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Sundown: Skater Answers to Higher Authority

Plus the Jew-ffiyeh, Silvio at Yad Vashem, and more

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• Figure skater Tamar Katz qualified to represent Israel at next month’s Olympics—but Israel, whose standards are more demanding than the official international ones, will not send her. [NYT]
• A Brooklyn-based company is making and marketing a keffiyeh—the traditional Arab headwear that has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance—embroidered with blue-and-white Stars of David. [The National]
• A few kosher wines that don’t taste like unusually sugary grape juice. [NY Post]
• Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi described touring Yad Vashem as “like getting punched in the stomach,” and penned in the guest book, “Our soul screams out—‘This cannot be.’ Then it jolts and bellows—‘Never again!’” [Ynet]
• Finally, The New Yorker liked—it really liked!—last week’s Lincoln Center concert inspired by Nextbook Press’s A Fine Romance. [Book Bench]

Was Hamas Weapons Man Killed by Mossad?

Sure looks that way

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Hamas chief Khaled Meshal speaking yesterday about the death.(Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

Reporting from the Herzliya Conference for Tablet Magazine, Judith Miller notes that the death of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the Hamas official thought to be the crucial weapons-smuggling link between the group and Iran, certainly bears all the trappings of Israel’s intelligence service: “The strike was vintage Mossad—precise, without fingerprints, and deniable, the kind of operation in which [Meir] Dagan has specialized since becoming chief of the spy agency seven years ago.” It would be a stretch simply to report that Mossad is responsible for the fact that al-Mabhouh is no longer alive. However, at this point, it would probably count as surprising if it turned out Mossad wasn’t responsible.

For what they’re worth, a couple interesting facts:
• Al-Mabhouh’s body was actually discovered all the way back on January 20th; the death was announced nine days later, and even then only quietly.
• Though he usually travels with bodyguards and under an assumed name, on this trip—said to be directly related to arms smuggling—al-Mabhouh traveled as himself and with no apparent protection.
• He was reportedly injected with a drug that induces heart attack.
• The alleged hit squad reportedly photographed the contents of his briefcase and, upon leaving his room, left the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob.
• The alleged squad’s members held passports from several different European countries.
• Hamas thinks Israel did it.
• According to Miller, al-Mabhouh has been on Israel’s hit list for two decades.

A couple questions. What happens if it gets out, and is credibly accepted, that Mossad was indeed behind this? Does any negative P.R. outweigh the presumably positive consequences of eliminating this weapons link for Hamas?

Also: was Mossad also behind the slain Iranian nuclear scientist?

Herzliya Diary [Tablet Magazine]
James Bond, Meet Dubai [GlobalPost/CBS News]
Hit Squad Injected Al-Mabhouh With a Drug That Induced Heart Attack: Report [Gulf News]

Earlier: A’jad Detects ‘Zionism’ in Scientist’s Murder

A New Kind of Israel Tour

Gay porn star’s itinerary is inspired by his films

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Michael Lucas, Israel’s biggest gay porn star, is now offering group tours of his country tailored to the locations and, er, themes of his films, according to Heeb. So in addition to Yad Vashem, Masada, and the rest of the usual suspects, Lucas’s tourists will visit Israel’s famous Gaash Beach and the Tel Aviv gay scene.

Wayne Hoffman profiled Lucas for Tablet Magazine last year:

In gay porn, where there’s less room for nebbishes and clowns, openly Jewish men have been virtually absent or invisible. In fact, the only one in recent memory is, well, Michael Lucas. …

In [Lucas’s] Men of Israel, the guys are all Israeli, all Jewish, and they’re not hiding it. Sure, their names are probably fakes—no parents would name their son Morr Foxx unless they knew he’d grow up to be a gay porn star. But at least their names sound plausibly Israeli, plausibly Jewish: Matan Shalev, Avi Dar, Naor Tal.

Lucas has long seen himself as something of an evangelist for Israel: “His website extols the virtues of a country rich with natural wonders, intriguing museums, liberal politics, and friendly locals,” Hoffman pointed out. “More than a biblical theme park, Lucas’s Israel is a tourist destination, a place where lovely beaches beckon and muscle-bound men have sex with each other.”

Porn Star Michael Lucas to Lead Tour of Israel [Heeb]

Related: Great Exxxpectations [Tablet Magazine]

Quote of the Day

Courtesy the tefillin bomber

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It’s been pretty surreal. Many in Chabad think that I’m a hero because tefillin became one of the top searches on Google. Some people think I showed poor judgment, that I expected [the flight attendant] to be familiar with the ritual of tefillin, which is not true. I expected her not to think that anything that was not familiar to her was a bomb.

- Caleb Liebowitz, otherwise known as the guy wearing tefillin whom a flight attendant mistook for a guy wrapping an explosive device around himself on a flight.

Interview With The Tefillin Terrorist [New Voices]

Earlier: BREAKING: N.Y. Plane Grounded Due to Tefillin Scare

Cohen, Previn Win Grammys

Achievements of lifetimes not ready for primetime

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(Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

We’re real sorry we missed the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards last night, at which singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen—a Montreal-born Jew—and pianist and composer André Previn—a Russian-born Jew—both won lifetime achievement awards.

And by “last night,” we mean that Cohen and Previn actually got their awards at a separate, un-televised ceremony that took place Saturday.

And by “we’re real sorry we missed the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards,” we mean we’re actually quite pleased we didn’t watch, because it sounds like it was pretty awful. Still, congratulations to all the winners!

Last year in Tablet Magazine, John S. W. MacDonald considered the (many) covers of Cohen’s  “Hallelujah.”

Below, the opening to Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, set to Cohen’s “The Stranger Song.”

Cohen, Previn Receive Lifetime Grammys [JTA]
Leonard Cohen Receives Lifetime Achievement Grammy [Haaretz]

Related:: Hallelujah Time [Tablet Magazine]

The ‘Deerlift’ of 1978

A real-life Israeli caper

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On November 28th, 1978, as Iran was hurtling toward Islamic revolution, zoologist Mike Van Grevenbroek landed at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport, coming from Tel Aviv, carrying a blow-dart gun disguised as a cane and secret orders from an Israeli general.

You’re saying you don’t want to read an article that begins with that sentence? One that details how, as part of Israel’s project of restoring Biblical animals to its land, Van Grevenbroek surreptitiously secured four Persian fallow deer from Iran and got them on to the final El Al flight out of Tehran? One that celebrates the fact that four descendants of these deer, members of a species that were once hunted to extinction in Israel, were released into the Israeli wild last month to join 500 of their now-thriving brothers and sisters? No. Of course you want to read it.

How Bambi Met James Bond to Save Israel’s ‘Extinct’ Deer [WSJ]

Today on Tablet

Remembering Salinger, paled pictures from the Pale, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, New York Times Magazine columnist Virginia Heffernan remembers J.D. Salinger, who lived near the New Hampshire town in which she grew up, and discusses how men and women might consider his work differently. This week’s Vox Tablet podcast contains a slide show of remarkable photos taken throughout the Pale of Settlement between 1912 and 1914. The catastrophe in Haiti prompts parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall to discuss death with her daughters, and to discuss discussing death with your kids. Josh Lambert offers his weekly round-up of forthcoming Jewish books. The Scroll, too, finds itself tempted from time to time to move out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, but how would you ensure good Internet?

‘The White Intifada’

Israel’s losing war for world opinion

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Netanyahu speaking at Auschwitz last week.(Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images)

Haaretz columnist Aluf Benn is decidedly left-wing, and so his pronouncements ought to be taken with that grain of salt. Still, the argument from his latest piece is not purely ideological, and it is compelling. It is not a criticism of the Israeli government’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians (in fact, Benn grants that the Netanyahu government is not hard-line, and that the Palestinians have given Israel good reason to impose a blockade on Gaza). Rather, the column is an assessment, based on conversations with European and U.S. diplomats: “The world isn’t buying Israel’s explanations and it isn’t prepared to condemn Palestinian obduracy.” That doesn’t sound entirely off-base, does it?

Moreover, Benn reports on what he calls (quoting two political scientists) the “white intifada”: the Palestinian Authority’s public relations campaign to convince the world that a unilateral declaration of independence is the best solution to the conflict. He writes:

In a document [the political scientists] distributed last week, they warn of Israeli complaisance and present a disturbing scenario: The Palestinians declare independence, and Israel refuses to recognize it and is faced with a boycott. Regardless of whether it yields or reacts with force, Israel cannot win, and will also lose control of the process.

It can be easy to disagree with Benn’s political beliefs, which are rarely hesitant to blame Israel a great deal for the larger conflict. However, it is more difficult to disagree that world opinion—America’s included—seems to be drifting ever further away from Israel’s side.

World Isn’t Buying Israel’s Explanations Anymore [Haaretz]

Daybreak: An Arming for An Arming

Plus Bibi wants a Gaza probe (really), and more in the news

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• Iran’s nuclear program has prompted the United States to increase the flow of arms, particularly anti-missile weapons and technology, to its nearby allies. It has also moved two cruisers to the Gulf. [WSJ]
• A top Hamas guy was found dead, mysteriously, in a Dubai hotel room; he was a crucial weapons middleman between Iran, on the one hand, and Hamas as well as Hezbollah on the other. Israel said it suspects this will slow arms smuggling, at least for a time. [LAT]
• That said, a U.S. diplomat told a London Arabic-language newspaper that the amount and types of weapons currently making their way to Hezbollah threatens to destabilize southern Lebanon and its Israeli border. [Haaretz]
• Prime Minister Netanyahu favors an independent probe into Israeli targeting of civilians during last January’s Gaza conflict, but he has so far held off due to the vociferous opposition of Defense Minister Ehud Barak as well as the military. [Haaretz]
• It was revealed that CIA Director Leon Panetta semi-secretly visited Israel last week to talk Iran and “relations.” Reports also placed him in Cairo. [Laura Rozen]
• On February 11th—the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution—Iran will retaliate against “global arrogance,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pledged. This will also be the first revolutionary anniversary since last summer’s election and opposition movement, so actually, A’jad’s as excited as we are. [Press TV Iran/Vos Iz Neias?]

Sundown: On Goldstone Report, Israel Defends Its Defense

Plus ‘rabbah,’ Park Slope anti-Semitism, and more

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• In its first official response to the Goldstone Report, Israel wrote U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to support its own investigation of it and its military’s conduct during last January’s Gaza conflict. [NYT]
• Introducing the term “rabbah”: it’s the feminized version of “rabbi,” created for an Orthodox spiritual leader in upstate New York. [JTA]
• A long, rollicking profile of the “Indiana Jones of Torah recovery,” who may or may not be something of a charlatan. [Washington Post Magazine]
• A grainy photo appears to show a field in northern Gaza where, during last January’s Operation Cast Lead, Israeli tanks allegedly carved a gigantic Star of David. [Forecast Highs]
• A couple blocks in Brooklyn’s Park Slope were inundated with small flyers reading “KILL JEWS.” [Brooklyn Paper]
• An ultra-Orthodox rabbi accused of child molestation in the United States won his decades-long battle, with Israeli prosecutors deciding not to appeal an Israeli high court’s decision to bar his extradition. [Failed Messiah]

• Bonus! For the first part of next week, Tablet Magazine’s coverage of the important Herzliya Conference in Israel will include frequent dispatches from Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Judith Miller (yes, her). So don’t forget to check in frequently.

Appreciating Howard Zinn

Problems and all, ‘A People’s History’ has made us a better people

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Zinn, with well-known admirer Matt Damon, in New York City last year.(Scott Wintrow/Getty Images)

I have been struggling to say something about Howard Zinn, the Jewish-American historian—he wrote the super-popular A People’s History of the United States—who died earlier this week at 87. Yes, the book is immensely popular. (It has sold over one million copies. And it is a several-hundred-page-long history book!) But what Zinn I read (different sections of A People’s History) I couldn’t stand, and not (or not only) for reasons of personal, idiosyncratic taste.

Zinn explicitly sought to write a history from the perspective of “the people,” rather than the elite—certainly an admirable mission, and one that broadly defines much important historical writing of the past 50 years. But too often, I felt, Zinn condescended to his crude, glorious-savage  conception of “the people” when he wasn’t misrepresenting them entirely. And that gleeful, sophomoric self-righteousness! Patting himself on the back for noticing that the Europeans who arrived in North America were (among other things—though for Zinn, there were no other things) genocidal colonizers! (The problem is not the pointing it out, it is the self-congratulation.)) Ultimately, his worldview failed to acknowledge the legitimacy, or even the existence, of alternate worldviews. It was immature.

Zinn’s death drew attention to a take-down Michael Kazin published a few years ago in Dissent. In addition to lodging several of my complaints, Kazin—an accomplished historian, writing from and for the left—showed that in many cases, Zinn’s history was more than lopsided, even beyond what it should have been: it was flat-out incomplete.

At the same time, can one really say that the world would be better if he had never written his magnum opus? One cannot.

As blogger Matthew Yglesias noted, Zinn seemed to know that his book’s main utility lay in the notions in put in the heads of young people for the first time: that the victors write the history books; that there is frequently an economic and class dynamic even to conflicts that seem purely social; that as far in a good direction as the United States has traveled in its history, there is still much room for improvement in the liberty category, especially if liberty is properly defined (blacks were and are in need of greater freedom, but so are folks without health insurance.) If Zinn’s book was sophomoric, that’s because that is how you get through to sophomores; maturity can come later. The American citizen must outgrow Zinn, but not before he grows into Zinn.

Howard Zinn, American Jewish Historian, Dies [JTA]

Related: Howard Zinn’s History Lessons [Dissent]
A People’s History of the United States [Matthew Yglesias]

New Jersey Corruption Informant Testifies

Syrian Jewish scion Dwek had turned on community

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Rendering of Dwek testifying yesterday.(AP PHOTO)

Solomon Dwek speaks! The man who by wearing a wire helped reveal scandals among the Syrian Jewish elite of Deal, New Jersey—in which he had been a prominent member—as well as numerous Jersey politicians finally took the stand yesterday, in the federal corruption trial of Jersey City’s former deputy mayor. (Among other things, Dwek revealed that his first brush with corruption came as a student at his yeshiva, where his teacher solicited a $50 bribe from him.) This morning, several secret video clips of Dwek’s stings against various Jersey politicians were shown in the Newark courthouse.

Dwek, the son of a prominent Deal rabbi (who has since disowned him), cooperated with the U.S. Justice Department in exchange for a significant plea bargain related to money laundering charges. His work helped net indictments of 44 individuals, including the Syrian Jewish community’s chief rabbi and numerous north Jersey elected officials.

On Witness Stand, Dwek Tells Life of Crime [Asbury Park Press]
First Dwek Video Shown to Federal Jury [Asbury Park Press]

Earlier: Did Dwek Get a Good Deal?

Obama Defends Israel Against Critical Questioner

Also argues that Israel must attend to Palestinian grievances

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The president pretty deftly handled a hostile question he got yesterday at a town-hall meeting in Tampa, Florida. Given the support for human rights that he had professed the night before in his State of the Union address, the questioner, a young woman, asked, “Why have we not condemned Israel and Egypt’s human rights violations against the occupied Palestinian people?” (Egypt has recently begun cracking down on smuggling through the Gaza border.)

Obama’s response combines standard boilerplate (“Israel is one of our strongest allies. It is a vibrant democracy”; “Israel has to acknowledge legitimate grievances and interests of the Palestinians”) with a much more sophisticated argument about how attending to Palestinians’ human rights is a security issue for both the United States and Israel.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Obama: I Will Never Waver From Supporting Israel [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

Vikings’ Jewish QB Got Zero Playing Time

Favre was too special to let Rosenfels take a snap

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Rosenfels (left) and Lord Favre (right).(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

So Brett Favre leads the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship contest, only to throw a game-blowing interception in the final minutes to give the New Orleans Saints a ticket to the Super Bowl, and the Vikes a ticket … back to Minnesota. Minnesota in January.

On top of that, though, Favre took up space that could have been filled by the NFL’s pre-eminent Jewish quarterback. Of the 50-odd players on the Vikings’ active roster this season, the only one who did not get a single down’s worth of playing-time was third-string QB Sage Rosenfels. To his credit, Rosenfels is a mensch about this: he told the AP it was still a fun year, because he was able to learn so much from Brett. Ah yes, Brett (who, in fairness, had a pretty stellar season, and who got zero help from his team’s suddenly-ineffectual offensive line last Sunday). Still: next year, put him in, coach!

Meanwhile, with all the Jewish players now out of the running, whom should you root for in the February 7th Super Bowl between the Saints and the Indianapolis Colts? Jews should identify with the Saints’ underdog status (this is their first Super Bowl, and the current spread is Colts -5.5); plus, Baltimore’s extensive Jewish community would never forgive us for pulling for the Colts, the franchise so unceremoniously ripped away from them a quarter-century ago. On the other hand, um, their name is the Saints. Maybe just root for a good game?

In Limbo Against With Vikes, Rosenfels Won’t Lament
[AP/NYT]

Earlier: Why You Should Root for the Chargers

A Fine Concert

Rufus, Sting, Lou Reed, and a celebration of David Lehman’s Nextbook Press book

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“I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” is a 1932 pop standard by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. It was also the title of Wednesday night’s concert in Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series—a night of music and commentary produced by the impresario Hal Willner and celebrating A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, David Lehman’s Nextbook Press book on the Jewish composers and lyricists who created much of the songbook.

Rufus Wainwright opened the show, in the Allen Room at Lincon Center, with its wall of windows overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park, with a soulful rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” He was backed by a 14-piece band, playing sultry nightclub arrangements of a dozen pop standards behind not just Wainwright but also Shannon McNally, Jenni Muldaur, Van Dyke Parks, and Christine Olmann, who brought the house down belting a loungey arrangement of Arlen and Koehler’s “Stormy Weather” in a flowing pink ’60s dress and a towering bouffant of blonde hair.

But even bigger names played, too. Sting proved himself a master of the songbook, delivering plaintive, moving renditions of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Love Is Here to Stay” and, later, “”Someone to Watch Over Me.” And none other than Lou Reed showed up to close the show with a hard-rocking, guitar-and-drums-heavy take on Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “One For My Baby (and One More For the Road).”

All photos by Dese’Rae Stage:

Wainwright with David Lehman, author of the Nextbook Press book A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs.

Photos from “I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues?” Music and readings from A Fine Romance, at The Allen Room, Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway at 60th Street, New York City.

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