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Bike Battle Takes a Turn for the Civil

Brooklyn Hasids, cyclists debate controversial lane

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Last we reported, the feud between Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidim and the borough’s bicycle enthusiasts had rounded the bend into full-scale performance art: cycling activists, protesting the Department of Transportation’s removal of a bike lane that ran through the Satmar ’hood, scheduled a nude ride along the route where the lane had been, on Shabbos no less. There was a blizzard that day: score one for the Satmars.

Last night, though, the warring clans tried to work things out more peaceably, with a debate held at Pete’s Candy Store, a hip Williamsburg music venue. According to a reporter for the blog Free Williamsburg, lead counsel for the Hasids was Isaac Abraham, who ran for city council last fall (he lost, but it was notable that a member of Brooklyn’s large ultra-Orthodox community ran for public office at all). Abraham reportedly lay low on the much-mocked argument that the bikers terrorize the Satmars by showing too much skin; the real problem, he wisely maintained, was that cyclists pose a safety hazard to pedestrians. Cycling advocates retorted that having a dedicated bike lane makes everyone safer. And more or less everyone, Free Williamsburg claimed, blamed the Department of Transportation for failing to listen to their constituents. (The bike advocacy group Transportation Alternatives later disputed that its representative at the debate had derided the DOT.)

So where does this leave the good people of Williamsburg? Perhaps not far from where they started: the attending blogger “left feeling that, though civil, the debate didn’t really get anyone anywhere, other than a few shared laughs and a feeling that neither side is budging more than mere inches.”

On the other hand, a Village Voice writer today declared the entire conflict ridiculous, on the grounds that at least a visible skeleton of the supposedly-removed bike lane is still there on the street. “The last couple of weekends,” he writes, “I pedaled happily on this bike lane with just as much safety as ever, with the Hasids walking along on the sidewalk to my left and some weekend traffic passing by me on my right.”

So at least someone’s happy.

Bicyclists & Hasidic representatives debate the Williamsburg Bike Lane [Free Williamsburg]
Cycling Hipsters are Full of Shit: Bedford Bike Lane Is Still There [Village Voice]

Housekeeper Sues Prime Minister’s Wife

Like Biblical namesake, Sara Netanyahu has problems with the help

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Mr. and Mrs. Netanyahu in July 2007.(Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

Can’t stay away from this one any longer (especially since it is the big story in Israel). Sara Netanyahu—Mrs. Bibi—has been sued by a former housekeeper. Lillian Peretz alleges that Netanyahu:

• Verbally abused her;
• Forced her to shower and change clothes multiple times per day;
• Paid her less than the minimum wage
• Forced her (an observant Jew) to work Saturdays;
• Compelled constant compliments from her;
• Forbid the family’s bottled water to her. (Consumption of tap water was permitted.)

The lawsuit explicitly compares Peretz to Cinderella—which, of course, would make Sara Netanyahu the evil stepmother.

Apparently, the First Lady has a history with this sort of thing: during her husband’s first term as prime minister, in the late-‘90s, she came under repeated attack for allegedly berating her staff and flaunting her children.

In other news, Brangelina is breaking up? What is up with that?

Ex-Housekeeper Alleges Abuse By Israeli PM’s Wife [AP/Miami Herald]
Cleaning Lady vs. First Lady Sparks Israeli Media Frenzy [AFP/Yahoo]

Fresh Off Brouhaha, Ayalon Meets with Prominent Turk

How awkward!

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Ayalon last July in Jerusalem.(Daniel Bar-On/AFP/Getty Images)

In case you were wondering, yes, their chairs were the same height. Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, met today with a prominent Turkish official, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (say that five times fast), to congratulate him for his election to the Council of Europe’s presidency. Last time Ayalon met with a prominent Turkish official, it was the ambassador, and Ayalon deliberately humiliated him by, among other things, placing him in a significantly smaller chair. After this meeting, Ayalon reiterated his apology for that incident, before calling for direct Israeli-Syrian negotiations; Turkey has volunteered to mediate between the two foes.

In other news, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan—whose moderate Islamist party generally is not Israel’s favorite thing in the world—proclaimed today (which in most of the world is Holocaust Remembrance Day) that the Holocaust was “the most grave and unprecedented crime against humanity throughout history.” Which is of course the right sentiment, although we would feel a little better if we didn’t read between the lines and wonder how much Turkey’s position on the Nazi genocide and its totally “unprecedented” nature has to do with Turkey’s position on certain other alleged genocides that it itself may have had a hand in.

Ayalon Meets Turkish Official for First Time Since Chair Incident [Ynet]
Turkey: Holocaust Is Most Grave Crime Against Humanity in History [Haaretz]

Earlier: The Turkish To-do: Turkey Wins, Israel Loses

Nextbook Author Talks Gershwin, Dylan

Lehman traces Jewish influence in American music

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David Lehman, author of Nextbook Press’s A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, went on the popular WNYC radio show Soundcheck to discuss the Jewish roots of American popular music. You can listen to his conversation, which touches on the Brothers Gershwin, Bob Dylan, and more, below:

“I Gotta Right To Sing the Blues?”—a concert inspired by Lehman’s book, produced by Hal Willner, and starring Rufus Wainwright and others—takes place tomorrow night at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center.

American Classics With a Yiddish Accent [Soundcheck]
A Fine Romance [Nextbook Press]

Livni, Defiant, Pledges to Stick Around

Sees centrist party as counterweight to right-wing Israeli leadership

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Livni and U.S. envoy George Mitchell last week.(AFP/Getty Images)

You will continue to have Tzipi Livni to kick around, if that’s your thing. The leader of the centrist Kadima Party, who served as foreign minister during last year’s Gaza conflict, insists that she will survive her current political turmoil, which has seen Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu try to lure away top officials in her party even while her number two talks coup and schism. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she insisted on her and her party’s continued relevance. She also pledged to continue refusing to join the governing coalition led by Netanyahu’s Likud Party; Kadima will not be “a fig leaf” for a turn away from some semblance of a two-state road map, she said.

Part of the problem facing Livni is that Kadima was founded in unique circumstances: it was essentially created by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to embody the coalition that he led, which was appreciably to the right of the left-wing Labor Party even as it broke with Likud by supporting unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. But now, Sharon is done (his stroke-induced coma recently passed the four-year mark), while Hamas rule in Gaza has, to many, repudiated the wisdom of Kadima’s signature policy. Perhaps most importantly, the one-time success of Kadima compelled Labor to move right and Likud to inch left, creating less of a logical niche for a truly centrist coalition. In winning the ideological battle, Kadima may have lost the political one.

Then again, Kadima also has (by one member) the most representatives in the parliament. It is hard to argue that the party is dead, even though it is easier to argue that it is getting there.

Israel’s Livni Says Reports of Her Political Demise Are Premature [LAT]

Today on Tablet

A Mideast power shift and the death of Anatevka

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Mideast columnist Lee Smith reports from Beirut on the vertigo the traditional regional Sunni Arab powers—primarily Egypt and Saudi Arabia—are feeling now that momentum has shifted toward non-Arab states Iran, Turkey, and Israel. Book critic Adam Kirsch considers a new history of the shtetl, and specifically its demise during (when else?) the 1940s. Meanwhile, The Scroll considers Tuesday the most difficult day of the week, and hopes that we can get through it together.

Report: NYT J’lem Chief Has Son in IDF

Potential conflict-of-interest explored

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Ethan Bronner.(Mediaite)

Has the son of Ethan Bronner—the New York Times’s current Israel beat reporter—enlisted in the Israeli military? (And, if so, would that constitute an unacceptable conflict of interest for Bronner?) An earlier report of this was subsequently retracted, but yesterday the blog Electronic Intifada seemed all but confirmed the news. The blog—which tends to be extremely skeptical of Israel and its policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians—contacted Bronner after receiving a tip; he referred them to the Times foreign editor, who responded: “Mr. Bronner’s son is a young adult who makes his own decisions. At the Times, we have found Mr. Bronner’s coverage to be scrupulously fair and we are confident that will continue to be the case.” Electronic Intifada’s media blog has repeatedly criticized Bronner for an alleged pro-Israel bias.

Prior Times Jerusalem bureau chiefs include James Bennet, now the editor of The Atlantic, and Thomas Friedman, now the über-columnist. When it comes to shaping U.S. opinion about Israel, it’s a pretty prominent and important gig.

‘New York Times’ Fails to Confirm Jerusalem Bureau Chief’s Conflict of Interest [Electronic Intifada]

Daybreak: Bibi, Lieberman Visit Hip Countries to Just, Like, Chill

Plus Rahm in crosshairs, Turkish PM doesn’t like Jews, and more in the news

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• Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia are receiving senior Israeli officials this week (Prime Minister Netanyahu is in Poland). Though the trips coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, they are really about strenghtening already-warm diplomatic ties. [JPost]
• Israel is likely to convene a panel of senior jurists to rigorously investigate its conduct during last January’s Gaza conflict. [Haaretz]
• Chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel is emerging as the left’s pre-eminent fall guy, the one blamed for President Obama’s political misfortunes and decision to move toward the center. [WSJ]
• An Israeli Foreign Ministry report alleged that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “indirectly incites and encourages anti-Semitism” by associating Jews with his critical stance toward Israel as well as making stereotypical generalizations. [Haaretz]
• Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s chances of landing a second five-year term, which seemed bleak only last week, now look strong. [WP]

Sundown: Harold Ford’s ‘Schmear Campaign’

Plus the IDF to leave Haiti while Israel adopts orphans, and more

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• On a radio show, former congressman Harold Ford, Jr., alleged he was the victim of a “schmear campaign” launched by New York political insiders who don’t want him to run for the U.S. Senate. He then corrected himself: “I’m a little country, I apologize. It’s s-m-e-a-r.” If anything, the slip should allay fears that he’s “a little country,” no? [City Room]
• An Iranian mullah bashed the United Arab Emirates for allowing an Israeli minister to attend an Abu Dhabi energy conference. [Haaretz]
• With the arrival of substantial U.S. military and medical forces, the Israeli team-on-the-ground in Haiti is set to depart by Thursday. [JTA/Forward]
• That said, the Israeli government is reportedly considering adopting Haitians orphaned by the earthquake. [JPost]
• After Israel’s ambassador to Germany applied pressure on the government there, a German firm canceled plans to construct a port for Iran. [Haaretz]
• Former oil tycoon and George H.W. Bush Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher—who converted to his wife’s Presbyterianism, but was born Jewish in New York—died at 82. [NYT]

Why the Rabbis Are Silent on Tropper

Reserving judgment on sex scandal reported by Tablet

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Over four articles (all of which you can find here), Tablet Magazine traced the scandal surrounding Leib Tropper. A one-time Monsey, New York, Orthodox rabbi, Tropper raised himself to the status of Jerusalem-based conversion guru by dint of powerful connections, only to fall from grace after audiotapes purportedly recorded him making sexual advances toward prospective converts. In her final article, Allison Hoffman reported on the conspicuous silence with which ultra-Orthodox Judaism’s rabbinic elite have greeted the revelations—some of them broken by Tablet Magazine. And there has barely been a slap on the wrist: Tropper remains, for example, rosh yeshiva—the head of a religious day school in Monsey.

The 5 Towns Jewish Times, which serves a heavily Orthodox area of Long Island, runs a fantastic interview with another Monsey rabbi that tries to get to the bottom of this troubling lack of condemnation. The rub seems to be that the rabbis feel they are barred, under Jewish law, from speaking out against Tropper until his case has been formally tried in front of a Beth Din (a formal rabbinical court). Says the rabbi: “until there is due process we are not Halachically permitted to issue condemnations against an individual, or to take any other action against him.” He adds:

This terrible episode has brought great pain and embarrassment to the entire Torah community. … If, however, [the allegations] are proven to be true, then we have discovered a venomous snake in our midst, an immoral individual who abused his rabbinical position and caused immeasurable Chillul Hashem [desecration to the Name], and shame to our community.

The rabbi also denied that Tropper’s extensive connections throughout the community has anything to do with the kid gloves with which that community has (so far) treated the allegations against him.

So: hemming, hawing, non-denial denials; earnest concern that Jewish law be followed; and somewhat useful boilerplate that at least recognizes the magnitude of the allegations.

Meanwhile, an editorial in The Jewish Star, which also serves Long Island’s Orthodox communities, offers a slightly different point of view:

Are we the only ones taking crazy pills or does anyone else find it strange that virtually not a single prominent rabbinical figure outside the leadership of the Rabbinical Council of America—and they are hardly household names—has said a public word about the incredible scandal this man created? After years of instigating holier-than-thou controversies over conversions and other issues, funded by someone else’s millions, Tropper was unmasked as the worst sort of hypocrite—he has denied nothing—and yet, he continues to go to the office each day and call himself a rosh yeshiva.
Really, this one takes the cake.

Leib Tropper—Why the Rabbis Were Silent [5TJT]
Editorial: A Smart Career Move [The Jewish Star]

Related: Sex, Lies, and Audiotape [Tablet Magazine]

Shalom, Barack and Michelle!

This is a really ridiculous Israeli commercial

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To be clear: this is an Israeli cable commercial featuring Obama impersonators performing a musical number that involves, among other things, them dancing in the Situation Room in front of a picture of Osama bin Laden. Proceed at your own risk. (Via Negev Rock City.)

Jews Lose at the Supreme Court

Campaign finance decision likely to dilute groups’ influence

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In a momentous decision last week, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down crucial parts of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. The upshot is that corporations will be far more free to spend money on specific candidates running for office; more broadly, you can expect more, and more direct, corporate money flowing into elections.

James Besser talks to a political scientist about the decision, and how it will affect American Jews. His argument, and it sounds valid, is that the influx of direct corporate spending will dilute the power of interest groups—including Jewish ones—that, under the current system, take in money and then spend it where and how they choose. Moreover, the sheer amount of money now likely to come into the system from corporations will minimize the impact of individual donations. Besser paraphrases:

Jews are big political givers, based mostly on the issue of Israel—but that could quickly be dwarfed by the mega-millions corporations are now likely to spend in pursuit of their special interests, starting with profits and limiting government regulation, he said.

Jewish campaign givers aren’t going away and Jewish political clout isn’t in jeopardy. But there’s little question this week’s Supreme Court decision will transform American electoral politics by adding to the campaign finance muscle of the biggest corporations—and diluting the influence of everybody else. And that includes Jewish and pro-Israel givers.

You could go a step further: arguably, those interests whose groups were the most powerful beforehand actually stand the most to lose from the decision. They have a farther distance to fall. Which would, given their current power, be bad for the Jews.

Supreme Court Campaign Finance Decision and Jewish Clout [JW Political Insider]
Justices, 5-4, Reject Corporate Spending Limit [NYT]

Podhoretz Defends Limbaugh from ADL Accusation

It’s an anti-Semitism round robin!

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Norman Podhoretz.(Hudson Institute)

Rush Limbaugh has enlisted an ally from within the shtetl. Last week, Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, accused Limbaugh of “borderline anti-Semitic” comments after the conservative talk-radio mega-star said (without, er, any basis in fact) that President Obama’s fulminations against Wall Street smacked of the whole bankers-as-Jews stereotype. Now, to Limbaugh’s defense comes Norman Podhoretz, the legendary neoconservative. Podhoretz argues:

Foxman has a long history of seeing an anti-Semite under every conservative bed while blinding himself to the blatant fact that anti-Semitism has largely been banished from the Right in the past forty years, and that it has found a hospitable new home on the Left, especially where Israel is concerned. … Now Foxman has the chutzpah to denounce Rush Limbaugh as an anti-Semite and to demand an apology from him to boot. Well, if an apology is owed here, it is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League who should apologize for the defamatory accusation of anti-Semitism that he himself has hurled against so loyal a friend of Israel as Rush Limbaugh.

So, to recap:

Limbaugh to Obama: You’re an anti-Semite!

Foxman to Limbaugh: No, you’re the anti-Semite!

Podhoretz to Foxman: No, the anti-Semites are on the left! Besides, Limbaugh likes Israel, which means he cannot possibly be an anti-Semite!

This has been productive!


Podhoretz, Defending Limbaugh, Blasts Foxman’s ‘Chutzpah’
[Ben Smith]

Earlier: ADL Condemns Limbaugh’s ‘Bankers’ Remark

Related: Why Are Jews Liberals? A Symposium [Tablet Magazine]

Today on Tablet

Make your own parenting story, goulash in Budapest, and more

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Ever wonder what it’s like to be a New York City parent? Today in Tablet Magazine, parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall lets you choose your own adventure (it’s way cool). Reporter Hugh Levinson and Budapest-based ethnomusicologist Bob Cohen eat goulash in a Vox Tablet podcast sure to make you … hungry. Serbian journalist Milena Miletic argues that the International Court of Justice’s forthcoming ruling on Kosovo’s separation from Serbia will set an important precedent regarding the Palestinian question. Josh Lambert provides his weekly preview of forthcoming books of interest. And The Scroll provides its daily rundown of News Jews Can Use.

Powerful Congressman Fears ‘Immense Toll’ of Occupation

Rep. Berman speaks mind to Americans for Peace Now

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Berman in Moscow last June.(Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

At an Americans for Peace Now event, Rep. Howard Berman (D-California), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had the following, unusually dovish thoughts (which we received via email from APN):

I made my first congressional trip to Israel in 1983. It was then that I began to discern the primary problem Israel would have to face if it maintains its rule over the West Bank and Gaza. Either it would eventually have to rule over a disenfranchised Palestinian majority, or if it enfranchises the Palestinians Israel would eventually cease to be Jewish. I call it the demography-democracy problem. I knew I wanted Israel as a Jewish homeland to be a democracy. That was 1983. Over the years, I discovered two things: first, I learned that there were indeed many Palestinians who were prepared to accept Israel and who genuinely believe in coexistence. Second, I discovered the immense toll the occupation is taking on Israel.

He went on to praise APN, which tends to the left on these sorts of matters, for its “firm commitment to peace.”

Here’s the thing: Berman is no peacenik. Last time we mentioned him, for example, he was pushing for tougher Iran sanctions; and you don’t attain his position of power, much less keep getting elected to his Hollywood district, if you are perceived as unduly harsh on Israel. What he utters represents, by definition, what is mainstream for America’s pro-Israel political leaders. Which is, apparently, that Israel’s current policy of occupation and disenfranchisement is unsustainable.

Earlier: House Passes Symbolic Iran Sanctions Bill

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