Loves Goldstone

Plus the jokes Jones should have used, and more

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• Liberal Jewish magazine Tikkun, edited by Rabbi Michael Lerner, is giving its 25th annual ethics award to Richard Goldstone—he of the infamous Report. [JTA]

• Vox Tablet subject Mark Oppenheimer profiles the Jewish Review of Books. He also name-checks Tablet Magazine. Logrolling in our time! [NYT]

• President Shimon Peres hosted a delegation from J Street even as the Foreign Ministry called the U.S. “pro-Israel, pro-peace” outfit “problematic.” [Arutz Sheva]

• The New York Times reviews James Sturm’s graphic novel Market Day, which was recently featured on Vox Tablet. [NYT]

• There’s controversy about it, but I hadn’t even heard the news: Professional wrestler (and animal welfare activist) Bill Goldberg is set to be inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. [Kaplan’s Korner]

• An alternate Jewish joke for Gen. James Jones. [Jeffrey Goldberg]

Here’s my choice:

Lord, You Are My Sole Desire

Your daily poetry fix

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In 11th-century Spain, where the great Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi composed many of his masterworks, poetry was, for the educated classes, the language of everyday life. In his biography of Halevi, published this year by Nextbook Press, Hillel Halkin describes the young Halevi improvising poetry (about the pleasures of wine, of course) in a busy tavern—which, Halkin explains, would not have been an unusual way to spend an evening. “If calling an age ‘poetic’ refers, not to some supposed collective sublimity or imaginativeness of mind, but, more mundanely, to the widespread use of poetry in ordinary life as a medium of communication and social exchange, the young man was born in one of the most historically poetic of ages,” Halkin writes. “Poems were an everyday vehicle for the expression of emotion; for the sending of messages and requests; for the carrying of news from one encampment to another; for the recording and remembering of unusual events; for the wooing of the opposite sex; for the enhancement of celebrations; for the flattering of authority; for the vaunting of one’s exploits; for the praising of one’s friends and the derogation of one’s enemies, and the like.” (more…)

Jones Apologizes for Controversial Humor

An old non-Jew tells a joke

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Did you hear the one about the non-Jewish top administration official who told a classic Jewish joke to a crowd containing lots of Jews? Yeah, not everyone found the punch line so funny.

General James Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser, told a joke—video and transcription after the jump—that is easily recognizable as one of those jokes about Jews, making fun of stereotypical Jewish traits, that Jews tend to tell affectionately about each other. However, there’s an unwritten rule about these jokes that states that these aren’t really offensive … so long as it is a Jew telling them. Which is arguably fair, arguably unfair. But pretty clearly the reigning rule.

So anyway, Jones told the joke over the weekend last week at the 25th anniversary party for the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs. This is a generally pro-Israel think tank with many Jewish donors. And you can hear lots of laughter on the tape. (It’s a pretty funny joke!) But a think-tanker who was present said it “demonstrated a lack of sensitivity.” Then Abraham Foxman called it “inappropriate.” And, yup, Jones just apologized (“It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct”).

For what it’s worth, Tablet Magazine contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg doesn’t think it’s a big deal. I don’t feel offended, either, though I certainly also don’t see the point, and it was clearly a dumb thing to do. And you?

(more…)

AJC May Merge With AJC

Headline writers rejoice

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(The American Jewish Congress)

The venerable American Jewish Congress, which is hurting from a funding shortfall, is in talks with the slightly more venerable American Jewish Committee over some sort of merger arrangement (via The Fundermentalist). Which would mean there will be no more confusion over just which AJC is being referred to the next time you read about it.

Oh, and yes, this is Madoff’s fault.

After Madoff, AJCongress Looks For Merger [JPost]

What They Have at the Fruit Store

An old Jew tells a joke

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Hoo boy.

Was Irène Némirovsky an Anti-Semite?

New bio defends ‘Suite Française’ author

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Némirovsky and cat.(New York Times)

Irène Némirovsky was shipped off to Auschwitz before she could complete her magnum opus, Suite Française. But the Ukrainian-French-Jewish novelist has remained in the news, thanks to the blockbuster reception that book received when it was first published in English a few years ago, and thanks also to controversy surrounding her attitudes toward her own people.

In a 2006 essay for Nextbook.org (Tablet Magazine’s precursor), novelist Paul La Farge marshaled the evidence that this woman who was murdered for being a Jew was perhaps something of an anti-Semite. During her life, her institutional supporters and personal admirers were invariably right-wing. A previous biography detailed her apparent distaste for poor, unassimilated Jewry. Suite Française is “curiously apolitical” for a novel about the occupation of France. And an early novel, David Golder,

abounds in caricatures that it would not be unfair to call anti-Semitic: Golder’s associate Simon has the “heavy, drowsy eyes of an Oriental” and teeth “paved with gold, [which] sparkled strangely in the shadows.” Simon’s wife has a “thin face with a large hard nose in the shape of a beak … her round bright eyes shone intensely beneath pale eyebrows, placed in a strange way, unevenly, very high up.” And so on.

But the French authors of a new biography flat-out reject the line that Némirovsky was an anti-Semite. Instead, reports the New York Times, they trace her apparent distaste for her co-religionists to her acute loathing of her (eminently loathe-able) mother.

That seems fair enough. Less fair is the Times‘s comparison of David Golder to another “book that also earned its author the label of a ‘self-hating Jew’”: Philip Roth’s 1959 Goodbye, Columbus. I haven’t read David Golder, but this seems tenuous: Roth’s lovely story collection has a Yiddish proverb as its epigraph and depicts postwar American Jews’ self-constructed shtetls with as much affection as unease; meanwhile, David Golder reportedly features “a greedy and crude Jewish banker with a long hooked nose and a grasping wife.”

For her part, Némirovsky denied being an anti-Semite. Describing David Golder in 1935—merely six years after it was published, but an epoch away—she said, “It is absolutely certain that had there been Hitler, I would have greatly softened David Golder, and I would not have written it in the same way. And yet,” she added, “I would have been wrong, it would have been a weakness unworthy of a real writer!”

Assessing Jewish Identity of Author Killed by Nazis [NYT]
Related: Behind the Legend [Nextbook.org]

Most Austrians Shun Right-Wing Candidate

Rosencranz defeated soundly

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Poster photographed in Vienna on Wednesday.(Marc Tracy)

Returning from vacation, I was greeted with the news that Barbara Rosenkranz, the presidential candidate for Austria’s right-wing, anti-immigrant Freedom Party—which many say is unduly sympathetic to neo-Nazis—won more than 15 percent of the vote yesterday. Meanwhile, Social Democrat incumbent Heinz Fischer secured an overwhelming majority.

In other words, while it would be ideal if Rosenkranz had gotten a vote total roughly 15 percentage points lower, this outcome was good news: It showed that most Austrians agree with whoever touched up this Rosenkranz poster that I saw in Vienna a few days ago.

Extreme Right Wins 15.6% in Austria [JPost]

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