The Jewish Review of Books just published its inaugural issue, and the new quarterly journal looks to be worth bookmarking. In name, content, and even look, its clear inspiration is the New York Review of Books; like that venerable publication, it consists of extended essays on books and ideas by leading intellectual lights. Only, you know, it’s all Jewish.
• Tablet Magazine book critic Adam Kirsch reviews36 Arguments for the Existence of God, a new novel from Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, who is also the author of Nextbook Press’s Betraying Spinoza (got all that?).
• Hillel Halkin—author of Nextbook Press’s brand-spankin’-new biography of Yehuda Halevi—considers a new American Orthodox siddur.
• Ron Rosenbaum discusses Bob Dylan as an explicitly Jewish figure.
• Michael Weingrad interrogates why, amid a sea of Christian allegories, there are few if any good Jewish-inspired fantasy novels.
• Harvey Pekar and Tara Seibel offer a graphic review of comic artist R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis.
Lieberman earlier this month.(Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)
As Purim approaches, a new poll found that the political figure whom the most Jewish Israelis want to dress up as is—drum roll, please—Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman! Over 40 percent of respondents picked the Yisrael Beiteinu leader. This is basically the equivalent of when like literally everyone was Sarah Palin—also a polarizing, somewhat cartoonish right-winger—for Halloween 2008. In second place, at a shade over 20 percent, is—drum roll again—President Barack Obama! This is basically the equivalent of when lots of people were Barack Obama for Halloween 2008.
If you’re looking to dress up as Lieberman or Obama—or Palin—or anyone—you could always attend Hamanbashin, JDub Records’s Purim party (co-sponsored by Tablet Magazine), which takes place this Saturday in New York’s Lower East Side. Bonus points to whoever does the best job depicting the assassinated Hamas guy.
Today in Tablet Magazine, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Judith Miller uncovers two of Mossad’s past attempts on the life of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the Hamas weapons procurer assassinated in Dubai last month. Al-Mabhouh was in the Israeli spy agency’s cross-hairs both for his 1989 murder of Israeli soldiers and for continued role in Hamas’s arms chain. Morton Landowne introduces and guides us through a slideshow of Israeli artist Andi Arnovitz’s new series of paper coats inspired by famous Jewish women. Book critic Adam Kirsch celebrates the “strangely compelling” collection of letters traded among Viennese Jewish author Elias Canetti, his wife, and his younger brother. And think of The Scroll as letters to you, the reader.
Dwight and Michael in NBC’s ‘The Office’(remake of E! Online)
Jim and Pam, meet Yossi and Dana: an Israeli remake of The Office, Ricky Gervais’s brilliant BBC sitcom—whose U.S. version is currently in its sixth season on NBC—is slated to air in the coming months.
But the Israeli Office may be home to more than just bumbling, affable paper salesmen. One of the show’s lead writers, reportedly, is Uzi Weill, the creator of some of Israel’s fiercest political satires—his hit 1990s show, Ha’hamishiya Ha’kamerit, frequently poked fun at such sensitive topics as the Holocaust, Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, and the Israel Defense Force. And the new Office, it seems, will follow the same provocative path: according to its producers, the show will include such characters as Abba, an Ethiopian, and Abed, “an intellectual Arab with a gentle soul.”
In the meantime, Gervais, the show’s original creator and star, sounded a happy note. “I am thrilled and amazed that Israel [is] making The Office with local writers, directors, and actors,” he said. “I mean, who ever heard of Jewish entertainers?”
• Skirmishes followed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s announcement that he will designate Abraham’s and Rachel’s burial places, which are in Israel-controlled West Bank, as national heritage sites. [NYT]
• U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that no military strike could completely halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. [Haaretz]
• Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman dodged E.U. questions over Mossad’s suspected assassination of Hamas’s chief weapons man, which involved the use of forged European passports. A complete update of the story will follow on The Scroll today. [AP/WSJ]
• Defense Minister Ehud Barak heads for America today for security discussions with senior U.S. officials as well as a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. [Haaretz]
• Rabbi Menachem Porush, head of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism political party, died at 93. [AP/NYT]
• Roman and Alexandra Zaretsky, the Israeli ice dancing duo, finished in 10th place in the Vancouver Olympics after skating, last night, to the theme from Schindler’s List (here’s video). [JTA]
The planned Shalem College, which is to be Israel’s first liberal arts college (as opposed to university), got a major boost with a $5 million donation from Chicago’s Conduit Foundation. The purpose of the college, according to the prospective president (who also heads Jerusalem’s Shalem Center), is to provide an alternative education to the Israeli universities, which are focused on being world-class centers for research, allegedly, at times, at the expense of educating undergraduates. It will also strive to be the type of place where students can sorta just chill for four years, read some good books, make some great friends, and get into all kinds of really cool bands while enjoying New England autumns, in Israel.
Richard Blumenthal announcing his Senate candidacy last month.(Douglas Healey/Getty Images)
The Forward’s list of the 10 Jewish U.S. politicians best poised to make a big jump in 2010 is a fun read, partly because you get to learn about a whole new group of people (the only member of the list I had heard of is soon-to-be Sen. Richard Blumenthal [D-Connecticut]).
Of these top 10, four are Republicans: an oddly high number, given that, currently, Jews go for the Democratic presidential candidate roughly 3-to-1, and that, of the 13 Jewish U.S. senators, there are zero Republicans (unless you count Joe Lieberman, which maybe you should). Is this strong GOP showing a fluke? Or a harbinger?
Oh, also, none other than Alaska may see a Jew in high office: Republican state representative Jay Ramras, who built the Fairbanks synagogue, is running for lieutenant governor up there. There are worse breeding grounds for influential Republican politicians, you know.
A hearty congratulations to Tablet Magazine Mideast columnist Lee Smith, whose new book, The Strong Horse, got the coveted favorable treatment in the New York Times Book Review. Author Wendell Steavenson praises the “short, dense, nuanced polemic,” and adds, “[Smith] treats us to beautifully written portraits of his Arab friends, individuals who illustrate far better than finely wrought theory the difficulties of practical reform.”
Steavenson also engages (and somewhat disagrees, but debate is good!) with Smith’s central contention:
The ruling elites … are simply self-interested factions trying, by any measure possible, to retain their grip on power. Jihad, Smith argues, is an age-old byproduct of this struggle as the ruler pushes the energies of the young militant warrior class away from his capital. For Smith, the 9/11 attacks were less the result of a clash of civilizations than part of existing Middle East power struggles.
“Smith,” Steavenson adds, “sees this as an embedded cultural inheritance.”
To read Smith’s past “Agents of Influence” columns for Tablet Magazine, click here. And check in here on Wednesdays for new ones.
The Zaretskys skating last night.(Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli ice dancing pair Roman and Alexandra Zaretsky—Belarus-born brother and sister—entered the “original dance” phase of the Olympics competition last night in 10th place. Theme: “folk dance.” And the song they chose to dance to was … “Hava Negila.” No, really (and, no, there was no chair-hoisting). Their costumes can best be described as ‘Ben-Gurion Chic.’ Take a look at their routine, after which they remained in 10th place.
Tonight is the final leg of the competition: the “free dance.” I suppose the Zaretskys’ song choice will be something like the theme from Schindler’s List, amirite??
With $40.2 million in ticket sales, Shutter Island gave Martin Scorsese his strongest opening weekend ever. But film-goers enticed by the previews’ promises of creepy lunatics and chiseled federal agents in fedoras may be surprised to learn that the director, having affirmed his love for operatic violence in earlier films such as Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, turned to a different source altogether this time around: the Holocaust.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays a federal agent investigating a crime on the eponymous island, a state-of-the-art (for the ’50s) mental asylum for society’s most psychotic criminals. Soon, however, he begins to mistake one set of barbed wires for another: with ample use of flashback, we learn that DiCaprio’s character was one of the American soldiers who had liberated Dachau, a traumatic event that haunts him still. This conceit gives Scorsese the freedom to pan across large vistas strewn with frozen bodies, zoom in on tortured faces, and generally infuse his otherwise restrained film with gore and allegory. At some point, the DiCaprio character begins to suspect that the experiments conducted on Shutter Island owe more than a little to the Nazis and their heritage.
Then, however, comes the surprise twist, and gradually shots of Dachau give way to shots of the lovely Michelle Williams, playing DiCaprio’s wife. Finally! A Holocaust film with a soothing ending.
Today in Tablet Magazine, since everyone talks about Iranian regime change, and everyone talks about Iran’s relations with Israel, analyst Mehdi Khalaji asks: what would actually happen to those relations if the regime were changed? Tuli Kupferberg, the frontman of legendary beatnik band The Fugs, is still around at 86, and talks to Jon Kalish for this week’s Vox Tablet podcast. As always, Josh Lambert previews forthcoming books of note. Marjorie Ingall praises the Winter Olympics’s more gender-balanced TV commercials. The Scroll is not so gender-balanced when it comes to authorship, but strives to be interesting to all chromosomal combinations.
The weekend’s big bombshell was a sensationalistic Times of Londonexposé reporting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu officially approved Mossad’s assassination of chief Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud Mabhouh; that Mabhouh was in Dubai en route to Iran, in order to orchestrate an arms shipment to Gaza; that Mossad did indeed track him from the Dubai airport to his hotel; that Mossad’s handiwork was uncovered only due to Dubai’s extensive security camera system; and that, after killing Mabhouh (it’s still unclear how), the assassin put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob. The article also paints Mossad chief Meir Dagan as steadfastly increasing Mossad’s lethal activities, motivated by a desired to prevent a second Holocaust. The article is by no means neutral. Rather, it harshly judges not only the fact that Mossad’s plot has essentially been uncovered, but, seemingly, the morality of the plot itself.
Another report has it that two ex-Fatah security members cooperated with Mossad. These Palestinian men currently work for a company owned by prominent Fatah security official Mohammed Dahlan, who, oh so surprisingly, denies all involvement.
Dubai police say they’re on the verge of announcing definitively, based on cell phone and credit card records, that it was indeed Mossad; for now, they say they are “99 percent” sure. (For the record, Mabhouh could have made it a bit more difficult on his killer: booking his plane over the Internet and telling his family which hotel he was staying at are not ideal things to do if you’re trying to stay alive.)
Even so, the United Arab Emirates—the federation in which Dubai is a member—is requesting active help from the European Union in the investigation, specifically related to the forged European passports the assassins carried. Then again, the single German passport used by an assassin was reported real, which means Germany loses this particular umbrage sweepstakes to Britain, France, and Ireland.
The increasing consensus that it was Mossad has caused the beginnings of diplomatic rifts between Israel and various European countries, particularly those whose passports were faked as part of the plot. Said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner: “The case shows the need for a Palestinian state, immediately.”
Below is the trailer for al-Jazeera’s 30-minute documentary on the spy-thriller element of the plot; for the whole thing, go here.
Oh, and yeah: “There is nothing linking Israel to the assassination of Mabhouh,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Mossad itself remains mum, which is generally how it do.
• The Israeli Air Force revealed new pilotless drones (the size of Boeing 737s) that have a long enough range to be operational against, say, Iran. [NYT]
• The French and Spanish foreign ministers are the most prominent supporters of an initiative that would see the European Union recognize a Palestinian state within 18 months. Israel is opposed. [Haaretz]
• One report states that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally approved Mossad’s killing of Hamas weapons man Mahmoud Mabhouh. (Much more on the Dubai murder mystery at 10am.) [Times of London]
• Despite an anti-blockade backlash throughout the Arab world, Egypt is moving ahead with plans to block off smuggling tunnels into Gaza. [WSJ]
• Alexander Haig, a secretary of state in the Reagan administration, died at 85, and was remembered as a friend and fond admirer of Israel. [JPost, Haaretz]
• In case you didn’t see it yesterday, you really must read about Yitta Schwartz, of Kiryas Joel, New York, who died in January at 93. A Holocaust survivor, Satmar Hasid, and mother of 16, she is estimated to have—from a 75-year-old daughter to a week-old great-great-grandson—over 2,000 living descendants. [NYT]
• Columnist Bradley Burston has an enraged must-read:
What the far-left from Britain to Berkeley has been been unable to bring off—a sense among Israel’s allies that Israel has become a heartless, morally heedless aggressor state worthy of sanction and shunning—the far-right in Israel’s own government, and in particular, its Foreign Ministry, seems determined to inculcate to the full. [Haaretz]
• After Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon refused to meet with J Street’s congressional delegation, the Israeli government seems increasingly out-of-touch with American Jews, James Besser argues. [JW Political Insider]
• Boxing promoter Bob Arum reached an agreement with the bar mitzvah boy who rented out the Yankee Stadium Jumbotron on the night of June 5th. Meaning: Orthodox fighter Yuri Foreman will very likely take on Miguel Cotto that night in that place. [AP/ESPN]
• Benjamin Netanyahu, Tony Blair, and Tzipi Livni have all pledged to attend the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., in late March. [Ben Smith]
• The sustainable food movement collides with old-line Jewish delis. Shall the twain ever meet? [Forward]
• Palestinian rights groups are attempting to organize a boycott of an Israeli ballet company’s performance this Sunday at Brooklyn College. [ArtsBeat]