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Artist Paints Israel, Sees Apartheid

South African’s skewed vision of conflict

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Dumas’s ‘Wall Wailing’(David Zwirner/Radius Books)

Among the Obama Administration, the United Nations, and the Middle East Quartet, Israel has taken its share of lumps lately. But last week a brickbat came from an unexpected source: the highly-successful South Africa-born artist Marlene Dumas.

Dumas, the 56-year-old subject of a retrospective shown at both L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art and New York’s Museum of Modern Art two years ago, is now exhibiting a new body of work titled “Against the Wall” at the David Zwirner Gallery complex in Manhattan’s Chelsea. The show and its handsome catalogue, which features a number of paintings centered on Israel’s security fence, is a visual and verbal polemic against Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Dumas has never visited Israel. Instead, she relied on photographs clipped from newspapers and magazines to limn her portrait. This led to strange choices, chief among them two large paintings, Wall Weeping and Wall Wailing, which show Arabs lined up at gunpoint, Jack Bauer-style, against Jerusalem’s Western Wall. When, one wonders, would Israeli soldiers do such a thing? It turns out that the image has been based on a photograph shot in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War that Dumas found in Time magazine.

The entire show depends on the assumption that Israel—despite, or maybe even because of, its religious character—practices apartheid. “White South Africa used the Bible more than all of the time,” Dumas writes. “Everybody used it to justify anything. Love your neighbors but pray that you don’t have to touch them.”

Earlier in her essay she writes: “At this stage of my life, I paint the pictures and then I read the books.”

The best advice we can offer is that she reverse the practice.

Peace Process at Standstill

Did Obama apply pressure at the wrong time?

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I’ll have more on What’s Next before the weekend, but for now there are two must-read pieces on where things stand between the United States and Israel, and between the two countries’ leaders. If things have seemed a bit different over these past couple weeks, that’s because it’s all really new, and, as Jeffrey Goldberg puts it, it’s “big stuff.”

Writing in Politico, Laura Rozen and Ben Smith—who have been all over this whole story from the beginning—do some valuable reporting that suggests, ultimately, that both sides can be faulted for respectively lacking coherent strategies.

Netanyahu, observers said, has refused—out of distrust—to signal to Obama how far he’s willing to go in final-status negotiations. That caginess deepens the distrust.

“If last night they shared that strategic vision, that’s what will repair the relationship,” said Makovsky. “There’s no sign of that, but of course we don’t know.”

Out of distrust and, one should add, out of common sense: If you reveal how much you are willing to concede before negotiations begin, you are putting yourself at a substantial disadvantage.

The Obama Administration saw the original housing announcement—immaculately juxtaposed with Vice President Biden’s arrival—as a golden opportunity to try to advance the externally desired goal of a full settlement freeze. But while the notion of applying extreme pressure to Israel to get concessions, while certainly opposed by the right, is at least debatable, it is looking more and more like the Administration was objectively unwise to apply that pressure now rather than later. Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl, a onetime Jerusalem bureau chief, argues as much:

U.S. pressure on Netanyahu will be needed if the peace process ever reaches the point where the genuinely contentious issues, like Palestinian refugees or the exact territorial tradeoffs, are on the table. But instead of waiting for that moment and pushing Netanyahu on a point where he might be vulnerable to domestic challenge, Obama picked a fight over something that virtually all Israelis agree on, and before serious discussions have even begun.

In doing so, the Administration may have unwittingly sabotaged the very peace process it was sponsoring. Remember: Both it and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wanted a full settlement freeze; Israel compromised by offering a West Bank freeze, paving the way to the proximity talks. Now, with the U.S. request for a full freeze, Abbas has virtually no choice but to walk away even from the proximity talks without one: “How could he do otherwise?” Diehl notes bitterly. “The Palestinian leader cannot be less pro-Palestinian than the White House.”

Deep Chill in U.S.-Israeli Relations [Politico]
Obama and Netanyahu: Pointless Poison [PostPartisan]

Cantor’s Richmond Office Shot At

A rising star, the House’s only Jewish Republican

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Cantor today.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

No news beyond the basic facts of it yet, but the campaign office of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) in Richmond was shot at Monday morning; the bullet went through a window. Cantor, the House Minority Whip, is the only Jewish Republican in the House or the Senate. Several Democratic legislators have received death threats in the wake of the health care law’s passage, which they supported; Cantor, of course, was staunchly opposed.

Cantor Says Campaign Office Was Shot At, Accuses Dems of Exploiting Threats [Fox News]

Remembering the Triangle Fire

99th anniversary today

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Rendering of the building, from which 50 women jumped to their deaths.(Wikipedia.)

Today is the 99th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. In 1911, 146 garment workers—primarily Jews and Italians—died in a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, just east of Manhattan’s Washington Square, because management had locked the doors. The worst U.S. workplace disaster until 9/11, it prompted an outcry and paved the way, ultimately, to wider acceptance of workers’ rights.

The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition has an event at Washington Square’s Judson Memorial Church at 6:30 this evening.

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: An Indelible Memory, Etched In Chalk [Forward]

Today on Tablet

It’s Greek to us, charoset balls, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, authors, artists, and a boxer offer personal pages to the Haggadah (it’s really cool!). What makes that night different from all other nights? Judith Shulevitz, author of the newly published The Sabbath World, casts an analytic glance at the rituals and finds Greek at their heart. Joan Nathan discusses charoset before divulging the recipe she’ll use this year: charoset balls whose provenance dates to the 13th century. The Scroll would like to remind you that charoset is good and all, but the Hillel sandwich requires only horseradish.

British Intelligence Opposed Expulsion

Diplomats forced move over Dubai killing

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British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.(Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

In deciding to expel an Israeli diplomat and issue a travel advisory to citizens traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories, the diplomats in Britain’s Foreign Office were in favor (and won out), while officials in Britain’s security service were opposed. The moves were taken, of course, in protest of the faked British passports used in the (likely Mossad-backed) assassination of a Hamas weapons procurer in Dubai. Australia, whose passports were also forged, is likely next to act.

So what does this mean? It means that, barring further sensational evidence that it was indeed the Mossad who killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, you probably just saw the extent of adverse political consequences to the assassination for Israel. And even if there are further wrist-slaps, there are not going to be fundamental break-downs in Israeli alliances over this: no matter how much the diplomats want it, other countries’ intelligence services clearly understand, first, that covert assassination of state enemies on foreign soil is something of the way business is done; and, second, that they need cooperation with Israeli intelligence at least as much as Israeli intelligence needs cooperation with them.

A top Israeli diplomat had the most telling line: “The British really did the minimum required on their part over the passports,” he told Haaretz. In other words, if positions were reversed, this figure would have wanted to do the same thing—after all, he’s a diplomat.

U.K. Officials Were Split Over Expelling Israeli in Dubai Row [Haaretz ]
Related: Israeli: Mossad Hit Didn’t Upset Intel Ties

Daybreak: Nuclear Sanctions, Watered Down

Plus Elijah’s cup and Gilad’s chair, and more in the news

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Gilad Shalit.(The Jerusalem Life)

• The United States has proposed less severe U.N. sanctions to try to get Russia and China onboard. [WSJ/Kurdish Globe]

• Meanwhile, an AIPAC-backed letter calling for harsh and unilateral Iran sanctions has been like a magnet for congressional signatures. [Ben Smith]

• The U.S. and Israeli administrations are constructing “the blueprint”: a list of everything that must be settled as preconditions to peace talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu will need his cabinet’s approval; U.S. envoy George Mitchell, who met with Netanyahu yesterday, will take it to the Palestinians. [WP]

• Sid Fleischman, winner of the Newbery Award for best children’s novel for 1986’s The Whipping Boy, died at 90. [NYT]

• Israel’s chief rabbi called on citizens to save a chair at their seders for Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier. [Ynet]

Sundown: A Different Perspective on Obama-Bibi

Plus bat mitzvah dancing, and more

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• Everyone seems to be worried about declining U.S.-Israel relations … except the Palestinian Authority, which worries they haven’t declined enough. [Ynet]

• Someone else will have to be New York’s next Jewish senator: former Bush speechwriter Dan Senor isn’t running this year. [Ben Smith]

• Speaking in Berlin, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni urged international economic and political sanctions against Iran. [Haaretz]

• “With a heavy heart,” columnist Yossi Alpher backs Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s plan to unilaterally declare sovereignty. [JPost]

• In a meditative essay, Leon Wieseltier argues against Jewish building in East Jerusalem (specifically Sheikh Jarrah). [TNR]

• Oh, so this is what it’s like to be a bat mitzvah motivational dancer. [Slate]

Did you guys know Joy Division had a song called “Passover”? I sure didn’t!

Sound and Fury, With Nothing Signified So Far

Things are tense between Obama and Bibi

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President Obama yesterday.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This we know: Yesterday evening, Prime Minister Netanyahu entered the White House and met with President Obama in the Oval Office from 5:34 to 7:03; he then met with aides in the Roosevelt Room; requested a follow-up meeting; and President Obama, returning from the family quarters, met with Bibi in the Oval Office again from 8:20 to 8:55. Beyond that, we’re like Kay at the end of The Godfather when they close the door on her. Neither side has released a statement about the meeting, which is rare and suggests that even basic tenets could not be agreed upon.

Laura Rozen and Ben Smith report—echoing what Allison Hoffman wrote yesterday—that Netanyahu’s intense focus on lobbying Congress is solid evidence that the White House is not buying whatever he’s trying to sell.

And what may have further complicated what went on behind those closed doors was the unserendipitously timed announcement of, yup, more Jewish building in East Jerusalem. “This is exactly what we expect Prime Minister Netanyahu to get control of,” a senior U.S. official reportedly said. “The current drip-drip-drip of projects in East Jerusalem impedes progress.” The White House has requested “clarification” of these plans. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that the government had taken steps to ensure that surprise housing announcements didn’t happen again. Of course, he said that a few hours before this latest one.

And I haven’t even yet mentioned Iran, which Israel, at least, considers the real paramount issue. Newsweek’s Michael Hirsh reports that Obama had been all set to turn his Administration’s attention away from the settlements (and indeed the peace process) and toward Iran … and then announcement-gate happened. Not clear how accurate this report is—after all, U.S.-sponsored “proximity talks” were, and technically still are, in the offing—but there you have it.

So, a few known knowns, several known unknowns, and probably even a few unknown unknowns. Just another day in the special relationship.

After Meeting, Deafening Silence [Politico]
It’s Iran, Stupid
[Newsweek]
Earlier: AIPAC Delegates Hit the Hill

Sabbath: The Ecumenical Discussion

Tablet contributing editor discusses new book

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(Flickr)

Tablet Magazine contributing editor Judith Shulevitz is participating in an online discussion about her new book, The Sabbath World, over at Slate. Her interlocutors are Union Theological Seminary Professor Mary Boys and Slate writer Dahlia Lithwick. They’re on their fifth entry already and still going strong. Check it out!

Shulevitz was the guest on our Vox Tablet podcast last week. Check that out, too!

The Sabbath World Book Club [Slate]
Related: Day of Rest [Tablet Magazine]

All the Food News You Can Stomach

Catered Seders, phoney matzah, and more

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Maybe it’s the upcoming holiday, but there has been a recent spate of Jewish food news lately. Let’s take a look!

• Savoy, the Manhattan restaurant that trail-blazed the currently haute local-food movement, is leading a trend of seders-in-restaurants with a Sephardic-themed affair next week. [Forward]

• Ooh, and here are several more NYC restaurants with some great seder offerings. [Grub Street]

• Iranian seders sound awesome. [NYT]

• A restaurant called Traif—“Specializing in pork, shellfish, and love”—is opening in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, not far from a huge Hasidic enclave. [Bang it Out]

• Kosher wine that’s actually, y’know, good. [NYT]

• Untouchables-style, Israeli police raided a warehouse containing seven tons of matzoh with fake kosher certificates. [AP/Google]

• Many folks know that The Last Supper was actually a Passover seder. Well, it probably wasn’t. [Biblical Archaeology Review]

• Gatorade has started getting Orthodox Union kosher certification and is actively marketing to the yeshiva set. [The Jewish Star]

David Mamet Tells You How To Write

‘THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC’

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Mamet and his wife, Rebecca Pidgeon, last year.(Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

If you harbor dreams of one day writing television shows, or perhaps just watching them, then your official lunch-break reading is David Mamet’s advice to the writers of the show he created, the canceled CBS drama The Unit. It’s tough, hypercritical, and of course profane, but also fair, not un-admiring, and just plain brilliant. Did I mention that Mamet also wrote The Wicked Son, a Nextbook Press book?

One highlight (his bold and all-caps):

ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

DO NOT WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR AND HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.

But, really, read the whole thing.

And, sure, why not:

David Mamet’s Master Class Memo to the Writers of The Unit [Movieline]
Related: The Wicked Son [Nextbook Press]

Finally, an Actual Mensch!

This week on ‘Millionaire Matchmaker’

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(epodunk)

Every Wednesday, Senior Writer Allison Hoffman recaps the previous night’s episode of the glory that is Millionaire Matchmaker. For previous Matchmaker coverage, click here.

As we recently noted, Patti Stanger—La Matchmaker herself—is moving the show to New York. After watching last night’s episode, we think we know why: She’s worked her way to the top of L.A.’s douchebag totem pole, and now it’s time to go.

This week’s d-bag is Will Ratner, a reasonably good-looking 27-year-old who is spinning his wheels—Mercedes rims, if you must know—while he waits to inherit $40 million from the family business. (Is he related to the San Diego Ratners, Jewish garmentos who a made a fortune manufacturing Navy uniforms during World War II? Or maybe the Cleveland Ratners? Or none of the above?) Unlike Patti’s last dauphin, oil heir Jason Davis, Ratner comes across as more or less functional—he neither has a monkey nor talks about farting, for example. Will had a girlfriend, whom he really loved, and who stood by him while he explored the full range of L.A. careers: sports agent, investment adviser, restaurateur. But, you know, as he grew more successful, hotter women started hitting on him, and eventually, well, he had to start sleeping with them. But now he tells Patti he does not want to be at 35 the man he is at 27. Though it is hard. “Women want to get with me all the time, but I usually turn them down,” he says. “I can sacrifice a 10 bimbo for an 8 with a brain.” “Does the term a-hole mean anything to you?” Patti inquires. (more…)

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]

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