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Sundown: New Human Rights Watch Head

Plus don’t cry for A’jad, Elie Wiesel, and more

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• James Hoge, the broadly respected editor of Foreign Affairs, will become the new head of Human Rights Watch. The group has been accused in the past of an anti-Israel bias. [Laura Rozen]
• Elie Wiesel says he “would not shed a tear” if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad died. [Haaretz]
• A dispatch describes the fledgling Jewish community of [fill in the blank]. In this case, it’s [Glasgow, Scotland]. [Jewish Chronicle]
• The president of CNBC arranged for a blockbuster bar mitzvah video for his son. It features NBC anchor Brian Williams, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, and—best of all, in our opinion—Mad Money host Jim Cramer. [Page Six]
• Najla Said—daughter of late Professor Edward—has a one-woman play, Palestine, opening Off Broadway next week. The autobiographical production details her transition from disinterested kid to politically committed woman. [NYT]
• Agudath Israel, the Orthodox Union, and other prominent American Orthodox groups are lobbying for clemency to be granted to Martin Grossman, who faces execution in Florida next Tuesday for killing a wildlife officer 25 years ago. [Vos Iz Neias?]

Knicks Match Casspi and Heritage Night

Best Jewish marketing ploy since the post-Yom Kippur lox platter

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Casspi lays one up against the Cleveland Cavaliers in December.(Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

New York magazine’s sports blog catches some canny advertising on the part of the New York Knicks: their Jewish Heritage Night just so happens to coincide with the night the Sacramento Kings—the team of Omri Casspi, the first Israeli player in the NBA—come to Madison Square Garden. (That would be tonight.)

It gets better: you can buy a ticket and a Hebrew Knicks t-shirt, or even a package that includes those things plus entry into a special Q&A with Casspi, for, respectively, $36 and $54—double and triple chai! You would almost think that the Knicks have a real live Jewish person on staff.

Knicks’ Secret Weapon To Sell Tickets: Omri Casspi [The Sports Section]

Related: Draft Notice [Tablet Magazine]

Egypt’s Soccer Coach Won’t Coach Israel

Just in case you were wondering

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“It would be more honorable to me and my family if I die of hunger rather than consider coaching the Israeli team,” said Hassan Shehata, who coach’s Egypt’s national squad, explaining that he wouldn’t coach Israel “even if it was the only team that requests my services.” (Um, quick question: did it request his services?) “All my life I’ve heard that Israel kills Arabs, fires missiles, and destroys Arab villages,” he added, “but this is the first time in my life that I’ve heard that in Israel they play soccer.” (They do, in fact, play soccer in Israel.)

So that’s not a very nice thing to say! But let’s be magnanimous and wish Shehata’s team—which is ranked an impressive tenth in the world—the best of luck in this summer’s World Cup. Wait—what’s that? Egypt got beat out by Algeria and failed to qualify? Too bad. Better luck next year. Sorry, four years.

‘Rather Starve Than Coach Israel’[JPost]

Toyota Crashes Into Synagogue

Queens man blames brakes; yeah, that must be it

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The wrecked Toyota.(Daily News.)

A man named Gerald Silver accidentally crashed his car into a Queens synagogue Monday. (Silver and wife suffered no serious injuries, fortunately.) Here’s the twist: the car was a Toyota Camry. Yes, Toyota, as in the legendary Japanese car manufacturer that recently recalled a whole bunch of Priuses (Prii?) due to braking problems. In fact, Silver thinks Toyota is at fault: “The car just speeded up unbelievably,” he said. “I attempted to brake it and it just kept getting faster and faster.” He added: “It’s quite obvious—I blame Toyota.”

So is the Camry subject to braking problems, too? Of course, it’s possible that Silver accidentally hit the accelerator when he thought he was braking, but that seems unlikely: drivers, like wine, only get better with age, and so it seems improbable that an 86-year-old gentleman like Silver could make such an error.

Queens WWII Vet Gerald Silver Faults Toyota as 2009 Camry Hits Synagogue [NY Daily News[

Israeli Minister, Historian Welcomed in Britain

With a disinvitation and ‘slaughter the Jews’

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Yesterday, at the Oxford Union (at the eponymous British university), Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon—an especially controversial figure, most recently for his deliberate humiliation of Turkey’s ambassador—was the target of shouts of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Itbah Al-Yahud,” which means, “Slaughter the Jews.”

On the other hand, at least he was allowed to talk! Benny Morris, the prominent Israeli historian (as well as—spoiler alert!—forthcoming Tablet Magazine contributor), was disinvited from Cambridge University’s Israel Society following a student protest that began on Facebook. Morris began his career decidedly on the left—he was one of the so-called New Historians who documented Israeli abuses during the 1947-8 war—but has since moved rightward. “I decided to cancel for fear of the Israel Society being portrayed as a mouthpiece of Islamophobia,” said the Israel Society head. “We understand that whilst Professor Benny Morris’ contribution to history is highly respectable and significant, his personal views are, regrettably, deeply offensive to many.” Morris will speak instead at the university’s Political Science Department, which is apparently more interested in hearing what Israeli historians have to say than the Israel Society is.

Oxford Students Scream ‘Kill the Jews’ at Israeli Minister [Jewish Chronicle]
Benny Morris Talk Stirs Uproar at Cambridge [JPost]

Israelis Seize Snowball Opportunity

Friends organize mass fight in Washington, D.C.

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(Zazzle)

Washingtonians don’t need us to tell them that they got over two feet of snow over the weekend (they also probably don’t need us to tell them that they’re getting another foot tonight!). But even as the city more or less shut down—the snow fell Friday and Saturday; the federal government was closed yesterday and today—over 2,000 young people took advantage with a massive snowball fight at Dupont Circle that garnered national attention (and maybe even a little national jealousy).

And the fight’s organizers, it turns out, must think that two inches of snow, much less two feet, is quite a novelty: they’re both from Israel. Ami Greener and Michael Lipin are friends who live across Dupont from each other and thought this would be a fun idea. Largely through Facebook, they organized the fight, and ended up thrilled: with the turnout, with the businesses that came to sell food, and with the generally good vibes.

Were you there? Do you want to pretend you were there? Then you may want to get in on their t-shirt.

Israelis Organize Massive Washington Snowball Fight [JPost]

Today on Tablet

What a 900-year-old poet means for you, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Adam Kirsch introduces Yehuda Halevi, the new biography by Hillel Halkin (and published by Nextbook Press), arguing that Jews today can better understand themselves by considering the life of this 12th-century poet. Mideast columnist Lee Smith reveals how the influential husband-and-wife team of Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett have pushed the line that it makes more sense to accept the current Iranian leadership than to hope to change it. For its part, The Scroll recommends Halkin’s book—it’s quite good!

Wieseltier vs. Sullivan

Your guide to the brawl

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Leon Wieseltier.(The Charlie Rose Show.)

Late last night, The New Republic posted an article in which Leon Wieseltier, the magazine’s literary editor of roughly three decades, accused Atlantic writer Andrew Sullivan of extremely irresponsible writing about Israel. Wieseltier takes special issue with Sullivan’s contention that American Jews influence U.S. policy toward Israel in a way that is both indicative of and a betrayal of their very Judaism. Wieseltier is quite influential when it comes to shaping currents in highbrow American intellectual culture, and particularly the Jewish subset within; Sullivan has one of the most popular and highly trafficked blogs, period. In the little world where people argue over these things, this qualifies as one of the biggest title bouts in years.

The article is guaranteed to prompt a lot of discussion (plus, Lord knows, a response from Sullivan), and I’ll return to it in more depth later on. For now, here are some basic things that anyone should be aware of going into the debate.

What’s Wieseltier’s main charge? Wieseltier is less concerned with Sullivan’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (which recently have drifted further and further left) and more with his declarations about U.S. policy vis-à-vis Israel, and who’s behind them. A key line of Sullivan’s, according to Wieseltier, is:

Most American Jews, of course, retain a respect for learning, compassion for the other, and support for minorities (Jews, for example, are the ethnic group most sympathetic to gay rights). But the Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing—that celebrates and believes in government torture, endorses the pulverization of Gazans with glee, and wants to attack Iran—is something else. Something much darker.

For Wieseltier, this is condescending, if not worse. Whether or not Michael Goldfarb or Charles Krauthammer are right or wrong has no bearing on their Jewishness, and does not make them good or bad Jews, Wieseltier says. And:

the explanation that Sullivan adopts for almost everything that he does not like about America’s foreign policy, and America’s wars, and America’s role in the world—that it is all the result of the clandestine and cunningly organized power of a single and small ethnic group—has a provenance that should disgust all thinking people.

At one point, Wieseltier links Sullivan to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. They were the co-authors of an article and later a book that argued that U.S. policy toward Israel was influenced so as to counter the U.S. national interest by the especially powerful Jewish lobby. They are extremely controversial.

So, does Wieseltier call Sullivan an anti-Semite? Short answer: no. It’s a very specific charge, and one that must have occurred to Wieseltier; if he’d wanted to write, “Andrew Sullivan is an anti-Semite,” he certainly could have. The closest he comes is in the final paragraph: “About the Jews, is Sullivan a bigot, or is he just moronically insensitive?” Wieseltier asks. “To me, he looks increasingly like the Buchanan of the left.” My guess is that Wieseltier thinks Buchanan is both a bigot and moronically insensitive, so do with that what you like.

What’s with all the stuff about homophobia? Wieseltier imagines, as a thought experiment, that Sullivan had written about gay people what he had actually written about Jews, and asks the reader to consider how it would seem then. The subtext of this rhetorical gambit is that Sullivan himself is a gay man, and has written very intelligently and influentially on gay politics and gay culture over the past two decades. In fact, some of Sullivan’s most important articles on the subject appeared in The New Republic.

Where’s the beef? The fairest thing to do is to consider Sullivan’s posts on the merits, and Wieseltier’s essay on the merits. At the same time, it’s worth knowing that Sullivan was the editor of TNR for several years in the 1990s, while Wieseltier was literary editor. In other words, these two are not strangers to each other. In recent years, Sullivan (and many others) have criticized TNR for a rightward drift, particularly in areas of foreign policy, and particularly on Israel; actually, even in its liberal heyday in the 1980s, under the aegis of owner Martin Peretz, the magazine has usually taken editorial stands on the Middle East that would not look unfamiliar on the Israeli center-right.

What’s with all the purple prose? Yeah, this is kind of how Wieseltier writes, particularly when he’s writing at the home base. If you’re a fan, you take it as a sign of intellectual seriousness; if you’re a detractor, you see it as bloviating. Even the diehards must admit that the pretentiousness can be a little much (the first several-hundred words here are about W.H. Auden and Reinhold Niebuhr), and even the haters must admit he can be very, very funny (Sullivan has been a little too ready to endorse a little too crazy theories about Sarah Palin, among others; Wieseltier writes, “On the other hand, there is no suggestion that Netanyahu is Trig’s dad”).

What’s with all the stuff about blogging? Throughout, Wieseltier bemoans Sullivan’s alleged hyperbole, even hysteria, and implies that perhaps Sullivan’s chosen medium shares part of the blame; at one point, he even calls blogging “a sickly obsession.” (I’ll try not to be offended!) In the past, Wieseltier has discussed his problems with blogging: that it accelerates publishing past the point where reasonable thought can temper hot emotions; and that it lends itself to conspiracy theorizing and intemperate remarks. Which just gets us even more excited for Sullivan’s inevitable response. Stay tuned!!

Something Much Darker [TNR]

Daybreak: Sanctions Around The Bend

Plus Oren shouted down, Touro’s Lander dies, and more in the news

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• While Defense Secretary Robert Gates talked up the need for more sanctions, Iran clarified its intentions, announcing that it will build 10 new nuclear plants. [LAT]
• Prime Minister Netanyahu directly asked E.U. ambassadors to move for further sanctions. [Ynet]
• And in case you weren’t sure: yes, enriching more uranium, even for ostensibly peaceful purposes, is likely to bring Iran ever closer to a weapon. [WP]
• Palestinian leadership is waiting for the United States to set exact terms for indirect peace negotiations before it fully agrees to them; they have said they are tentatively a go. [Haaretz]
• Nearly a dozen folks were arrested for interrupting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at the University of California, Irvine, with shouts about alleged Israeli human rights violations. [JPost]
• Rabbi Bernard Lander, who founded religiously oriented Touro College, died at 94. [Arutz Sheva]

Sundown: Iranian FM’s ‘Crazy’ Talk

Plus Jews compliment Hitler, Who Dat?!, and more

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• Iran’s foreign minister said: “Israel is a crazy nation run by crazy people.” [Haaretz]
• Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota), who is very popular with the Tea Party set, told the Republican Jewish Coalition that the Bible establishes the United States itself would cease to exist if it stopped supporting Israel. [Minnesota Independent/Vos Iz Neias?]
• Right-wing Israeli extremists chanted “Hitler was right!” at a pro-settlements protest. [Forecast Highs]
Infidel, a British movie due out (over there, at least) this spring, is about a devout Muslim man in Britain who finds out that he’s actually biologically Jewish. Looks really funny. Watch the trailer. [The Guardian]
• Democrat Scott Lee Cohen quit his race for Illinois lieutenant governor following revelations about an ex-girlfriend. He made his sad announcement at a Chicago bar during halftime last night. [Chicago Tribune] Which reminds us …
• Who Dat?! The Scroll congratulates the people of New Orleans and Saints Nation. And it advises Peyton Manning to insist that, as a condition of his new contract, the Indianapolis Colts fire Jim Caldwell, who contributed one of the worst coaching performances in Super Bowl history.

Damascus Conversion

Why peace with Syria is more urgent than ever

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Last Friday afternoon, we worried that high tensions between Israel and Syria—most immediately prompted by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s threats to Syrian leader Bashar Assad—could lead to violence. Well, fortunately, they haven’t so far, and hot tempers have appeared to cool over the weekend. Which can allow us now to focus on the broader question of Israeli-Syrian hostility.

That there is currently no peace is partly a function of Israel’s unwillingness to give up the Golan Heights. But, really, blame for the enmity can probably be primarily laid at the feet of Syrian intransigence. Problem is (as I mentioned last Friday), that intransigence toward Israel has not stopped its newly important neighbor Turkey from seeking closer ties. It has not even prevented the United States from attempting to cozy up to Syria—America, which hopes to send its first ambassador to Damascus since 2005, would love a Syria that is less in Iran’s orbit and is cooperative in trying to maintain stability in neighboring Iraq as U.S. military forces withdraw.

A Haaretz correspondent notes, “Syria is a key country along a new axis being formed in the Middle East, which includes Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. The backbone of this axis is economic, security, and diplomatic cooperation that would replace the old axis of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.” A smart Israeli leader would view the region in a more classically realist way, the correspondent adds, and work extra hard to achieve peace with Syria:

Israel, which is used to examining the region through a lens that counts Hezbollah’s missiles and Hamas’ explosive barrels sent to sea, and which considers the prisoner numbers in the Gilad Shalit deal the crux of the security threat, is blind to the region’s strategic developments. The expression “we want peace,” which is void of substance, cannot even begin to express the folly and shortsightedness of Israel, which is shrugging its shoulders at a chance to reach peace with Syria, if for no other reason than to prevent a damaging blow from this new axis.

To this end, we need a statesman, not a comedian. The leader who can make Israelis understand that peace with Syria does not mean eating humus in Damascus but is an existential interest, no less important than blocking Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Peace With Syria As Vital As Stopping Iran’s Bomb [Haaretz]

Earlier: Israel and Syria In Crisis

ADL Flunks Obama

President needs a 75 on midterms to avoid being held back a year

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The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman has looked over test scores and class participation, and decided to fail President Barack Obama for his handling of the Middle East in his first year in office: “Since there are no prospects of talks on the horizon, and in many ways what their efforts wrought was a wasted year without any negotiations, I believe the administration deserves an ‘F’ for failure to deliver on results,” Foxman said. Foxman in particular faulted Obama for raising expectations so high (something Obama himself has said he regrets doing) and for emphasizing Israel’s settlement policy too much. On the other hand, Foxman did give the president an ‘A’ for effort. (That’s not our punch-line. He really said he did.)


ADL Gives Obama An ‘F’ For Failing to Deliver in ME
[JPost]

One-Fifth of Top Donors Are Jews

Includes Bloomberg and Soros; does not include Adelson

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George Soros (#7) in Hong Kong last week.(Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images)

Roughly 20 percent of Slate’s list of the top 60 donors in 2009 are Jews (including the top giver, Pittsburgh financiers Stanley F. and Fiona B. Druckenmiller). Folks you may have heard of include Michael Bloomberg (4); George Soros (6); Eli and Edythe Broad (7); and David Rubinstein (52). The Fundermentalist, JTA’s philanthropy blog, notes that several names are ostentatiously absent, including Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Sheldon Adelson.

Jewish-themed recipients of some of the top donors’ largesse included National Jewish Health, the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego, and the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation. Maybe, like the rest of the country, Jews should start moving en masse to the Sun Belt?

Also, the New York Times reports today on how the Broads stand astride the Los Angeles arts scene like a colossus. Which recalls that line from Annie Hall, that the difference between L.A. and yogurt is that yogurt has active culture. But still, good for them! May their write-offs be happy ones.

Who Are The Jews Among the Slate 60 List of Top Givers [The Fundermentalist]
Slate 60: Donor Bios [Slate]

Related: Iron Checkbook Shapes Cultural Los Angeles [NYT]

AJC Head on the Jewish Lobby’s Success

Credits broadly popular positions, Jews in government

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Rosen (right) in Russia, 2005.(Maxim Marmur/AFP/Getty Images)

Not afraid to be service-y, a Chinese newspaper wants to know: what can its country learn from the amazing success the American Jewish community had had lobbying the U.S. government on its issues? Jack Rosen, the head of the American Jewish Congress, reveals the trick of the trade: lobby on positions that the majority of Americans agree with anyway. Which might be a tall order for China, even if, according to Rosen, the Jews manage it just fine.

Rosen argues:

If you go back 40 years, the Jewish lobby was lobbying on behalf of individual rights and civil rights. And they did it for African Americans, they did it for Latin Americans, and they did it for Chinese. …

Then there is the issue of Israel. Why are Jewish groups so successful in lobbying for Israel? Again the American public is very supportive of the only democracy in the Middle East, the only country in the Middle East that gives equal rights and freedom to everyone. Women have equal rights in Israel.

So it’s easy to lobby for Israel, because 90 percent of Americans believe in what you are lobbying for.

One other thing that, according to Rosen, helps the Jewish lobby is, well, all the Jews in government: “Jewish people represent two percent of the U.S. population, but in some parts of the government we are 10 percent of the leadership. For instance, Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is Jewish,” he said. Which is indisputably true, of course, but it is a little odd to see one of its main beneficiaries so casually admitting this fact, given that it is not infrequently used to deride his lobby’s efforts. The unembarassment is refreshing, as is the honesty and candor. He should say it in an American paper sometime.

Remember U.S. Values When Lobbying There [Global Times]

Today on Tablet

Plus-sized fashion, Oscar season, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Marjorie Ingall profiles (in slideshow form!) Deb Malkin, whose Brooklyn boutique caters to women size 12 and up. Liel Leibovitz compares and contrasts two Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language Film: Ajami, from Israel, and The White Ribbon, from Germany. Josh Lambert’s weekly round-up of notable forthcoming books includes the hardboiled cop story Boca Mournings. Whenever The Scroll is in Boca, it tries to sleep in at least until the afternoons.

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