Today on Tablet

A movie about a movie about the Jews, engaging engagement, and more

Should we engage Hamas and other terrorist groups?(Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

Today in Tablet Magazine, Senior Writer Allison Hoffman introduces Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Süss, a German documentary about director Veit Harlin and Jew Süss, the grotesquely anti-Semitic movie Joseph Goebbels commissioned from him. According to Mideast columnist Lee Smith, recent history demonstrates, contra a new book, that engaging with terrorists does not usually lead to measured, rational responses in kind. Rania Moaz remembers her time in Granada, Spain, during college, and now her time in Dubai, as a single, observant Muslim. Continue following Steve Stern’s The Frozen Rabbi with a new installment (which is all of three paragraphs—c’mon, what are you waiting for?). The Scroll likes to think of itself a novel serialized every hour on the hour (give or take).

Zuckerman Binds Self

Mort won’t run

Zuckerman last year.(Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Oh no! We were once promised the possibility of a Jewish governor and a new Jewish senator of America’s most Jewish state, but now, at least one of those possibilities seems significantly less likely. Mort Zuckerman, the Manhattan real estate and publishing magnate—and a major figure in the world of Jewish-American philanthropy and activism—has elected not to run for the U.S. Senate seat from New York currently held by Kirsten Gillibrand. (He followed Harold Ford, Jr.’s parallel ‘I’m not running’ announcement by a day.)

Zuckerman’s decision should go a long way toward securing Gillibrand’s election, this time to a full six-year term (she was appointed last year to replace Hillary Clinton). Which means New York will have to make do with a paltry one Jewish senator out of two.

On the other hand, even as Gov. David Paterson said he won’t resign (while Democrats say he should), a state worker is now telling authorities that Paterson asked her to silence a woman who was accusing Paterson’s longtime aide of domestic assault. Richard Ravitch, a nation—a state, anyway—turns its lonely eyes to you.

Zuckerman Decides Not To Run Against Gillibrand for Senate [NYT]
Investigators Are Told of Paterson Bid to Quiet Accuser [NYT]
Earlier: Gov. or No, Ravitch Gains Power

Daybreak: Netanyahu, A Wanted Man

Plus MoDo on the Saudis, directing indirect talks, and more in the news

Netanyahu last month.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

• Saying he’s “almost certain” the Mossad was behind the assassination of Hamas weapons man Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the Dubai police chief is seeking arrest warrants for Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mossad chief Meir Dagan. More on this story later in the day. [Reuters/Laura Rozen]

• The top U.N. official for humanitarian relief condemned the Gaza blockade, saying it imposed on residents “an existence, not a life.” [NYT]

• Most Arab states support four-month U.S.-organized indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians. [Reuters/Haaretz]

• One week after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was received warmly in Syria, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced an upcoming state visit to Tehran. [Arutz Sheva]

• Maureen Dowd reports that, “at their own galactically glacial pace,” Saudi Arabia is modernizing, even as Israel grows less secular. [NYT]

• Hank Rosenstein, who in 1946 played for the New York Knicks in what’s now considered the first NBA game, died at 89. In that 68-66 win over the Toronto Huskies, Rosenstein had seven Jewish teammates (in addition to himself). [NYT]

Sundown: The West Bank’s West Bank

Plus Iran’s mind games, The Pixies, and more

The Pixies(Village Voice)

• Prime Minister Netanyahu said that, for strategic reasons, Israel would never—even under a peace deal—cede the western border of the Jordan River. Which is of course mostly in the West Bank (that’s why it’s called the West Bank!), and doesn’t border the Green Line. [Haaretz]

• More than in any past year, pro-Israel campus groups are set to counter Israel Apartheid Week. [JTA]

• What the heck is Iran thinking, publicly moving most of its nuclear fuel into above-ground facilities? This may help you understand the mind games. [NYT]

• Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was questioned by authorities over suspicions that he illegally intervened in a money-laundering investigation against him. [JTA]

• The Austrian Jewish community has condemned the presidential candidacy of far-right Barbara Rosenkranz. But isn’t Rosenkranz a Jewish name? (Yes, I am joking.) [Vos Iz Neias?]

• The Israeli human rights group Boycott! has called on The Pixies to cancel an upcoming gig in Tel Aviv. This, despite the fact that “some of us are huge fans and would love to see your show.” [Haaretz]

Below: The Pixies sing “Where Is My Mind?”

Pixies – Where Is My Mind (Live)
Uploaded by spotless-mind.

Hamas Blames Killing on Egypt and Jordan?

Today in the Dubai Murder Mystery

Was Egypt involved in the killing?(National Geographic)

If you have not been following this exciting story, I wrote a catch-up yesterday for the magazine: do check out.

The most interesting tidbit today in the continuing story of the assassination, likely by Mossad, of Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, was that one Hamas official told an Arabic-language paper that his group believes an Arab government was behind the killing. (This is less surprising than it may sound: Hamas’s initial investigation concluded the same thing.) Specifically, the Hamas official told the paper that al-Mabhouh had been tracked by Jordanian and Egyptian agents. Let’s also not forget about the two ex-members of Fatah who were arrested: two men who now work for a construction company owned by Muhammad Dahlan, a powerful Palestinian Authority official who in the past has been linked to efforts to take down Hamas’s Gaza leadership. And let’s also not forget that the wide consensus remains that the Mossad was, at least, the prime mover behind the killing.

Other than that, the big news is Dubai’s first sanction: Israeli dual nationals, even those who carry non-Israeli passports, are now barred from entering. According to the Dubai police chief, Israelis not carrying Israeli passports will be detected by “physical features and the way they speak.” By “the way they speak,” I assume he means those talking in Hebrew. As for “physical features”? Up yours too, buddy.

Finally, the intrigue of the case has officially hit the Internet. Google searches of “Mossad” have increased fourfold in the past month. And, if you like, you can join the Facebook group I Was Also Part of the Dubai Assassination Squad. Though don’t be surprised if the Dubai police chief proceeds to bar you from his city, too.

Hamas: Jordan or Egypt Likely Behind Dubai Hit [Reuters/Vos Iz Neias?]
Dubai Restricts Israeli Entry After Killing [WSJ]

The One-State Solution Appears in California

Candidate in Democratic primary supports it; most oppose her

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California).()

In a post earlier today (which caught the eye of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Twitter), I said that the Democratic Party, which has moved toward weaker support of Israel even while maintaining the allegiance of most American Jews, would likely find itself in trouble with Jewish voters if prominent members began to question some of the more basic tenets of Israel and America’s relationship with it.

Well, this is not about that happening, exactly, but a candidate in a California Democratic congressional primary has called for a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict—a decidedly left-wing position that, many say (and I’d be among them), would represent something like the end of Israel. (Oh good, I’ll get both sides angry at me today!) Marcy Winograd, the candidate, has called the two-state solution—the notion of an Israel and a Palestine side-by-side on the land—“unrealistic” and “fundamentally wrong.”

So why isn’t this about the Democrats turning away from Israel? Because Winograd is in a decided minority even among the Democrats, and is not in power, and is likely not going to be in power. In fact, her opponent in the primary, Rep. Jane Harman, is a strong defender of Israel known for wanting to take a harsh line on Iran; she is supported by the very powerful California Democrat Henry Waxman, who, though generally to the left of her, is a staunch two-stater who says, “In Marcy Winograd’s vision, Jews would be at the mercy of those who do not respect democracy or human rights.”

Waxman also said, “I think liberals and progressives should reject” Winograd. I think liberals and progressives do reject Winograd: I think that the poll, which showed only 48 percent Democratic “support” for Israel, reflected tepid support among Democrats for some of Israel’s current policies, not for its continued existence as a Jewish democracy. And as long as Democrats continue to reject Winograd for the most part, then, as I wrote before, Democrats should be unashamed, unembarrassed, and largely unconcerned.

Israel and ‘One-State Solution’ Dominate U.S. Congressional Race [Arutz Sheva]
Earlier: Is The GOP The Pro-Israel Party?

‘Night’ in 60 Seconds

An introduction to Wiesel’s Holocaust masterpiece

Wiesel.(Sergey Bermeniev/Random House)

60secondrecap publishes quick video summaries of great books on its Website, and this week, it gave the full treatment to Elie Wiesel’s classic Holocaust memoir Night.

Definitely seems like a good way to introduce a middle-schooler to the book. If you’re reading this and over the age of 20 or 25 or so, and still haven’t read it, though, you may just want to go pick the thing up and get it over with. It’s required reading in every sense.

Final question: 60secondrecap’s brief written summary argues, “the pinprick of light in all the darkness is that Eliezer does survive to tell his story—and to testify to the remarkable strength of the human spirit.” While the dominant fact of Night is simply its existence—the fact that someone lived through this and then told us about it will never cease to be remarkable—I don’t recall the book as arguing for the triumph of the human spirit, at least in the normal way. One of the book’s more poignant (if ultimately lesser) tragedies is that young Eliezer grows up enamored with Judaism and God—and particularly Kabbalah—yet by the end of the book finds it essentially impossible to be a believer. Even more than depicting the triumph of the human spirit, Night chronicles how a relatively ordinary person can manage simply to stay alive, to maintain the very basics of physical and mental health, in the face of absolute hardship—and, of course, absolute evil.

If you have a different opinion, though, please leave a comment. Or you can also record your own video response and leave it on the 60secondrecap site (a very cool touch!).

Oh, and if you’re a fan of Wiesel’s, may I recommend his brief Nextbook Press book on his own ancestor, the Talmudic scholar Rashi?

Night [60secondrecap]
Related: Rashi [Nextbook Press]

Dubai Praises Israel

Your man-bites-dog story of the day


The International Cricket Council, the Dubai-based world governing body of the sport, recognized and honored the Israel Cricket Association for a cross-border initiative aimed at bringing Israelis and Bedouins together through shared love of running to and from wickets (that is how you play cricket or something, right?).

This on the same day that Dubai announced that Israelis and suspected Israelis will not be allowed to enter the city. Cross-border, indeed!

Israeli Cricket Wins Dubai Prize [Ynet]
Dubai Limits Israeli Entry After Killing [WSJ]

Today on Tablet

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


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

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


• 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

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


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

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

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]

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