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Today on Tablet

More ‘The Frozen Rabbi,’ the long end of Baghdad Jewry, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, read part 2 of the first week’s installment of Steve Stern’s serialized novel, The Frozen Rabbi. Memoirist Marina Benjamin remembers visiting Baghdad, where her family lived for countless generations, and mourns the loss of the city’s vibrant Jewish community and culture, slowly disappearing altogether into the sand. Book critic Adam Kirsch considers the Dreyfus Affair in the light of today’s culture wars. Our weekly Emails of Zion—that missive that’s been making the electronic rounds among the People of the MacBook—takes the form of a petition to protest Israel’s destruction of a West Bank settlement home occupied by the widow and children of a war hero. We won’t ever maker you sign anything on The Scroll.

Is The GOP The Pro-Israel Party?

What last week’s poll really meant

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President Obama yesterday.(Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty Images)

Both James Besser and Shmuel Rosner—two of the shrewder analysts of Jewish-American politics—highlight (Besser here, Rosner here) the same dynamic from that poll last week that showed historically high American support for Israel. Namely: there is a whopping 37 percent gap between the two parties’ pro-Israel-ness, with 85 percent of Republicans saying they “support” Israel and only 48 percent of Democrats saying that.

How does this square with the fact that most American Jews continue to stick with the Democratic Party (or at least its candidates)? For Besser, the juxtaposition of the Democratic turn from Israel and continued Democratic support among Jews is less a function of Democrats, and particularly Democratic Jews, forsaking Israel, and more of most Jews deciding Israel is just not hugely important any which way: perhaps, Besser argues,

rank-and-file Jewish voters know Republicans tend to be more hard-line supporters of Israel, or at least of current Israeli policy, and they don’t much care.

Maybe that’s because a lot of American Jews don’t like current Israeli policy, either.

Or it’s because Israel just isn’t a big factor in their political decision-making. …

Maybe the Democrats aren’t as gung-ho about Israel, or at least the current Israeli government, but nobody’s saying Israel’s aid should be cut off, a Democratic president isn’t pounding Israel with a diplomatic sledgehammer, so what’s the big deal? Where’s the crisis?

That final point—where’s the crisis?—is especially compelling. If it’s true, though, does mean that the worst that could happen to the Democrats as far as Jewish support is concerned would be for a prominent Democrat to say that Israel’s aid should be cut off, or for the Democratic president to pound Israel with a diplomatic sledgehammer.

I’d offer one more possibility: maybe the question over “support for Israel” obscures a nuance that liberal American Jews, and many liberal Americans of all groups, hold dear. Many of these folks, after all, support Israel but affirmatively don’t support many of Israel’s current policies; and, moreover, they see that disapproval as being very much in the service of that fundamental support. They oppose settlements, they would tell you, because they support Israel. That may not be the type of support that polls such as this one can trumpet, but it’s also nothing that Democrats should be embarrassed about, or worry about.

The Partisan Gap on Israel—Do Jews Really Care? [JW Political Insider]
Partisan Gap on Israel Is Becoming Wider [Rosner’s Domain]
Earlier: Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Are Pro-Israel

Daybreak: Cold, Russian Sanctions

Plus more trouble for Paterson, anti-‘apartheid,’ and more in the news

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• The rookie head of the U.N. nuclear inspectors defended their finding that Iran is working on weapons. Meanwhile, there were new indications that Russia would get behind harsher sanctions. [WSJ]

• A new scoop further implicates New York Gov. David Paterson in a longtime aide’s assault case, so we’re yet closer to a resignation and Richard Ravitch governorship. [NYT]

• U.S. diplomats formally spoke out against Israel’s plans to build new houses in East Jerusalem. [Haaretz]

• Dubai, which has been fairly open to traveling Israelis compared to other Arab countries, has barred Israelis and dual Israeli citizens from entering, in response to Mossad’s alleged role in that whole assassination business. More on this later today. [WP]

• Prominent columnist Richard Cohen rejects descriptions of “apartheid,” explaining why today’s Israel is not comparable to 1980s South Africa. [WP]

• Shark attacks in the United States are declining! This has to be good for the Jews, right? [WSJ]

Sundown: This Week’s ‘Celebration’

Plus oh hi Farrakhan, ‘Brooklyn Shore,’ and more in the news

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Barak with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, D.C., last week.(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

• Several universities around the world are marking “Israel Apartheid Week,” advocating for divestments, boycotts, and sanctions. I have read both the Anti-Defamation League and J Street condemn the comparison of Israel to South Africa, and accuse organizers of attempting to de-legitimize Israel’s existence. [Haaretz]

• The Israeli Embassy in Madrid has of late received letters from Spanish schoolchildren urging the ambassador: “think about not killing the Palestinian children and elderly. I don’t know if it doesn’t bother you, having to murder people. You should leave Palestine.” [Ynet]

• Visiting Washington, D.C., Defense Minister Ehud Barak would not answer questions from a friendly audience on the state of U.S.-Israel relations vis-à-vis Iran. [Laura Rozen]

• Whom does Louis Farrakhan think is partly to blame for the difficulties President Barack Obama has encountered in office? No, you don’t get any hints. [JTA]

• A great piece from Israel on how Russian speakers—who now make up 15 percent of Israelis—have turned entire cities into Moscows-on-Mediterranean. [NYT]

• Meanwhile, in Brooklyn’s Little Odessa (otherwise known as Brighton Beach), there are plans for a reality show that is “a cross between Jersey Shore and Anna Karenina.” The show’s producers will likely find that most residents are—unlike the denizens of the two cited masterpieces—Jewish. [NY Post]

Oh, and regarding my noon post: the two Jews not born in America are Albert Einstein and Isaac Asimov; the convert to Judaism was Sammy Davis, Jr.; and the convert from Judaism was Mel Brooks (who became a Catholic when he married Anne Bancroft).

Bashing Haman at Hamanbashin!

What you missed at our Purim party

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Above: a member of Can!!Can reads the megillah, punk rock-style.

If you weren’t at Hamanbashin!, the Purim party thrown by JDub Records (and sponsored by Tablet Magazine) on Saturday night, then, well, what were you doing? But no kidding: a swell time was had by all. JDub’s Flickr feed of the evening is here. The event was also covered by Metromix and the muckrakers over at Young Manhattanite.

In case you’re wondering, the two best-costume prizes went to the couple who dressed, individually, as a Hasid and a hipster, meaning that, together, they were the Williamsburg bike lane battle; and the woman who wore a chicken suit and Band-Aids on her face: a foul fowl from the Rubashkin plant.

Hamanbashin! [JDub Records]

Drugged and Choked, Truth and Consequences

Today in the Dubai Murder Mystery

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The Dubai police chief, earlier today.(Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images)

If you have not been following this exciting story, I wrote a catch-up today for the magazine: do check out. I’ll also be updating it as news that fits it breaks.

As for what’s happened since then …

The big news today was that we finally learned how exactly Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh died: he was injected with a powerful muscle relaxant—one that is used in both death-penalty cocktails and hospitals—and then was suffocated.

The secondary news was that two of the 26 suspects (thought to be in or affiliated with the Mossad) entered the United States after the assassination took place.

Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim, who has previously said he is “99 percent” certain that Mossad was behind al-Mabhouh’s death, called on Mossad chief Meir Dagan either to confirm or deny the Israeli intelligence agency’s involvement. So, in its way, did Haaretz, in an editorial. A bit of friendly advice for Mr. Tamim and the Haaretz editorial board: don’t hold your breaths.

Besides whether Mossad definitely did it, the other outstanding questions concern whether the incident will have adverse diplomatic consequences for Israel. The general consensus is that Israel can expect a slap on the wrist, but little more: al-Mabhouh, after all, was a bad guy, and anyway Mossad’s usefulness to Western countries far outweighs whatever bad publicity this may have caused. Still, the following are facts: Israelis are no longer allowed in Dubai; Australia abstained on a U.N. resolution related to the Goldstone Report specifically due to concerns over the fake Australian passports in the killing; and British police are interviewing dual British-Israeli citizens whose (fake) passports were used, in Tel Aviv. None of which is probably the best press in the world.

On the other hand, there is the take of high-ranking Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, of the Labor Party: “The assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was not a failure. I don’t know who did it but what’s important is the end result.”

Slain Hamas Operative Was Drugged, Dubai Police Say [NYT]
Related: Murder in Dubai [Tablet Magazine]

With ‘Ajami’, Israeli Cinema Moves From Politics

Oscar nominee exemplifies new kind of Israeli film

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A scene from Ajami.(Ajami on Facebook)

Today kicks off Oscar week (the ceremony takes place next Sunday night), and the Los Angeles Times helps get things rolling with the observation that Ajami—the Palestinian-Israeli Arabic-language movie that has become Israel’s third consecutive Best Foreign Language Film nominee—is a decidedly unpolitical flick. The directors, the LAT notes,

Are preoccupied with human dynamics far more than political or social ones; if issues like military policy and economic inequality are present at all, it’s simply as part of the cinematic furniture.

That would be unremarkable in many places. But in the political-minded precincts of the Middle East, it reflects a substantial change.

And it’s a change you can see throughout the spectrum of Israeli cinema, according to the article. The two biggest Israeli-produced movies of 2009 are about “an overweight man who takes up sumo wrestling to deal with his insecurity” and “a coming-of-age love triangle involving twins and set in the 1980s.”

This is a positive development. Zionism was supposed to mean that Jews could live normal lives as Jews, no longer constantly haunted by history. So if Israelis are making crappy movies (and good ones!), like everyone else, then surely that’s a sign of success.

Recent Israeli Films Are Less Political [LAT]
Related: Family Matters [Tablet Magazine]

Obama ♥ Glaser

Becomes first graphic designer to win National Medal of Arts

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Glaser receiving the medal last week.(Mandel Ngan.AFP/Getty Images)

Milton Glaser, the legendary American graphic designer who brought us such icons as the ‘I ♥ NY’ logo and the famous ‘rainbow Jewfro’ Bob Dylan psychedelic poster, became the first graphic designer to receive the National Medal of Arts after President Obama bestowed it on him last week. Over his epic career, Glaser, 80, indelibly shaped the next generation of graphic designers (this designer included), both through his work and as an instructor at the School of Visual Arts. “I wish my mother was alive to see this,” Glaser said last week. Every graphic designer in North America (and their mothers) subsequently kvelled.

Glaser Gets Award from Obama (Daily Heller)
President Obama Presents Medals in Arts and Humanities (video)

Name That Jew!

Betcha can’t get ‘em all

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These 12 faces appear at the top of Wikipedia’s article on “American Jews.” And 12 American Jews those indeed are. But can you name them all? The answers also appear on the Wikipedia page, so don’t click the link until you’re done!

And, bonus question: befitting the diverse scope of the American Jewish experience, out of the 12 Jews pictured,
• two were not born in America
• one converted to Judaism
• one converted away from Judaism.

I’ll post those answers in the evening run-down.

American Jews [Wikipedia]

Today on Tablet

A real live novel on Tablet begins, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, we begin serializing Steve Stern’s new novel, The Frozen Rabbi. Check out the first installment. This week’s Vox Tablet podcast is … why, an interview with Steve Stern on his decision to serialize his new novel (that would be The Frozen Rabbi!) in these very digital pages. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall goes to the source—Lila, 7; Josie, 8; and Noemi, 4 (very much going on 5)—for answers to questions about God and the Meaning of Life and all that. Josh Lambert provides his weekly look at forthcoming books of interest. And The Scroll unfurls for the new week.

Gov. or No, Ravitch Gains Power

All about New York’s second-in-command

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Lieutenant Gov. Ravitch.(New York Times)

As the scandal surrounding New York Gov. David Paterson’s alleged intervention in a longtime aide’s assault case continues to mushroom, the New York Times—the same paper that broke the scandal—takes a good long look at Lieutenant Gov. Richard Ravitch. If Paterson resigns, Ravitch would become the first Jewish governor of America’s most Jewish state in … almost two years. Which is a while, when you think about it! Almost half the time between now and the next Winter Olympics!

Even if Paterson doesn’t resign, though, his weakened position—among other things, he’s a lame duck, having announced he won’t run for re-election—only makes Ravitch more powerful. “He is widely seen as the only adult left in Albany,” the Times reports. Many Democrats, for example, are urging Paterson to make Ravitch the one in-charge of crucial, and unfailingly contentious, budget negotiations.

We learn a bit about Ravitch’s life: he’s a classic New York City éminence grise, ensconced in the especially Gotham power centers of real estate, politics, sports, and, yes, Jewish philanthropy.

Another of Ravitch’s prime assets is that nobody sees him as a threat because he has zero further political aspirations: as he says, “My disability is my strength. I’m not a candidate for anything.” The one time he was a candidate for something—the 1989 Democratic mayoral primary—he came in third. “Aides remembered him as a horrendous candidate,” we’re told, “always saying something impolitic when he wasn’t grossing people out by picking his ears.”

Which just goes to prove that old saying: those who can’t run for governor, become lieutenant governor; and those who can’t govern, become governor.

The Accidental Lieutenant [NYT]

Related: Question of Influence in Abuse Case of Paterson Aide [NYT]

Earlier: NYT Story Opens Door For Ravitch
Paterson Won’t Run; Is Ravitch Next?

Daybreak: Converting China

Plus Dubai cause-of-death, Snooki’s glassy Purim, and more in the news

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Don’t worry guys, Snooki is okay.(Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

• An Israeli delegation showed Chinese officials extensive intelligence on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. China is the final veto-possessing holdout when it comes to further Security Council sanctions. [Haaretz]

• Israel’s plans to landmark two Biblical sites in the West Bank led to further skirmishes, as well as the Israeli police entering al-Aqsa mosque in the Temple Mount. [WSJ]

• Dubai police officials disclosed that Hamas weapons man Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was killed January 19th (by, most believe, the Mossad), died after being injected with a powerful muscle relaxant and asphyxiated. We’ll have much more on the Dubai Murder Mystery later today. [NYT]

• A rift between Hamas’s Syria-based leadership and its Gaza branch has been exacerbated by disagreements over the negotiations for Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier. [Haaretz]

• David Bankier, a Holocaust scholar at Yad Vashem, died. The 63-year-old had pioneered the study of ordinary Europeans’ cooperation with the Nazis. [NYT]

• A glass ceiling at a Manhattan hotel collapsed during a Purim party, injuring 10 guests. “Omg roof just collapsed at the purim event!” Tweeted Jersey Shore star Snooki. “We thought the dj was beatin the beat hardcore but nope, the roof couldn’t handle snooki and vin.” Welcome back from the weekend, folks! [NY Post/Vos Iz Neias?]

Sundown: Happy Purim!

Plus carping over gefilte fish, and more bad puns

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(Flickr)

• A look at Purim as the holiday that “includes all others” and distills the fundamental choice all Jews face: whether to wait for God to act or to take matters into your own hands. [BeliefNet]

• Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a favorite of centrists on the Israeli side, vows that Palestinians will not be provoked to violence by “the terrorism of the settlers, and the terrorism of the settlement project.” [Haaretz]

• In Finland, authorities are trying to bar anyone but doctors from performing circumcisions by prosecuting a Jewish couple whose baby experienced complications after a mohel performed his bris. [Jewish Chronicle]

• A library at Oxford University has a fascinating, and revealing, exhibit of late-medieval manuscripts, with a special focus on Jewish ones. [Times of London]

Jewish Week columnist Abe Novick bemoans the dissipation of trust and true connectedness in our supposedly globalized world. [Jewish Week]

• Apparently there’s a big Illinois plant that makes gefilte fish. And there’s a trade dispute preventing the gefilte fish from being shipped to Israel. So, yeah, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally pledged to resolve the problem in time for Passover. Me? I prefer my gefilte fish caught in the wild. [JPost]

One Ugly Divorce

Couple feuding over daughter’s religion

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The Reyes couple, during happier days.(ABC News)

This story has it all. Joseph and Rebecca Reyes were married in a traditional Jewish ceremony, and Joseph, who was born Catholic, converted to Rebecca’s Judaism. They had a daughter, Ela, now 3. And then, one day, the bottom fell out: financial troubles, suspicions of infidelity, etc. They divorced. Rebecca got Ela (and the house).

It was at this point that Joseph found God and Jesus besides, and had Ela baptized, telling Rebecca about it only after the fact. Rebecca went to court and got a judge to bar Joseph from taking Ela to church. Joseph proceeded to, well, take Ela to church, with a camera crew in tow—you just get closer to God when strangers are taping you, you know? Next week, Joseph faces up to six months in prison for being criminally in contempt of the court order.

The video’s below. Two thoughts:

• I don’t think this is about religion—particularly for Joseph, who lost basically all credibility when he notified that camera crew. It’s even less about the First Amendment, a banner Joseph has been plenty happy to wave. This is about two people going through a nasty break-up and wanting to get back at each other, and using their kid as a pawn in that game. Joseph clearly started it, and based on the limited information in the report, he seems more culpable; but it takes two to tango (Joseph alleges Rebecca went straight to court, for example, without first trying to reason with him).

• Yes, we have a comments section, and yes, if you feel like it, you can go there now and tell the world that this never would have happened if Rebecca had married a Jewish man (although it’s worth pointing out that Joseph converted). Just please try to be civil. Thanks!

Exclusive: Mother Talks About Whether Estranged Dad Should Go to Jail For Taking Daughter to Church [ABC News]

How To Spend 19 Hours in Kiev’s Airport

You get pretty upset, is how

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It’s hard to know whom to feel worse for: the 17 Jewish passengers flying Ukraine’s Aerosvit Airlines who were stranded 19 hours in Kiev’s airport after their connecting flight to New York (from Tel Aviv, originally) was canceled; or the Aerosvit employees, who said passengers bum-rushed when they just couldn’t take it anymore.

Most amusing tidbit from the report: “Aerosvit’s representative in Israel, Shimon Mostovoy, was out of the office all day and failed to respond to reporters’ questions.” Two words: undisclosed location.

Frustrated Jewish Passengers Storm Security at Kiev Airport [JPost/Vos Iz Neias?]

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