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Today on Tablet

The Nathan Detroit of Warsaw

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Eddy Portnoy uncovers the story of Urke Nachalnik a poor shtetl-dweller turned successful Warsaw kingpin turned popular memoirist and novelist of the criminal life. He died in 1942 in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising outside Warsaw. The Scroll’s lawyers want it to specify that it does not endorse law-breaking, even though it can sometimes be really, really cool.

Daybreak: Israel Circling Palestine

Plus expelled journo talks, Hamas’s change of heart, and more in the news

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• In advance of talks with U.S. Envoy George Mitchell, Israel unveiled a new demand: that it maintain troops on the Jordanian border of even an eventual Palestinian state. A Palestinian negotiator immediately rejected this notion. [WSJ]
• Jared Malsin, the American journalist expelled from Israel, says Israeli authorities accused him of having “anti-Israeli politics.” [WP]
• Hamas’s top man in the West Bank said the group would be willing to nullify its charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction. [JPost]
• Members of the ultra-Orthodox enclave in Spring Valley, New York, have teamed up with the town’s many Haitian citizens to send help to Haiti. [NYT]
• New documents filed in federal court appear pretty damning for Stewart David Nozette, the U.S. astronomer accused of spying for Israel. [Haaretz]
• Avrom Sutzkever, maybe the greatest Yiddish poet of the 20th century, died at 96. [Forward]

Sundown: Palestinian NGOs Seek Self-Examination

Plus the new senator on Israel, Haiti’s president, and more

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• Palestinian human rights organizations urged Fatah and Hamas to honestly self-assess the Goldstone Report’s accusations of international law violations against them. [Haaretz]
• In a pre-election interview, Senator-elect Scott Brown cast himself as strongly pro-Israel and criticized Obama’s Middle East policy for “setting the terms before even sitting down at the table.” [Boston Jewish Advocate via Vos Iz Neias?]
• Haitian President Rene Preval thanked Israel for its help. [JPost]
• 2009 was an unusually low year for attacks on Israel from the Palestinian territories, reported Shin Bet. It was also the first year in a decade without suicide attacks. [Haaretz]
• An article in the latest Oxfordian suggests that Shakespeare may really have been a converso (conversa?) named Amelia Bassanio Lanier. [Globe and Mail]
• The ALA’s 2009 best children’s book not originally written in English is about two young Viennese Jewish sisters who escape to Sweden during World War II. [A Faraway Island>]

Israel Denies American Journalist Entry

West Bank-based reporter forced to come home

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Jared Malsin, a 26-year-old American-Jewish journalist for a West Bank-based news agency, flew to New York today after being denied entry into Israel and detained a week ago. The Ma’an news agency, for which he was English-language news editor, said he was deported; Israel says he left voluntarily (albeit under the circumstances of being denied entry pending a court hearing). What’s agreed is that, eight days ago, Malsin—who hails from Hanover, New Hampshire, and graduated from Yale University—was detained at Ben Gurion International Airport along with his girlfriend as the two of them returned from vacationing in Prague (the girlfriend was released two days later). According to Ma’an, Malsin was interrogated over his articles and his beliefs, which are allegedly critical of Israel. Israel said he refused to cooperate.

Malsin also had slightly overstayed his tourist visa (and, clearly, his welcome). He was registered as a journalist with the Palestinian Authority; Israel had denied his request for a press card, on the grounds that he was based in the West Bank. So: although the only way Israel would allow him to access the West Bank is, presumably, via Israel, the West Bank is not Israel enough for Israel to consider someone who works there under its jurisdiction. Didn’t Joseph Heller write a novel about this?

Israel Deports U.S. Journalist [Guardian]
Journalist Denied Israel Entry Flies Home to U.S. [Reuters]
Report: Israel Deported U.S. Editor [Ynet]

Vatican Blames Israel for Christians’ Plight

Occupation of Palestine a root cause of Mideast problems

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Pope Benedict XVI with Rome’s chief rabbi, last Sunday.(FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

As the Catholic Church prepares to convene Middle East bishops next October to discuss the situation of the roughly 17 million Christians in the region, a Vatican document indicates that the Church in part blames Israel’s “occupation,” as well as the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, for hindering freedom of worship in that part of the world. The document’s authors also cite the rise of “political Islam,” but make it clear that they see the Palestine question as a root cause of problems for Christians in the region—including, presumably, Gaza Christians and Saudi Christians whose rulers do not look kindly on the worship of Jesus for reasons that don’t always have to do with Zionism.

Still, regarding Palestine, the blame goes both ways, right? Surely the Church has no interest in attracting controversy by going out of its way to lay responsibility for the bloodshed at the feet of one side over the other? “The solution to conflicts rests in the hands of the stronger country in its occupying and inflicting wars on another country,” the document argues. “Violence is in the hands of the strong and weak alike, the latter resorting to whatever violence is within reach in order to be free.” Er, this probably will not be the end of this.

Mideast Bishops Convened Amid Exodus, Violence [AP/WP]

Local Jews Aid IDF in Haiti

Jewish residents of the island prove invaluable to relief operations

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The Israel Defense Force’s heroic efforts in Haiti have been (justly) well-documented. A less-known part of the story is that of two Jews, who have made their homes in Haiti for years, who have made so much of these heroics possible.

Reuven Shalom Bigio, the son of a prominent Syrian Jewish businessman, is an honorary Israeli consul to Haiti (his company does several-hundred-million dollars’ worth of business there annually). That soccer field on which the IDF established their already-legendary field hospital? That’s Bigio’s. Daniel Kedar, who moved to Haiti two decades ago for business reasons and is now married to a former tourism minister, has served as the IDF’s unofficial translator and general knowledgeable guide. He reports that he is getting about three hours of sleep each night. Truly, take a minute and read the whole article.

Meanwhile, the IDF scrambled this morning to stabilize its patients following the 6.1-level aftershock that rippled through Port-au-Prince.

Please consider giving to the American Jewish World Service’s Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund, here. You can also text “Haiti” to 90999 to automatically donate $10 to the American Red Cross’s relief efforts.

Finally, you can donate these really cool “LifeStraws”—which uses technology developed by a Weizmann Institute graduate to quickly make water potable—by going here.

Haiti: Two Local Jews Helping Israeli Aid [JPost]
IDF Field Hospital Braces Haitian Patients in 6.1 Aftershock [Ynet]

Earlier: IDF Delivers Babies, One Named ‘Israel’

The U.S. Senate Election and Israel

Scott Brown’s victory means new leeway for Netanyahu

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Senator-elect Scott Brown celebrating last night.(Robert Spencer/Getty Images)

As you’ve probably heard, in a special election yesterday for Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat, Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley, providing Republicans with a filibuster-smashing 41-seat minority that threatens to derail Democrats’ plans for health-care reform.

So … good or bad for the Jews?

Domestically, to the extent that (to paraphrase Norman Podhoretz) most Jews are liberals, it obviously hurts: that 41st seat dramatically weakens Democrats’ ability to pass progressive bills, starting—though by no means ending—with health care reform. As New York Jewish Week blogger James Besser notes, though, most Jewish groups were not playing much of a role in the health care fight anyway. And, of course, not all Jews are liberals: the Republican Jewish Coalition rejoiced at last night’s outcome.

As for Israel, President Obama’s newly weakened domestic position (both structurally, in the Senate, and politically, with last night’s results confirming a perception of declining popularity) will likely force him to soften his earlier position that Israel crack down on settlement construction as a prelude to peace talks. “Does anybody really think,” asks Besser, “an administration that could lose its congressional majority in November and is besieged on a number of fronts is going to pick a fight with the pro-Israel lobby over new U.S. peace initiatives that are unlikely to go anyplace, anyway?”

And Haaretz columnist Aluf Benn credits Benjamin Netanyahu’s canny playing of the U.S. domestic political situation:

No Israeli politician matches his steps to the political goings-on in the U.S. as much as Netanyahu. He dragged out negotiations over the settlement freeze and then decided it would last for 10 months and end in September—just in time for U.S. Congressional elections in which Democrats are expected to suffer heavy losses. Netanyahu understood he must withstand the pressure until his right-wing supporters recapture a position of power on Capitol Hill and work to rein in the White House’s political activities.

Benn concludes: “If Obama’s popularity continues to dive and the Republicans recapture at least one of the houses of Congress in November, Netanyahu and his partners will be able to breathe deep and continue expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

Brown Victory in Mass., Obama’s Woes, and Capitol Hill Gridlock [JW Political Insider]
Republican Jews Hail Party Victory in Mass. [JTA]
Obama’s Lost Senate Seat is a Victory for Netanyahu [Haaretz]

Introducing ‘Forest Hills State of Mind’

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys ain’t got nothing on this

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Billy Eichner, a comedian and Friend-of-Tablet-Magazine, was inspired by Jay-Z’s anthem, “New York State of Mind,” to write a similar tribute to the site of his childhood: the New World shtetl of Forest Hills, Queens. Substituting for Alicia Keys as the female background vocalist is Rachel Dratch, of Saturday Night Live fame.

So I got bar mitzvahed
And though I didn’t wanna
The theme of my bar mitzvah party
Was Madonna!

“This is my ode to young Jews in NYC and all over the world,” Eichner told us. Enjoy!

Today on Tablet

Hating Israel but loving peace, recalling Derrida, killing Jimmy Carter, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Beirut-based Hanin Ghaddar struggles with her Lebanese grandmother, whom she loves, but who herself loves Hezbollah and is, er, less bullish on Israelis and Jews. Columnist Seth Lipsky takes a break from the Jew beat to profile Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States—and a former Wall Street Journal business reporter. Poetry critic David Kaufmann revisits (Jewish) literary theorist Jacques Derrida six years after his death. The latest entry in our Emails of Zion series—in which we helpfully publish those angry missives that your uncle may not have forwarded to you yet—concerns a wish that former President Jimmy Carter cease his current practice of being alive. The Scroll is more selective in its death-wishes.

Florida Ponzi-ist Could Make Big Impact

Rothstein revelations may toy with GOP primary

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Crist in Fort Lauderdale last month.(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

South Florida attorney Scott Rothstein has been accused of masterminding a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme, and plans to plead guilty. Should he allocute, and name names of co-conspirators or other complicit parties, this provincial small-time crook (well, small-time compared to a Bernard Madoff, anyway) could make national political waves.

That’s because, according to Time, plenty of Rothstein’s allegedly illegal money went into state politics, which may in and of itself have broken campaign-finance laws. And most of that money, moreover, went to the state Republican Party … which currently finds itself embroiled in a brutal primary campaign. Depending on which side is more implicated—incumbent Gov. Charlie Crist or state House Speaker Marco Rubio—Rothstein could affect the outcome of the race. On top of which, the contest has implications beyond itself: it is serving as a proxy for the national intra-Republican conflict between moderates (represented by Crist) and hard-line conservatives (represented by Rubio). So very quickly, you can see Rothstein having a major national impact.

Finally, since the bulk of Rothstein’s political donations went to the more powerful state Republican Party, a political scandal tied to the Rothstein case could also conceivably help state Democrats. And maybe national Democrats too? The sky’s the limit for this guy!

Florida’s Mini-Madoff: Scott Rothstein’s Fall [Time]

Daybreak: Israel Wants In the OECD Club

Plus Merkel the pro-Israel maverick, and more in the news

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• Israel’s controversial weapons trade and border disputes are threatening its membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the global club for large, developed economies. [NYT]
• An OECD report shows that Israel, if admitted, would be its poorest member. Its Arab and ultra-Orthodox populations pull the numbers down. [Haaretz]
• Chancellor Angela Merkel has made waves in the E.U. and Germany for her unusually staunch pro-Israel stances. [NYT]
• President Abbas’s current idea is to get Israel to impose an East Jerusalem construction freeze as short as three months before talks resume. But Prime Minister Netanyahu is unlikely to go along. [JPost]
• The FBI arrested four Israeli businessmen, along with 18 others, in connection with the alleged bribery of an African defense minister over a multimillion-dollar defense contract. [Haaretz]
• Ernst Cramer died at 96. He escaped Buchenwald, joined the U.S. Army, and fought the Nazis; in his later life, he was a journalist known for standing up for Israel. [JTA]

Sundown: Turkish Turn Feared

Plus R.I.P. Erich Segal, Hezbollah and drugs, and more

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• The Israeli military intelligence head warned that Turkey is “moving further away from the secular Ataturk approach, closer to a radical approach,” and “no longer needs a close relationship with Israel.” [Haaretz]
• Erich Segal, the Harvard classics professor who wrote the popular novel Love Story, died at 72. Segal also penned Love Story’s screenplay, as well as the script of—who would have guessed?—The Beatles’s Yellow Submarine movie. [NYT]
• A Crete synagogue was set ablaze for the second time in two weeks. Israel asked Greece to prevent further attacks and to aid in the temple’s reconstruction. [Ynet]
• Hezbollah’s activities are funded in part through European drug-dealing, according to a big report in Der Spiegel. [Ynet]
• Sacramento Kings forward Omri Casspi, the first Israeli in the NBA, got into a heated argument with his coach over declining playing-time. [Haaretz]
• The papers of Chaim Potok, the rabbi and author of The Chosen, were moved to their new home: the University of Pennsylvania’s rare book and manuscript library. [ArtsBeat]

In and Out of Love With Zionism

Tony Judt recalls 1960s kibbutz life

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Orthodox Jews work the fields near a kibbutz, May 2009.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Historian Tony Judt provoked not a little controversy several years ago for proposing a single bi-national state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, effectively repudiating Zionism. Judt’s views, agree with them or not, are in part informed by his experiences living on kibbutzim in the 1960s. He recounts this time in a brief, lovely memoir in the latest New York Review of Books. Judt remembers:

For the neophyte fifteen-year-old Londoner encountering the kibbutz for the first time, the effect was exhilarating. Here was “Muscular Judaism” in its most seductive guise: health, exercise, productivity, collective purpose, self-sufficiency, and proud separatism—not to mention the charms of kibbutz children of one’s own generation, apparently free of all the complexes and inhibitions of their European peers.

Judt’s attraction to the world of the kibbutzim and to Labour Zionism failed to win out against his desire to attend university in Europe and the revulsion he felt while serving in the Israeli military. Judt concludes:

Labour Zionism made me, perhaps a trifle prematurely, a universalist social democrat—an unintended consequence which would have horrified my Israeli teachers had they followed my career. But of course they didn’t. I was lost to the cause and thus effectively “dead.”

Read the whole thing. Judt is a remarkable, perceptive writer. (He has also written beautifully about living with, and dying of, Lou Gehrig’s disease.)


Kibbutz
[NYRB]
Night [NYRB]

Jewish Characters on ‘Glee’ to Reunite

And we take the credit

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Breaking news for fans of Fox’s musical-comedy Glee (which won the Golden Globe for best comedy series Sunday night): Rachel and Puck, the musical-theater diva and the football-playing jock, are going to rekindle the romance they briefly enjoyed in an episode early this season. Said show creator Ryan Murphy: “I was really surprised [viewers responded so favorably to that pairing]. I thought people would find her to be far too irritating for him.”

Part of what makes Rachel and Puck such a special couple is their shared heritage. In fact, it is Puck’s desire to settle down with a nice Jewish girl that compels him to pursue her in the first place. Jeremy Dauber wrote about this intra-faith coupling last October in Tablet Magazine.

Exclusive: ‘Glee’ boss on Rachel/Puck, Kurt’s new BF, and Madonna! [Entertainment Weekly]

Related:
The Outsiders [Tablet Magazine]

Israeli Olympians Exiled from Promised Land

The skating diaspora is mainly in Jersey

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Where is the main Israeli skating rink? Why, in Paramus, New Jersey, of course! (There is one in Israel that is regulation-size, but it is located perilously close to the Lebanon border.) A bunch of Israeli hopefuls are training in and around Bergen County in anticipation of next month’s Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Although for some, a solid performance at the European Figure Skating Championships, which begin today in Estonia, stands in the way of an Olympics berth.

Israel has never won a Winter Olympics medal; the closest it came was in the 2006 games, when a mixed ice-dancing team finished sixth. But Efraim Zinger, the Israeli Olympic Committee’s secretary general, is nonetheless optimistic for this year: “We are not blessed with too many outstanding athletes,” he boasted. Wait, what???

Yes, folks, the buried lede here is the astonishing—and, to editorialize a tad more, disgraceful—lack of support these athletes are getting from their own country. It is not just those undermine-y comments. So far, the Israeli Ice Skating Federation has received roughly one quarter what the IOC has promised it. “Everything is a challenge,” says the Federation’s head (who resides in Paramus, natch). “No winter in Israel is one problem. Not being a sports country is another. It’s a challenge for funding, a challenge to get people to appreciate what our skaters have accomplished.”

Only two things, it seems to us, will change this: Either one of these competitors is going to have to win a medal, or someone is going to have to make Cool Runnings 2: Shalom Skaters! We would prefer the former. In the meantime, can someone please fire the Israeli Olympic Committee head?

Israel’s Winter Athletes Come to U.S. Seeking Ice and Medals [NYT]

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