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Did Biden Link Israel to the Troops’ Safety?

A polarizing meme is born

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In addition to the main debate over whether the Obama administration was correct to upbraid the Netanyahu government over the timing of its East Jerusalem construction announcement (and over the construction itself), a secondary dispute has emerged, whose implications may well come to trump the larger debate. They center around the following statement, reportedly made by Vice President Joe Biden to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week:

This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.

A senior administration official clarifies—for Tablet Magazine contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg—that Biden does not believe that U.S. soldiers are put at direct risk by East Jerusalem building; he thinks, rather, that such construction makes it more difficult, from diplomatic and P.R. standpoint, for the U.S. military to achieve its objectives. “The extent to which Israel aggressively pursues peace,” the official said, makes efforts to sanction Iran, cultivate peace between Israel and its neighbors, and fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq “easier.”

It seems unlikely that Biden meant it literally; and it seems extremely unlikely that, taken literally, it’s accurate. But the meme that the special relationship with Israel is something of a problem for the United States, and particularly for the U.S. military, in fact has gained traction—particularly in the military.

And it is potentially explosive. If the debate over Israel travels from “what’s best for Israel” to “supporting the troops,” then it could become a real thing. Folks on one side could argue that getting tough with Israel’s government is a question not only of right versus wrong but of American national security; folks on the other side could argue that American supporters of Israel are being unfairly and inaccurately accused of a dual loyalty in a way that recalls classical, troubling charges about Jews everywhere.
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‘Day of Rage’ Rocks Jerusalem

Palestinians riot over building announcement

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Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem today.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

“Before today began, Hamas had called on Palestinians to make it a “day of rage” in response to the Israeli construction announcement. Many appear to have obliged. Dozens of Palestinians, and over a dozen Israeli policemen, have been injured in clashes. “Jerusalem is Islamic and, we act in accordance with that religious motivation,” said Hamas’s Gaza leader.

Clashes in Jerusalem Mark Rising Tensions [NYT]

Obama Looks Weak in the Middle East

Why pick on our friends but not our enemies?

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Obama last week.(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Foreign policy expert Walter Russell Mead has joined Thomas Friedman and others in congratulating the Obama administration for condemning Israel over the announcement it was building 1600 apartment units in East Jerusalem.

“The Obama administration had no choice but to respond strongly,” Mead writes. “Otherwise the administration would have looked weak and irresolute and the repercussions throughout the world could well have been grave.”

But in the Middle East, nothing reeks of weakness more than lashing out publicly at an ally. The administration is well aware of this, because it has endured the insults of virtually every one of its Arab allies (all except for Egypt). Most recently, for example, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal criticized Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to her face, explaining that the United States’s proposed sanctions against Iran were too little, too late.

On top of that, the White House has gladly swallowed the far worse taunts of actual adversaries, like Iran and Syria. At a Damascus banquet featuring Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, and Hamas’s Khaled Meshaal, Syrian President Bashar Assad openly mocked Clinton: he joked that he had misunderstood her demands that Syria distance itself from Iran, so instead, said Assad, he was waiving visa requirements for the Islamic Republic.

“The President of the United States cannot afford to look like a patsy,” writes Mead. “Any American president needs to be seen as a figure who commands respect.” Well, sure. But it is not clear why that respect should come at the expense of our allies instead of our enemies.

The Israel Crisis [The American Interest]

Smiling From The $50 Bill

The case for Ulysses S. Grant

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(Visiting D.C.)

Somebody give Ulysses S. Grant’s publicist a raise: Despite the fact that the 18th president has been dead for nearly 125 years, prestigious historian Sean Wilentz positively fawned over him in last Sunday’s New York Times. The reason? Some Republicans wish to replace Grant’s visage on the $50 bill with that of President Ronald Reagan. Wilentz—a progressive who nonetheless wrote an altogether admiring book called The Age of Reagan calls the proposal “a travesty that would dishonor the nation’s bedrock principles of union, freedom and equality.”

Now, leaving aside Grant’s reputation as a corrupt, passive chief executive, Jews may think of his notorious General Order No. 11, which in 1862 expelled all Jews in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky on the grounds of halting the black-market cotton trade. (The order was quickly rescinded; Lincoln condemned it.)

But actually, notes J.J. Goldberg, Grant ought to be remembered as, yes, good for the Jews! Grant was probably only vaguely aware of the order. Beyond that:

• Grant made the first nomination of a Jew to the presidential cabinet, asking close friend Joseph Seligman, a Wall Streeter, to be his first Treasury Secretary; Seligman turned him down, but remained a close adviser, with access unprecedented for a Jew.

• In response to anti-Semitism in newly sovereign Romania, Grant appointed as U.S. consul Sephardic attorney Benjamin Franklin Peixotto, who had just finished a stint as national head of B’nai B’rith.

• Grant was the first U.S. president to attend services at a synagogue (Adas Israel in Washington, D.C.—which, I think I’m obligated to add, is my family’s congregation).

Now might be a good time to mention that historian Jonathan Sarna is writing a book all about Grant and General Order No. 11 … for Nextbook Press.

General Grant, The $50 Bill, and The Jewish Question [J.J. Goldberg]
Who’s Buried in the History Books? [NYT]

Earlier: Adolf Lincoln?

Today on Tablet

Ecumenical political philosophy, ecumenical Zionism, and more

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Evangelical leader Pat Robertson, 2007.(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Today in Tablet Magazine, Adam Kirsch considers a new book’s innovative argument: that the rise of secular political philosophy with Locke, Hobbes, and the rest was helped by Protestantism’s interest in Jewish law and government. Mideast columnist Lee Smith weighs the complex question of how Jews should feel about evangelical Christian support for Israel. Following up yesterday’s Vox Tablet podcast with contributing editor Judith Shulevitz on her new book, The Sabbath World, we look at how nine different authors—from Shalom Auslander to Philip Roth—have written about Shabbat. If you want a tenth example, catch The Scroll on a Friday.

Chokin’ Down Cholent

The stew that rhymes with Jew

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Yummm.(Flickr)

Because of course Yeshiva University held a Cholent Cook-Off. The Shabbat stew—commonly containing such staples as beef, potatoes, beans, and more potatoes—is delicious, nutritious, and (with apologies to the same-named blog) Jewlicious. After a three-way tie, the school’s president awarded first place to Team Heerlijk (the word is Flemish for “delicious,” but surely you already knew that). Attendees leaving the competition last Thursday were left to ponder the question: Is cholent not eaten on a Saturday really cholent? Who says they don’t discuss serious things in school anymore!

Students Spice Up Culinary Competition [YU]

Daybreak: Envoy Withheld Amid Crisis

Plus a flashpoint J’lem shul, the right hits Obama, and more in the news

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Netanyahu, Sunday.(Jim Hollander-Pool/Getty Images)

• U.S. envoy George Mitchell, scheduled to head to the region today in advance of the proximity talks, has put his trip on hold pending an Israeli response to U.S. concerns. [AP/Gulf News]

• U.S. diplomats want Prime Minister Netanyahu to quash the 1600 planned new houses in East Jerusalem; however, in a speech, Bibi noted that every PM dating to Golda Meir has built there and argued that doing so doesn’t hurt the city’s Arabs. [JPost]

• Most observers believe the Obama administration was genuinely shocked by the building announcement, and now must articulate how its rancor fits (and doesn’t fit) with broader regional strategy: chiefly, opposing Iran. [Politico]

• Because its rededication happened to take place Monday, Jerusalem’s Hurva Synagogue has become a lightning rod for Palestinian anger at the announcement. The structure is located in the Jewish Quarter—not an area that reasonable parties dispute. [NYT]

• Sholom Rubashkin, the former kosher slaughterhouse honcho since convicted of federal financial fraud, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider his case. [FailedMessiah]

• Several senior House Republicans, led by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Virginia), lashed out at the administration for its chastisement of Israel. [JPost]

Sundown: The 23-Year-Old Nuclear Customer

Plus the Buck-Oy State, Eichmann in the Vatican, and more

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Eichmann in Jerusalem.(art.com)

• New documents purport to show that Iran tried to purchase nuclear weapons from Pakistan in 1987. [Haaretz]

• The Monsey, N.Y., Beit Din investigating Rabbi Leib Tropper filed a civil suit to get him removed from one yeshiva’s bank accounts. [FailedMessiah]

• A Republican research document, apparently geared toward winning over Ohio’s (not insubstantial) Jewish community, is titled, “Buck-Oy State” and in one place reads, “Ohio Dems Are All Verklempt Thanks to Obama’s Meshugeh Health Care Experiment.” [Ben Smith]

• Paul Krugman notes that Israel’s central bank has, with great success, intervened in its currency in the way America fears China will intervene with its own. [The Conscience of a Liberal]

• Researchers want access to sealed records that, they say, prove that the Catholic Church aided Adolf Eichmann’s escape to Argentina. [JPost]

• Gawker takes down Dan Senor, the Jewish former Bush speechwriter who is considering a run for Kirsten Gillibrand’s Senate seat in New York. [Gawker]

Israeli Organ Policy May Be D.O.A.

Innovative idea could discriminate against sect

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In an effort to raise its quite low 10 percent organ-donor rate, Israel has been planning to give those who agree to be donors a leg up when it comes to receiving organ donations. They would move up in the queue, in other words, should it ever come to that.

While bioethicists say this is perfectly kosher—“reciprocal altruism” is the apparently not-oxymoronic term—the plan has come under fire for allegedly discriminating against some ultra-Orthodox Jews who believe they are religiously barred from being donors. (Never mind that they’re not, assuming the organs are being used to save a life and not for profit.) Specifically, Rabbi Yosef Sholom Elyashiv’s 100,000 Israeli followers believe they are not allowed to donate their organs until after cardiac death (at which point the organs are dead, too). In case you were wondering, yes, they are allowed to accept donated organs.

The Knesset has passed a law enacting this whole thing. Implementation, however, is up to the health minister … there is no health minister currently, so instead it is up to the deputy health minister … the deputy health minister is—of course—an Elyashiv follower. So, we’ll see.

Does Radical New Way To Boost Organ Donation Discriminate Against Ultra-Orthodox Jews? [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]
Earlier: Israel’s New Organ Donor Policies

More Dubai Murder Details Emerge

Hamas official was not supposed to be suffocated

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The lobby of the fateful Dubai hotel.(Bustan Rotana)

There’s no more proof that the Mossad was indeed behind the January 19 assassination of Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. But there are nonetheless several interesting nuggets in this Los Angeles Times article about the Dubai police force’s “mixture of high-tech razzle-dazzle and old-fashioned investigative work.”

• Al-Mabhouh’s death was supposed to look like a heart attack—the door’s inner latch was set; the room was tidy; he was found splayed on the floor with no immediately visible marks—and was almost mistaken for one, until one doctor spied something fishy in his blood.

• The muscle relaxant the assassins used was probably supposed to do the job by itself—in high enough doses, it mimics cardiac arrest within 15 minutes. The fact that al-Mabhouh was also suffocated by a pillow suggests, says one investigator, that the assassins “were panicking for one reason or another.”

• The Dubai police employed sophisticated facial recognition software to the video of the assassins.

• The doors to almost all rooms at the hotel at which al-Mabhouh was staying are visible from the central atrium.

• Authorities believe one of the assassins knew al-Mabhouh—hence, there was no evidence of forced entry.

• Authorities are now taking a fresh look at the 2001 death of Palestinian activist Faisal Husseini in Kuwait in light of the al-Mabhouh revelations.

The article implicitly assumes that because al-Mabhouh’s death has definitively been established as murder, and almost as definitively established as Mossad-backed, then it failed. But one could also argue that the Mossad—which has not (and surely will not) either confirmed nor denied involvement—gains some benefit from having the world think it is able to do this. Anyway, if an operation that achieved its primary mission and resulted in zero apprehensions is a failure, then success must be very sweet indeed.

How Dubai Unraveled a Homicide, Frame By Frame [LAT]
Related: Murder in Dubai

Flier Calls Anti-Handgun Jews ‘Bagel Brain’

Group calls gun control ‘racist’

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(The Simpsons)

A state senator and a state delegate in Maryland who are co-sponsoring a tough gun-control bill both happen to be Jewish, so they have attracted the ire of Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership. The Wisconsin-based group’s self-appointed mission is “educating the Jewish community about the historical evils that Jews have suffered when they have been disarmed”—presumably the Holocaust could have been averted if only shtetl-dwellers had more AK-47s? Anyway, JPFO has mailed around charming fliers about the bill, including to these politicians’ homes, headlined, “Bagel Brain Jews Want Your Bullets and Your Guns.”

The state senator represents Montgomery County, the tony suburb north-northwest of Washington, D.C. I don’t know about elsewhere, but as a MoCo native myself, I can tell you that the (many many) Jews there have pretty little to fear beyond not being able to get a Saturday 8 pm reservation at a decent Bethesda restaurant, and I don’t see how guns could help that.

Anti-Semitic Flier Takes Aim at Md. Lawmakers for their Gun Bill [AP/Baltimore Sun]

Imaginary Animals, Really Kosher

New book profiles fantastic creatures

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Both Behemoth (top) and Leviathan (bottom) are kosher.(William Blake, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Ever been to a restaurant, and you see something imaginary on the menu—roasted Jabberwock, say, or braised Ent with balsamic vinaigrette—and you don’t know if you can order it or not because you don’t know if it’s kosher? Now, there’s a new book that will tell you: The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals.

Basically, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer have done extensive research (no, but really) into both fictional creatures and the laws of kashrut to determine whether 34 imaginary animals are kosher or not. Only seven are, including the biblical Behemoth, Leviathan, and Ziz. (Jewcy took a look at a few of these as well a couple months ago.)

Oh, and if you want to learn a bit more about mythical animals from Jewish folklore—presumably they are more likely not to be trayf, right?—Tablet Magazine had the skinny on several last Halloween.

It’s the Monster Manual With Manischewitz [i09]

Related: The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals [Jewcy]
A Very Hebrew Halloween [Tablet Magazine]

Today on Tablet

Shulevitz on the Sabbath, allergic over-reaction, and more

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Shabbat.(Flickr)

Today in Tablet Magazine, contributing editor Judith Shulevitz explores the Sabbath, the subject of her new book, for our Vox Tablet podcast series. Marjorie Ingall suggests that Passover—the holiday of freedom—not be a time of over-caution and overprotective parenting when it comes to potential food allergies. Josh Lambert rounds-up forthcoming books of interest. And The Scroll rounds-up everything else that needs rounding-up.

U.S.-Israel Relations Hit Nadir

Fallout from last week’s East J’lem announcement continues

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You thought it was over? You thought everyone had forgotten the Israeli Interior Ministry’s announcement last Tuesday, right after Vice President Joe Biden arrived in the country, that it will build 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem? Not a chance. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again apologized for the timing; however, he also stood by continued Israeli building in East Jerusalem. And a senior U.S. official confirmed that this has been “the first time the U.S. has really pushed back hard.”

The whole matter is important enough—proximity talks! peace in the Middle East! the U.S.-Israeli relationship! Hillary Clinton reprimanding Netanyahu for 45 frickin’ minutes!—that the whole thing deserves its own Monday morning mega-round-up. So:

• AIPAC called on the Obama administration to “defuse” tensions with Israel: “The administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines.” [Press Release/Ben Smith]

• Not one of Netanyahu’s 30 ministers—including members of the center-left Labor Party—supported a total settlement freeze, including in East Jerusalem. [JPost]

• Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told other Israeli diplomats that the U.S.-Israeli relationship has reached its lowest level in 35 years. [Haaretz]

• On Meet the Press, top Obama political adviser David Axelrod described the announcement as an “affront” and an “insult.” [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

• Defense Minister Ehud Barak said it was “not intentional, but was nonetheless unnecessary and damaging.” [Ynet]

• The U.S. State Department formally summoned and reprimanded Oren. [Ynet]

• U.S. envoy George Mitchell is headed to the region this week, and Netanyahu is headed to Washington, D.C., at the beginning of next for the AIPAC summit. President Barack Obama actually will be around while Bibi is there. [Laura Rozen]

• Influential columnist Thomas L. Friedman laments that Biden didn’t leave Israel immediately after the announcement, though not before relaying the following message to Israel:

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. And right now, you’re driving drunk. You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences? You have lost total contact with reality. Call us when you’re serious. We need to focus on building our country. [NYT]

Daybreak: Jordan Wants More Palestinians

Plus Le Pen’s good day, go Vols, and more in the news

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National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.(Wikimedia Commons)

• Last decade, thousands of Palestinians were stripped of Jordanian citizenship. Jordan’s government wants to maximize the Palestinians’ numbers to improve their bargaining position vis-à-vis Israel. [NYT]

• U.S. officials continued to criticize Israeli building in East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized again for the construction announcement’s timing while maintaining support for the settlements. My 10 am post will have much more. [LAT]

• While the main victors in France’s regional elections were leftist parties, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s ultra-right National Front won a higher-than-expected 12 percent. Among other provocations, Le Pen has minimized the Holocaust. [JPost]

• The IDF chief-of-staff is in Turkey on a fence-mending visit. [Haaretz]

• Even as U.S. officials assert no tolerance for Iranian nuclear weapons, America has already, quietly, initiated containment policies. [NYT]

• The 2010 NCAA basketball tournament bracket was announced. Maccabi USA Head Coach Bruce Pearl’s Tennessee Volunteers drew a six seed and will play San Diego State Thursday evening. [ESPN]

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