As Biden Departs, ‘Proximity Talks’ Still On

But how much longer can Israel pull off its game?

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Biden, leaving for Jordan.(David Furst/AFP/Getty Images)

Raise your hand if you’ve heard the old saw—sometimes attributed to Abba Eban—that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity? (I’ll raise my hand. I once heard it from Danny Ayalon, then Israel’s ambassador to the United States, from the bimah at my Washington, D.C., synagogue during Yom Kippur.) In the wake of the Israeli Interior Ministry’s announcement of plans to build 1600 new homes in East Jerusalem just as Vice President Biden had arrived to pave the way for “proximity talks,” an unnamed conservative American Jew wrote to blogger Ben Smith, “Israelis have now reached a level where that old cliché of ‘never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity’ can now apply to them at least as much as the Pals.”

Such is the understandable despair setting in. In fact, as Biden leaves the country (he heads for Jordan), the proximity talks will apparently still happen (over the Arab League’s reported protestations). Although, the New York Times reports, disagreements remain even on those: the Palestinians see them as focusing on borders and the like—on the substance of what peace would look like—while the Israelis see their ideal end result as merely putting the two sides in the same room together. The Israelis, in other words, appear more content to take things slowly than the Palestinians do.

Which begs the question: is time on Israel’s side? Demographically, of course not: every day that passes, the Palestinians attain a higher percentage of people between the river and the sea. And politically? Israel’s main supporter, the United States, seems (justifiably) as close to wit’s end as ever. The Jerusalem Post puts it best: Biden’s speech in Tel Aviv today (transcript here), while overwhelmingly about the importance of maintaining America’s and Israel’s close ties, was also “a get-your-act-together lecture from a frustrated parent to a beloved but occasionally errant child.” In private, Biden was apparently much more direct: “This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden, long known as a top American friend of Israel’s, told Prime Minister Netanyahu (my bold). “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.”

Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have an unfortunate tendency to miss opportunities for peace. But it seems increasingly clear that the Israelis, more than the Palestinians, have fewer of those left.

Analysis: Biden’s Get-Your-Act-Together Lecture [JPost]

Was Einstein a Zionist?

The Relativity papers, on exhibit in Jerusalem

Einstein.(Wikimedia Commons)

The papers that show Albert Einstein’s development of the General Theory of Relativity are not on display in Germany, where he was born, or in the United States, where he lived the last part of his life, but in Israel. As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities is exhibiting the papers for a few weeks in Jerusalem—they’re there because Einstein’s wife, Elsa, donated them, with her husband’s endorsement, to Hebrew University upon its 1925 opening.

The exhibit’s location opens onto the broader question of how Einstein—very possibly the most famous and influential Jew of the 20th century—felt about Israel, both before and after its inception. “Einstein’s relationship to Israel was complex,” the Times’s Ethan Bronner writes. “A self-described universalist, he became a Zionist when he witnessed anti-Semitism in Europe. Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president, was a key influence on him. Walter Isaacson, who wrote a 2007 biography of Einstein, said by telephone that Einstein wanted Jews to move here but did not back a separate Jewish nation-state until after it was declared in 1948.”

Last year, Tablet Magazine book critic Adam Kirsch pushed back against a book, Einstein on Israel and Zionism, that argued that the great physicist was lukewarm toward the Zionist project at best. Einstein “was an unwavering supporter of the Yishuv, and he spent a great deal of effort making speeches and raising money for Jewish institutions in Palestine,” Kirsch writes. “But he was also a principled cosmopolitan and anti-nationalist, and he was chagrined by the growing antagonism between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East.”

Rewrite of Physics by Einstein on Display [NYT]
Related: Relatively Speaking, A Zionist

British Teacher Terrorizes Students

Worst. Holocaust. Lesson. Ever.


Um, don’t really know what else to do with this, so am just going to quote liberally from the Daily Mail article (h/t: Ynet):

A group of stunned primary schoolchildren began crying when their teacher told them during a bizarre Holocaust game that they were to be taken away from their families.

The pupils, aged 11, became upset after a number of them were segregated and told they were being sent away or might end up in an orphanage.

The ordeal was meant to give the youngsters at the Lanarkshire school an insight into the horrors faced by Jewish children during World War II. …

One girl said her classmates began crying when Mrs. McGlynn told them she had a letter from the Scottish Executive saying nine children had to be separated from their classmates.

She told the shocked youngsters those who were born in January, February and March had lower IQs than other children, ‘due to lack of sunlight in their mother’s womb’, and that they had to put yellow hats on and be sent to the library.

The mother added: “When I asked why on earth they thought it was appropriate to deliver a role play situation to the children in this way, Mrs Stewart informed me that they didn’t inform the children beforehand.

“This was because they wanted the children to experience an “accurate emotional response” to this scenario in order for it to be reflected in their story writing.


Primary Schoolchildren in Tears After They Are Told They Will Be Removed From Families as Part of Holocaust ‘Game’ [Daily Mail]

Today on Tablet

Frank Lloyd Wright’s shul, a Jewish Indian goddess, and more

Frank Lloyd Wright.(Wikimedia Commons)

Today in Tablet Magazine, Michelle Goldberg traces how a French Sephardic woman named Mirra Alfassa became the “de facto goddess” of the southern Indian town of Pondicherry. Ian Volner considers the Beth Sholom synagogue in Philadelphia’s suburbs, for which, 50 years ago, Frank Lloyd Wright sought to design “a properly Jewish-American architecture, in a postwar world where America was more and more the center of Judaism.” The newest installment of Steve Stern’s The Frozen Rabbi is here, as it is every day. And speaking of things that are here every day: don’t forget The Scroll.

America, The Befuddled Matchmaker

Well we do the best we can!

Patti Stanger, another befuddled matchmaker.(GLAAD)

Where does Israel’s announcement of 1,600 new Israeli homes in East Jerusalem leave the United States? Where does it leave American Jews? America put immense pressure on both sides to agree to “proximity talks”—which center around its envoy, George Mitchell—even though neither side’s preconditions had been met; and soon after the U.S. vice president arrives in the area, Israel flaunts the fact that the Palestinians’ most coveted precondition—a temporary freeze on construction in East Jerusalem—remained unfulfilled.

Israel’s interior minister says the announcement’s timing was unfortunate and not intended to offend. Even if that last part is true, it made the Palestinians look stupid for agreeing to the talks (it also made them look like the victims of Israeli bullying); it made it seem that Israel was passive-aggressively expressing unseriousness about the talks; and it made the Americans appear, simply, foolish.

Even so, Biden’s condemnation was notable. One expert put it well to Haaretz: “If Netanyahu is at all serious about talks with the Palestinian Authority, this will be just the beginning of his coalition woes. Meanwhile, the Israeli bilateral relationship with the United States has just become much more difficult. It is hard to remember a time when a senior U.S. official used the word ‘condemn’ to describe the actions of any ally.”

The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Americans for Peace Now of course sided with Biden. J Street, with typical savvy—J Street’s savvy being the one thing its admirers and detractors seem able to agree about—let Biden do the talking: “J Street joins Vice President Biden in condemning … As Vice President Biden said … We echo Vice President Biden’s call.” The “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group seems to be betting that when it actively evangelizes for its positions, it does more alienating than persuading. Instead, it is positioning itself to be there, waiting, when (it believes) the facts on the ground usher Americans, and particularly American Jews, into its camp.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman told Haaretz that the announcement’s timing was poor but that Biden lacked tact: “The condemnation should have been issued by the State Department in Washington. … Biden undermined the central purpose of his trip to Israel—strengthening the friendship and cooperation between Israel and the U.S.” Meanwhile, no mention of the announcement appears on AIPAC’s Website. The silence is conspicuous, but is it wise? Joe Biden is known as a talker, and American Jews can surely hear him, even across a couple continents.

How Did U.S. Groups React to Biden’s Condemnation of Israel? [Haaretz]

Earlier: Biden Bashes Settlement Announcement

Daybreak: Honesty Between Friends

Plus the talks must go on, Iranian dissenters, and more in the news

Biden giving his speech at Tel Aviv University today.(Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

• Vice President Joe Biden gave his big speech in Israel, after tweaking it in response to the East Jerusalem construction announcement. The speech was mostly warm, with Biden explaining, “Only a friend can deliver the hardest truth.” [JPost]

• Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to stick to the proximity talks, even after the construction announcement. [NYT]

• The Arab League secretary-general said Abbas wouldn’t start the talks now, due to the construction announcement. Hrmm. [JPost]

• The E.U. parliament formally supported the Goldstone Report’s findings, to strong Israeli criticism. [Haaretz]

• Consensus among high-level Israelis is shifting away from military action against Iran and toward supporting the Islamic Republic’s homegrown opposition. [WSJ]

• Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived in Saudi Arabia to drum up support for harsh sanctions against Iran. [NYT]

Sundown: Arab League Questioning Support for Talks

Plus R.I.P. Corey Haim, lox is kosher after all, and more

Mmm, kosher.(Flickr)

• The Arab League called an emergency meeting to reconsider its backing of “proximity talks” in light of the East Jerusalem construction announcement. [Ynet]

• There’s a massive battle of the Israeli media titans right now, involving, among others, Sheldon Adelson. [LAT]

• 1980s teenage star Corey Haim, who was born to a Toronto Jewish family, died at 38. [ArtsBeat]

• As to those rumors that the ultra-Orthodox of Monsey, New York, had declared lox un-kosher? “Go ahead, eat lox,” says a report author. “It’s kosher—I just had some.” [The Journal News/Vos Iz Neias?]

• The hidden history of [ ] Jews. In this case, [ ] is Jamaican. [WSJ]

• In honor of his 47th birthday, producer Rick Rubin’s top ten tracks/albums. [Jewcy]

Below: Johnny Cash’s classic, Rubin-produced cover of Nine Inch Nails’s “Hurt.”

What You Said About Intermarriage

Our readers on the new Reform proposals


A post from yesterday on the Reform Movement’s decision to move from discouraging intermarriage to encouraging the intermarried to cultivate Jewish homes—as commenter Carl Rosen put it on Facebook, the movement is “accepting the intermarried more than intermarriage”—drew a whole bunch of responses, both on Facebook and, especially, on The Scroll itself.

Those who applauded the Central Conference of American Rabbis task force, which among other things suggested establishing special blessings for interfaith weddings, clearly outnumbered those who condemned it. “Ketzirah” wrote: “As a Jewish woman in an interfaith marriage, I think it’s about damn time. I’ve become more religious since I met my husband and it’s because of his encouragement that I’ve deepened my own faith and practice.” “Laura Baum” agreed: “As a rabbi ordained by the Reform movement, I am thrilled that the movement is now focusing on blessing interfaith relationships. … It is time to stop thinking of intermarriage as only a challenge—it is also a reality and an opportunity.” And Jeremiah says,

It’s about time. How many Jews have been “lost” because they were discouraged from marrying the person they loved, not to mention their children? Every non-Jew is a potential Jew, and non-Jewish spouses who don’t convert are often more involved in synagogue and Jewish life than their Jewish partners. They should have been welcomed long ago.


East Jerusalem Neighborhood Encapsulates Conflict

Sheikh Jarrah shows that right-of-return goes both ways

Biden and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, earlier today.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

The small neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah has become the focal point for questions concerning the future of East Jerusalem and of the so-called right-of-return—both the right of Palestinians to return to their ancestral homes in Israel proper, and the right of Jews to do the same in places on the far side of the Green Line. So the New York Times reports (and it has an excellent, complementary video).

The history of Sheikh Jarrah, and specifically of a certain compound in it, is pretty complicated. I’ll let Liel Leibovitz, who wrote about it a few weeks ago, summarize:

in the late 19th century, a small Jewish community settled in the neighborhood, believing, as some Jews do, that the 4.5-acre compound they had purchased was the burial place of Shimon Hatsadik, a great high priest of the Second Temple. Arab violence in the 1920s and 1930s forced the Jews to disperse, and by 1948 none remained in the neighborhood. In 1956, the Jordanians, then East Jerusalem’s sovereigns, settled 28 Palestinian families in the compound. When Israel took over in 1967, these families were sued by the original Jewish owners; in 1982, the Israeli court ruled that the Palestinians were “protected tenants,” but that, as they didn’t own the property, they were required to pay rent to their Jewish landlords. The Palestinians, on their end, refused to accept this premise …

A settler organization named Nahlat Shimon bought the land from its original Jewish owners and renewed the legal campaign to clear the compound of Palestinians. Incredibly, in the summer of 2009, the Supreme Court ruled in Nahlat Shimon’s favor, arguing that since the property was once owned by Jews, the original owners still held the rights to the homes they were forced to abandon decades ago.

The Palestinians were evicted, and a group of Israeli religious nationalists immediately moved in. It is now the subject of weekly, sometimes daily, protests that draw not just the Israeli left but even moderates like novelist David Grossman and intellectual Moshe Halbertal. (There may be a hint of radical chic to these protests, too: “Accessibility is another draw,” the Times notes. “Unlike the relatively remote Palestinian villages where young Israeli leftists and anarchists join local residents and foreigners in protests against Israel’s West Bank barrier, Sheikh Jarrah is a few minutes’ drive from downtown Jerusalem.”)

Venezuela Called on Anti-Semitism

International body is preparing anti-racism convention

Hugo Chávez last month.(Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

While incidents of anti-Semitism have cropped up in Venezuela, and while some have argued that President Hugo Chávez deliberately cultivates an anti-Semitic atmosphere, B’nai B’rith International draws our attention to a new report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which, drawing on B’nai B’rith testimony, represents the most prominent formal acknowledgment of (and concern for) Venezuelan anti-Semitism.

Among other things, the group noted that Venezuela did not cooperate with the report, which was published under the aegis of the Organization of American States.

The next step for the OAS is the drafting of an Inter-American Convention concerning racism. B’nai B’rith says it is working to get an explicit mention of anti-Semitism in the document.

New OAS Report Finds Anti-Semitism in Venezuela; B’nai B’rith Submits Testimony [B’nai B’rith]
Earlier: Hugo Chávez’s Uses for Anti-Semitism
Related: United by Hate [Boston Review]

Jesus Saves!

This week in ‘Millionaire Matchmaker’

Trevor!(Leesburg Times-Union)

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.

Some of us have had a little trouble sleeping lately. Luckily, that wasn’t a problem last night, thanks to a Millionaire Matchmaker episode in which everyone was boring, and no one found love. Memo to Patti: if you promise a hootenanny, give us something we can sing along to!

Instead, we have Tricia and Trevor, a pair designed to create controversy. Tricia Cruz, who says she’s 38, is on the show because she recently walked in on her husband in flagrante on the desk at their office, and she would like to punish him by finding a woman to fall in love with. On national television, no less! But Tricia is no stranger to doing things on TV; as DJ Tina Turbo, she appeared last year on a reality show called Hellbent for Hollywood. Also, she has a standup show called Strip. Whatever! She’s bi-curious!

And she is going to be at a mixer with Trevor Shively, of Leesburg, Indiana, pop. 625, where the 2000 census recorded two black people, neither of whom, Trevor says, he’s ever had a whole conversation with. Trevor is also a fervent Christian, which freaks Patti out. “I am not really a fan of real religious Moral Majority types,” she starts, before getting to the point. “I don’t really get along with Midwest idiots.” (more…)

Today on Tablet

A visit with the Antiguan prime minister, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Liel Leibovitz tells about that time a couple weeks ago when he was almost jailed in Antigua on suspicion of being a Mossad agent. Benny Morris analyzes Jewish terrorism from the Maccabees to the settlers. Mideast columnist Lee Smith uses the tools of literary theory to show how, in the Middle East, the same words can mean different things to different sides. If you ever want The Scroll to perform a Derridean deconstruction of itself, just let us know.

More Dubai Evidence Points You-Know-Where

Following the money to the Mossad

The passport photos of six suspects.(Dubai police)

The New York Observer may have found yet further evidence—if distantly circumstantial—of Mossad involvement in the January 19 assassination of Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. (To learn everything you need to know about the whole thing, click here.)

The interesting detail has to do with a New York City-based company called Payoneer, whose prepaid debit cards were reportedly used by many of the 27 (at last count) suspected assassins.

New York City-based … but heavily enmeshed in the world of the Israeli military and intelligence services. Payoneer is run by Yuval Tal, who served in an Israeli “elite combat unit.” An Israeli Air Force pilot was a first-round investor; the venture capital fund that led the following investment round did so under the hand of a military intelligence captain; a further round was led by a fund founded by a former IDF Special Forces man.

To an extent, of course, this is to be expected: when a country has universal conscription, then most entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, like most of everyone else, will have done military service. But these connections clearly tend toward the more covert, mysterious end of the spectrum.

Plus, look, it was—at least in part—the Mossad. It just was. (The Mossad, as always, will neither confirm nor deny involvement.)

New York City’s Assassination Connection [NY Observer]
Related: Murder in Dubai [Tablet Magazine]

Daybreak: Israel Apologizes for “Embarrassment”

Plus, “Heroes of the Holocaust,” nighttime raids, and a morality poll


• Israel’s interior minister says he is “very sorry for the embarrassment” resulting from his government’s approval yesterday of 1,600 new E. J’lem homes as Joe Biden arrived in the country to support peace talks—but the approval is still in effect. Biden’s now trying to reassure the P.A. that all is not lost. [AP]

• British PM Gordon Brown has awarded medals to 27 countrymen who saved Jews from Nazis, calling them “Heroes of the Holocaust.” [Telegraph]

• Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has accused Israeli military police of arresting Palestinian minors, who are accused of throwing stones at settlers, in violent nighttime raids. [AP]

• AIPAC has taken the unusual step of sending every Congress member a “sharply worded letter” demanding an investigation into how $107 billion in federal grants has been awarded to companies that do business in Iran. [JTA]

• Less surprisingly, a poll finds that 74 percent of Israel’s religious Jews believe they are “more moral” than the general public. [Ynet]

Sundown: Maharat, A Rabbi, A Female Rabbi

Plus Eden in 3D, 36 months shall set you free, and more

Now imagine it in 3D!(Wikimedia Commons)

• Days after nixing the term “Rabba” for ordained female Orthodox rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America agreed to the term “Maharat.” Agudath Israel called this “capitulation” “deeply dismaying.” [Press Release]

• David Kimche, a longtime Mossad member who rose to Foreign Ministry Director General, and who in later life backed the two-state solution and J Street, died at 82. [Laura Rozen]

• They’re planning a major-studio, 3D version of the Book of Genesis. Title: In The Beginning. Adam and Eve will be blue (just kidding). [Jewcy]

• Three suspects in the theft of Auschwitz’s “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign pleaded to up to three years’ jail-time. [Krakow Post/Vos Iz Neias?]

• The Egyptian government will fund restorations of local synagogues. [AP/Haaretz]

• Elinor Burkett, the Golda Meir biographer who made a Kanye-like splash at the Oscars, took her new schtick to Letterman (go to the three-minute mark). [ArtsBeat]

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