Daybreak: Abraham’s Children Squabble

Plus ‘Schindler’ lands ice dancers in 10th, and more in the news


• 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]

Sundown: Foxman Loves ‘Basterds’

Plus Norman Finkelstein, crazy college kids, and more


• The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman called for Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds to be … honored with an Academy Award. [HuffPo/ADL]

• Norman Finkelstein, the notorious writer (his prime shtick is, he’s the son of survivors who compares Israel to the Nazis), has been trying to secure speaking venues in Germany. [JPost]

• Long Island’s Holocaust Museum and Tolerance Center reopened (after over a year of renovations) with powerful new exhibits. [NYT]

• An interesting feature on how Orthodox students at secular colleges compromise among religious strictures and the reigning hook-up culture. [New Voices]

• At the Jewish Council of Public Affairs Plenum in Dallas, Ambassador Michael Oren called for “compromise” regarding the controversy over mixed gender prayers at the Western Wall. [JCPA]

• Get prepared for the Zaretskys’ ice dancing performance tonight with this (unrelated) clip, which is also set to the Schindler’s List theme music.

Israel Near To Its First Liberal Arts College

Just a laid-back kind of place, you know?


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.

$5M Donation Makes Shalem College Vision A Reality [JPost]

The New Jews of U.S. Politics

With more Republicans than ever

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.

Top 10 U.S. Jewish Politicians [Forward/Haaretz]

Earlier: Meet the Likely Next Jewish Senator

Go Read ‘Tablet’ Columnist’s New Book

The ‘Times’ likes Lee Smith’s ‘A Strong Horse’


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 Enemy Within
The Strong Horse

Related: Agents of Influence [Tablet Magazine]

Israeli Skaters Perform to ‘Hava Negila’

And tonight, the ‘Schindler’s List’ theme. Kidding?

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??

Oh, wait, I am right.

Israeli Ice Dancers in 10th Place [JTA]

‘Shutter’ Macht Frei

The Holocaust haunts Scorsese’s latest

DiCaprio in ‘Shutter Island’.(AceShowBiz)

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 on Tablet

Green is good for the Jews, The Fugs, and more


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.

Bibi Reportedly Okayed Dubai Killing

Plus diplomatic rifts, the real German passport, and more


The weekend’s big bombshell was a sensationalistic Times of London exposé 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.

Meir Dagan: The Mastermind Behind Mossad’s Secret War [Times of London]
Dubai Police: Soon We’ll Have Proof Against Mossad [JPost]
U.A.E. ‘Deeply Concerned’ Over Passports Used in Hamas Leader’s Assassination [LAT]

Earlier: The Great Dubai Murdery Mystery

Daybreak: Iran-Ready Drones Debut

Plus Palestinian statehood en español et français, and more in the news


• 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]

Sundown: Some Israelis Sure Don’t Like Some Other Israelis

Plus Foreman fight clear for the Bronx, ballet in Brooklyn, and more


• 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]

Today in the Dubai Murder Mystery

Britain denies knowledge, Hamas blusters, Dershowitz weighs in


Maybe the biggest piece of hard news to break today is the Daily Mail’s report that Britain knew that Mossad planned to kill chief Hamas weapons man Mahmoud Mabhouh beforehand, and specifically knew the Israeli spy agency planned to use fake British passports to do it. The U.K. government quickly denied the allegation. Perhaps apropos of that, or perhaps out of a general abundance of caution, Hamas threatened Western nations who allow Mossad agents to operate on their territories or with their support.

Meanwhile, at least in the British press, most outlets are less pissed than they are impressed: “The public mood in Britain is remarkably pro-Israeli on this issue,” a columnist argues, citing one article that said, “What the secret agents did—and, critically, what we saw them do—was compelling and breathtaking in its cleverness. Box office, in other words.” Even so, legendary Mossad chief Meir Dagan—whom some in Israel have called to step down in the wake of this mess—is staying out of the spotlight, as he tends to do.

Finally, in case you were wondering whether Mossad’s assassination—sorry, Mossad’s alleged assassination—was legal and moral, Alan Dershowitz has your answer: yes, and yes.

Britain ‘Knew Mossad Was Using Fake Passports for Dubai Hit’ [Haaretz]
‘West Will Lose By Helping Israel’ [JPost]
Comment: Sorry, Israel Bashers [JPost]
If Israel Killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, Did it Have the Right To? [HuffPo]

Earlier: The Great Dubai Murder Mystery

How Jews Make It In America

The Semitic content of HBO’s newest series

The cast of ‘How To Make It In America’, last week.(Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Heeb’s mini-review of How To Make It In America notes the latent and explicit Judaism in the new HBO series. It starts with the main character, a striving, 20-something hipster named Ben Epstein (and played by Bryan Greenberg)—an alter ego, perhaps, of creator Ian Edelman?—and it goes all the way through his (even more explicitly Jewish) high school friend, an i-banker named David Kaplan, as well as the hasidic kids around Ben’s Wiliamsburg apartment.

(The show itself, which is about Ben and his friend Cam’s dreams of success in the fashion world, is alright. The story of aspirational young people trying to make it in the Big City never gets old. At the same time, lines referencing Blue Ribbon and a Condé Nast expense account make the whole thing a bit annoyingly name-drop-y.)

The most Jewish characters on the show, whom Heeb doesn’t mention, don’t appear until the fourth episode. (The second episode airs on HBO this Sunday night; I’ve seen the first four episodes, because I’m special that way.) Ben reluctantly heeds Cam’s request and goes to ask his parents for some money. Sure enough, his mother, a teacher, is hosting a few other members of the union in their homey Upper West Side apartment, and insists that her son stay a bit, you know, just to have a little nosh.

Ben then goes to Bookculture, the Morningside Heights bookstore which will forever be known as Labyrinth to past denizens of that neighborhood, to see his father. He is played by Richard Portnow, whom HBO fans may remember as Uncle Junior’s attorney. The scene between father and son—filmed on Labyrinth’s second floor—is pretty much as Jewy as it gets. If that’s your sort of thing.

Chosen TV: How To Make It In America [Heeb]

Brooklyn Rabbi Accused of Extortion

Balkany wanted $4M, leniency for hedge fund, Agriprocessors prisoners


Here we go again: yesterday afternoon, federal agents arrested a prominent ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn rabbi, Milton Balkany, after he allegedly tried to extort an unnamed Connecticut hedge fund out of $4 million. Reportedly, Balkany promised the silence of a prison inmate whom federal authorities are questioning as part of an insider-trading investigation. According to a criminal complaint (PDF) filed yesterday, Balkany claimed the inmate had turned to him for advice, and Balkany, in turn, tried to play the hedge fund’s executives (his “co-religionists,” the government notes) off the Justice Department’s investigators.

Balkany, who was released last night on $250,000 bond, told Tablet Magazine in a phone call this morning that he’s sure he’ll be exonerated:

I’m pretty high-profile, and the government has always been after me in one way or another. They threw a bucket of mud at me seven or eight years ago and in the end there wasn’t even a trial. It’s just lots of hoo-ha and sensationalism. There was absolutely nothing there and there is nothing here.

Balkany claimed that he approached the hedge fund—whose name he refused to disclose (though the chatter up in Connecticut is that it’s Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors)—after being contacted by the inmate, who was concerned about selling out fellow Jews in exchange for a reduced sentence. “He doesn’t want to hurt another Jew,” Balkany explained.

How did the subject of charitable contributions come up? Well, Balkany said, after the hedge fund’s lawyers started talking about how generous the firm had been, he mentioned his school and a related yeshiva that were in need of a loan. “I said, ‘This is not a holdup, this is not an armed robbery, this is a request for charity and it had nothing to do with our other issue,’” he said. “Then they went and knifed me by going to the government.”

The government’s criminal investigator alleged that Balkany approached him at the same time, offering the insider information in exchange not just for reducing the sentence of the informant, but also for leniency in the case of an unnamed relative. Balkany confirmed that the additional person for whom he sought leniency is his brother-in-law, Sholom Rubashkin, who is currently in an Iowa jail pending his sentencing on 86 counts of fraud at Agriprocessors, the kosher meat empire. “The whole purpose was to get this first man out of jail,” Balkany said. “Rubashkin was thrown in later.”

Balkany, a white-bearded 63-year-old who heads the Bais Yaakov girls’ school in Midwood, is known in political circles as “the Brooklyn Bundler”—a name bestowed on him over 20 years ago because of his prowess as a fundraiser for political candidates, particularly those who proved willing to contribute to his pet causes. His wife, Sarah, is the daughter of Aaron Rubashkin, the founder of Agriprocessors; though Balkany never worked for the company, at the height of the Agriprocessors scandal, which involved allegations of both financial fraud and immigrant labor violations, he interceded on his in-laws’ behalf against a planned boycott.

It’s been a rough few years for the rabbi. In 2003, not long after he was invited onto the floor of the House of Representatives as guest chaplain, Balkany was charged with misappropriating $700,000 in federal grants to his school. (The government ultimately withdrew the charges.) He now faces charges of extortion, blackmail, fraud, and making false statements, carrying a potential sentence of up to 20 years.

Brooklyn Rabbi Charged in $3M Extortion Plot [NY Post]

Earlier: Rubashkin Found Guilty of 86 Fraud Charges

In Praise of Torah

Mormon gold medalist’s inspired first name

Bright celebrating her win last night.(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The first thing some of us wanted to know when Australian snowboarder Torah Bright, 23, won the women’s halfpipe last night in Vancouver was, “Is she or isn’t she?” Well, she’s not—she’s an observant Mormon, actually, who makes her winter home (Northern Hemisphere winter, that is) in Salt Lake City, Utah. But she is still proud of her name’s provenance, we learn from a profile on the official Australian site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Her mother, it reports, “settled on the name Torah, the Jewish name for the first five books of the Bible, when [her other daughter] Rowena’s Jewish piano teacher told her the word also means ‘bearer of a great spiritual message.’” And now, bearer of a gold medal, too.

Australian Torah Bright Wins Women’s Halfpipe [NYT]
Gospel Strategy is to Choose the Right for Superstar Athlete Pursuing the Gold [LDS Australia]

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