thescroll_header

Today on Tablet

What a 900-year-old poet means for you, and more

Email

Today in Tablet Magazine, Adam Kirsch introduces Yehuda Halevi, the new biography by Hillel Halkin (and published by Nextbook Press), arguing that Jews today can better understand themselves by considering the life of this 12th-century poet. Mideast columnist Lee Smith reveals how the influential husband-and-wife team of Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett have pushed the line that it makes more sense to accept the current Iranian leadership than to hope to change it. For its part, The Scroll recommends Halkin’s book—it’s quite good!

Wieseltier vs. Sullivan

Your guide to the brawl

Email
Leon Wieseltier.(The Charlie Rose Show.)

Late last night, The New Republic posted an article in which Leon Wieseltier, the magazine’s literary editor of roughly three decades, accused Atlantic writer Andrew Sullivan of extremely irresponsible writing about Israel. Wieseltier takes special issue with Sullivan’s contention that American Jews influence U.S. policy toward Israel in a way that is both indicative of and a betrayal of their very Judaism. Wieseltier is quite influential when it comes to shaping currents in highbrow American intellectual culture, and particularly the Jewish subset within; Sullivan has one of the most popular and highly trafficked blogs, period. In the little world where people argue over these things, this qualifies as one of the biggest title bouts in years.

The article is guaranteed to prompt a lot of discussion (plus, Lord knows, a response from Sullivan), and I’ll return to it in more depth later on. For now, here are some basic things that anyone should be aware of going into the debate.

What’s Wieseltier’s main charge? Wieseltier is less concerned with Sullivan’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (which recently have drifted further and further left) and more with his declarations about U.S. policy vis-à-vis Israel, and who’s behind them. A key line of Sullivan’s, according to Wieseltier, is:

Most American Jews, of course, retain a respect for learning, compassion for the other, and support for minorities (Jews, for example, are the ethnic group most sympathetic to gay rights). But the Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing—that celebrates and believes in government torture, endorses the pulverization of Gazans with glee, and wants to attack Iran—is something else. Something much darker.

For Wieseltier, this is condescending, if not worse. Whether or not Michael Goldfarb or Charles Krauthammer are right or wrong has no bearing on their Jewishness, and does not make them good or bad Jews, Wieseltier says. And:

the explanation that Sullivan adopts for almost everything that he does not like about America’s foreign policy, and America’s wars, and America’s role in the world—that it is all the result of the clandestine and cunningly organized power of a single and small ethnic group—has a provenance that should disgust all thinking people.

At one point, Wieseltier links Sullivan to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. They were the co-authors of an article and later a book that argued that U.S. policy toward Israel was influenced so as to counter the U.S. national interest by the especially powerful Jewish lobby. They are extremely controversial.

So, does Wieseltier call Sullivan an anti-Semite? Short answer: no. It’s a very specific charge, and one that must have occurred to Wieseltier; if he’d wanted to write, “Andrew Sullivan is an anti-Semite,” he certainly could have. The closest he comes is in the final paragraph: “About the Jews, is Sullivan a bigot, or is he just moronically insensitive?” Wieseltier asks. “To me, he looks increasingly like the Buchanan of the left.” My guess is that Wieseltier thinks Buchanan is both a bigot and moronically insensitive, so do with that what you like.

What’s with all the stuff about homophobia? Wieseltier imagines, as a thought experiment, that Sullivan had written about gay people what he had actually written about Jews, and asks the reader to consider how it would seem then. The subtext of this rhetorical gambit is that Sullivan himself is a gay man, and has written very intelligently and influentially on gay politics and gay culture over the past two decades. In fact, some of Sullivan’s most important articles on the subject appeared in The New Republic.

Where’s the beef? The fairest thing to do is to consider Sullivan’s posts on the merits, and Wieseltier’s essay on the merits. At the same time, it’s worth knowing that Sullivan was the editor of TNR for several years in the 1990s, while Wieseltier was literary editor. In other words, these two are not strangers to each other. In recent years, Sullivan (and many others) have criticized TNR for a rightward drift, particularly in areas of foreign policy, and particularly on Israel; actually, even in its liberal heyday in the 1980s, under the aegis of owner Martin Peretz, the magazine has usually taken editorial stands on the Middle East that would not look unfamiliar on the Israeli center-right.

What’s with all the purple prose? Yeah, this is kind of how Wieseltier writes, particularly when he’s writing at the home base. If you’re a fan, you take it as a sign of intellectual seriousness; if you’re a detractor, you see it as bloviating. Even the diehards must admit that the pretentiousness can be a little much (the first several-hundred words here are about W.H. Auden and Reinhold Niebuhr), and even the haters must admit he can be very, very funny (Sullivan has been a little too ready to endorse a little too crazy theories about Sarah Palin, among others; Wieseltier writes, “On the other hand, there is no suggestion that Netanyahu is Trig’s dad”).

What’s with all the stuff about blogging? Throughout, Wieseltier bemoans Sullivan’s alleged hyperbole, even hysteria, and implies that perhaps Sullivan’s chosen medium shares part of the blame; at one point, he even calls blogging “a sickly obsession.” (I’ll try not to be offended!) In the past, Wieseltier has discussed his problems with blogging: that it accelerates publishing past the point where reasonable thought can temper hot emotions; and that it lends itself to conspiracy theorizing and intemperate remarks. Which just gets us even more excited for Sullivan’s inevitable response. Stay tuned!!

Something Much Darker [TNR]

Daybreak: Sanctions Around The Bend

Plus Oren shouted down, Touro’s Lander dies, and more in the news

Email

• While Defense Secretary Robert Gates talked up the need for more sanctions, Iran clarified its intentions, announcing that it will build 10 new nuclear plants. [LAT]
• Prime Minister Netanyahu directly asked E.U. ambassadors to move for further sanctions. [Ynet]
• And in case you weren’t sure: yes, enriching more uranium, even for ostensibly peaceful purposes, is likely to bring Iran ever closer to a weapon. [WP]
• Palestinian leadership is waiting for the United States to set exact terms for indirect peace negotiations before it fully agrees to them; they have said they are tentatively a go. [Haaretz]
• Nearly a dozen folks were arrested for interrupting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at the University of California, Irvine, with shouts about alleged Israeli human rights violations. [JPost]
• Rabbi Bernard Lander, who founded religiously oriented Touro College, died at 94. [Arutz Sheva]

Sundown: Iranian FM’s ‘Crazy’ Talk

Plus Jews compliment Hitler, Who Dat?!, and more

Email

• Iran’s foreign minister said: “Israel is a crazy nation run by crazy people.” [Haaretz]
• Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota), who is very popular with the Tea Party set, told the Republican Jewish Coalition that the Bible establishes the United States itself would cease to exist if it stopped supporting Israel. [Minnesota Independent/Vos Iz Neias?]
• Right-wing Israeli extremists chanted “Hitler was right!” at a pro-settlements protest. [Forecast Highs]
Infidel, a British movie due out (over there, at least) this spring, is about a devout Muslim man in Britain who finds out that he’s actually biologically Jewish. Looks really funny. Watch the trailer. [The Guardian]
• Democrat Scott Lee Cohen quit his race for Illinois lieutenant governor following revelations about an ex-girlfriend. He made his sad announcement at a Chicago bar during halftime last night. [Chicago Tribune] Which reminds us …
• Who Dat?! The Scroll congratulates the people of New Orleans and Saints Nation. And it advises Peyton Manning to insist that, as a condition of his new contract, the Indianapolis Colts fire Jim Caldwell, who contributed one of the worst coaching performances in Super Bowl history.

Damascus Conversion

Why peace with Syria is more urgent than ever

Email

Last Friday afternoon, we worried that high tensions between Israel and Syria—most immediately prompted by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s threats to Syrian leader Bashar Assad—could lead to violence. Well, fortunately, they haven’t so far, and hot tempers have appeared to cool over the weekend. Which can allow us now to focus on the broader question of Israeli-Syrian hostility.

That there is currently no peace is partly a function of Israel’s unwillingness to give up the Golan Heights. But, really, blame for the enmity can probably be primarily laid at the feet of Syrian intransigence. Problem is (as I mentioned last Friday), that intransigence toward Israel has not stopped its newly important neighbor Turkey from seeking closer ties. It has not even prevented the United States from attempting to cozy up to Syria—America, which hopes to send its first ambassador to Damascus since 2005, would love a Syria that is less in Iran’s orbit and is cooperative in trying to maintain stability in neighboring Iraq as U.S. military forces withdraw.

A Haaretz correspondent notes, “Syria is a key country along a new axis being formed in the Middle East, which includes Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. The backbone of this axis is economic, security, and diplomatic cooperation that would replace the old axis of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.” A smart Israeli leader would view the region in a more classically realist way, the correspondent adds, and work extra hard to achieve peace with Syria:

Israel, which is used to examining the region through a lens that counts Hezbollah’s missiles and Hamas’ explosive barrels sent to sea, and which considers the prisoner numbers in the Gilad Shalit deal the crux of the security threat, is blind to the region’s strategic developments. The expression “we want peace,” which is void of substance, cannot even begin to express the folly and shortsightedness of Israel, which is shrugging its shoulders at a chance to reach peace with Syria, if for no other reason than to prevent a damaging blow from this new axis.

To this end, we need a statesman, not a comedian. The leader who can make Israelis understand that peace with Syria does not mean eating humus in Damascus but is an existential interest, no less important than blocking Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Peace With Syria As Vital As Stopping Iran’s Bomb [Haaretz]

Earlier: Israel and Syria In Crisis

ADL Flunks Obama

President needs a 75 on midterms to avoid being held back a year

Email

The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman has looked over test scores and class participation, and decided to fail President Barack Obama for his handling of the Middle East in his first year in office: “Since there are no prospects of talks on the horizon, and in many ways what their efforts wrought was a wasted year without any negotiations, I believe the administration deserves an ‘F’ for failure to deliver on results,” Foxman said. Foxman in particular faulted Obama for raising expectations so high (something Obama himself has said he regrets doing) and for emphasizing Israel’s settlement policy too much. On the other hand, Foxman did give the president an ‘A’ for effort. (That’s not our punch-line. He really said he did.)


ADL Gives Obama An ‘F’ For Failing to Deliver in ME
[JPost]

One-Fifth of Top Donors Are Jews

Includes Bloomberg and Soros; does not include Adelson

Email
George Soros (#7) in Hong Kong last week.(Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images)

Roughly 20 percent of Slate’s list of the top 60 donors in 2009 are Jews (including the top giver, Pittsburgh financiers Stanley F. and Fiona B. Druckenmiller). Folks you may have heard of include Michael Bloomberg (4); George Soros (6); Eli and Edythe Broad (7); and David Rubinstein (52). The Fundermentalist, JTA’s philanthropy blog, notes that several names are ostentatiously absent, including Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Sheldon Adelson.

Jewish-themed recipients of some of the top donors’ largesse included National Jewish Health, the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego, and the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation. Maybe, like the rest of the country, Jews should start moving en masse to the Sun Belt?

Also, the New York Times reports today on how the Broads stand astride the Los Angeles arts scene like a colossus. Which recalls that line from Annie Hall, that the difference between L.A. and yogurt is that yogurt has active culture. But still, good for them! May their write-offs be happy ones.

Who Are The Jews Among the Slate 60 List of Top Givers [The Fundermentalist]
Slate 60: Donor Bios [Slate]

Related: Iron Checkbook Shapes Cultural Los Angeles [NYT]

AJC Head on the Jewish Lobby’s Success

Credits broadly popular positions, Jews in government

Email
Rosen (right) in Russia, 2005.(Maxim Marmur/AFP/Getty Images)

Not afraid to be service-y, a Chinese newspaper wants to know: what can its country learn from the amazing success the American Jewish community had had lobbying the U.S. government on its issues? Jack Rosen, the head of the American Jewish Congress, reveals the trick of the trade: lobby on positions that the majority of Americans agree with anyway. Which might be a tall order for China, even if, according to Rosen, the Jews manage it just fine.

Rosen argues:

If you go back 40 years, the Jewish lobby was lobbying on behalf of individual rights and civil rights. And they did it for African Americans, they did it for Latin Americans, and they did it for Chinese. …

Then there is the issue of Israel. Why are Jewish groups so successful in lobbying for Israel? Again the American public is very supportive of the only democracy in the Middle East, the only country in the Middle East that gives equal rights and freedom to everyone. Women have equal rights in Israel.

So it’s easy to lobby for Israel, because 90 percent of Americans believe in what you are lobbying for.

One other thing that, according to Rosen, helps the Jewish lobby is, well, all the Jews in government: “Jewish people represent two percent of the U.S. population, but in some parts of the government we are 10 percent of the leadership. For instance, Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is Jewish,” he said. Which is indisputably true, of course, but it is a little odd to see one of its main beneficiaries so casually admitting this fact, given that it is not infrequently used to deride his lobby’s efforts. The unembarassment is refreshing, as is the honesty and candor. He should say it in an American paper sometime.

Remember U.S. Values When Lobbying There [Global Times]

Today on Tablet

Plus-sized fashion, Oscar season, and more

Email

Today in Tablet Magazine, Marjorie Ingall profiles (in slideshow form!) Deb Malkin, whose Brooklyn boutique caters to women size 12 and up. Liel Leibovitz compares and contrasts two Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language Film: Ajami, from Israel, and The White Ribbon, from Germany. Josh Lambert’s weekly round-up of notable forthcoming books includes the hardboiled cop story Boca Mournings. Whenever The Scroll is in Boca, it tries to sleep in at least until the afternoons.

Son of NYT’s Israel Reporter Is in the IDF

Should the Times yank him from the beat?

Email

Earlier reports have been confirmed: the son of Ethan Bronner, who is the New York Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, has enlisted in the Israeli military. Times editor Bill Keller told the paper’s ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, that this was the case, and insisted there were no plans to remove Bronner from his post: “Ethan has proved himself to be the most scrupulous of reporters,” Keller said. “We have the utmost confidence that his work will continue to meet the highest standards.” For his part, Bronner, who has covered the area for almost three decades, said: “I wish to be judged by my work, not by my biography. … Either you are the kind of person whose intellectual independence and journalistic integrity can be trusted to do the work we do at the Times, or you are not.”

For the record, various folks and groups have accused Bronner of being biased about the Mideast in every imaginable way; it is those who accuse him of being biased in Israel’s favor who are in dudgeon over this. In my opinion, it is literally impossible to have his job and not face those criticisms. (Also, for the record, Keller says he would be inclined to keep Bronner in his post even if his son is deployed in combat.)

Should Bronner keep his job? The question is not inside baseball: there are few if any individuals who are more influential when it comes to shaping mainstream U.S. perception of the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian situation than the lead Times reporter. Let’s grant that Bronner’s actual journalism has been, under hypothetical totally objective standards, completely without bias and beyond reproach. Hoyt calls Bronner an “excellent reporter”; I agree. We can also grant that, in an ideal world, Bronner’s “work” and not his “biography” would be the sole standard by which he is judged.

Hoyt and I agree that Bronner has been fair-minded. But Hoyt and I also agree with Alex Jones, a Pulitzer-winning Harvard press expert. He told Hoyt: “The appearance of a conflict of interest is often as important or more important than a real conflict of interest. I would reassign him.” Such a move, frankly, is unfair to Bronner, “but the newspaper has to come first,” he added.

Assuming another of the Times’s excellent reporters is subbed in for Bronner, it’s difficult to see who would be harmed by Bronner’s move other than Bronner, who would not be the first person to have his career or personal life compromised in some manner by the completely legitimate behavior of a loved one. This is the price of doing business. Surely someone who has covered the Middle East for a quarter-century has learned that the world is not always a fair place.

Too Close to Home [NYT]

Earlier: Report: NYT J’lem Chief Has Son in IDF

Daybreak: A’jad Ignites New Nuke Worries

Plus Abbas OKs indirect talks, a mohel’s grandson for VP, and more in the news

Email

• President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly ordered further enrichment of uranium, ostensibly for a medical-research reactor. The move immediately heightened tensions over the country’s nuclear program. [WSJ]
• President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to the U.S. model of indirect talks, whereby envoy George Mitchell will present an offer to the Israelis and the Palestinians and then shuttle between articulating the other’s position. [Haaretz]
• The New Israel Fund, a U.S. charity that funds several Palestinian human rights groups, has become a massive political football in Israel, with the right accusing it of enabling the Goldstone Report. [LAT]
• The new vice president of Costa Rica, Luis Lieberman, is Jewish. His grandfather was the Central American country’s first mohel; presumably campaign slogans about cutting out unnecessary spending all but wrote themselves. [Arutz Sheva]
• Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who somehow still chairs the Homeland Security Committee, called on the international community to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. Failing that, he added, there would be military action. [Haaretz]
• Harry Schwarz, who came to South Africa to escape the Nazis and became a major anti-apartheid leader there, died at 86. At various points, he served as Nelson Mandela’s defense lawyer; an important opposition member of parliament; and the ambassador to the United States. [JTA]

Sundown: Obviously It’ll Be Called ‘Rhapsody in Blue’

Plus the Jewish ‘Wolf Man,’ the Jewish Jonas Bros., and more

Email

• Zachary Quinto—he played Spock in the Star Trek movie—has signed on to play the lead in (get this) Steven Spielberg’s George Gershwin biopic. [Paste]

•The original 1941 The Wolf Man (the remake with Benicio del Toro comes out in a week) was written to manifest how German Jewish screenwriter Robert Siodmak felt others perceived him. [LAT]

• A profile, in op-ed form, of Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League. [IHT]

• Prime Minister Gordon Brown acknowledged and publicly worried about the record number of anti-Semitic incidents Great Britain experienced in 2009. [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine, has canceled its print edition. [Josh Nathan-Kazis]

• Moshiach Times Band is the religious Jews’ answer to the Jonas Brothers. Below, they play “One Mitzvah at a Time.” God help us. [Heeb]

Israel and Syria In Crisis

Sniping and saber-rattling at unusually high levels

Email

You might want to head into this weekend hoping for peace in the Middle East. Not just peace in some not-too-distant future, but peace, like, this weekend. Possible enemy: Syria. The latest round of hostilities has been simmering for several days, but it was upped yesterday when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced bellicosely, “I think that our message must be clear to [Syrian leader Bashar] Assad. In the next war, not only will you lose, you and your family will lose the regime. Neither you will remain in power, nor the Assad family.” While Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately moved in with an even-handed statement that sought to lower the heat, Syria’s counterpart responded to Lieberman in kind: “Israel should not test Syria’s determination,” the foreign minister said. “Israel knows that war will move to the Israeli cities.” Lefty correspondent Aluf Benn described the current state of things as a “crisis,” noting that Arab countries felt provoked in 1967 after the Israeli chief-of-staff (Yitzhak Rabin, as it happens) threatened Syria.

Today, Lieberman, cooled down, clarified his remarks in an effort to lower tensions before things get too out of hand.

Kidding! “My response, which I made in order to clarify that the situation [with Syria] is unbearable, was immediately met with a hysterical reaction in Israel of ‘how dare we anger the nobleman,’” he said. “I don’t work for the media or for public opinion.”

No, Minister Lieberman, but you do work for the Israeli people. Particularly at a time when both Israel’s newest enemy, Turkey, and its oldest friend, the United States, are seeking closer ties to Syria (America has proposed its first ambassador in five years), it is difficult to argue that the Israeli people are best served by needless provocations like these. Those who have illusions about Assad’s malevolence are certainly wrong, and should be persuaded otherwise. But even if doing so was Lieberman’s true intention, as he claims, it looks like that message got lost in the noise he made while doing it.

Israeli Minister Adds Heat to Exchange With Syria [NYT]
Tension With Syria Can Turn Into War in an Instant [Haaretz]
FM on Syria Feud: Grave Issues in Mideast Require a Response [Haaretz]

Un Problema en Venezuela

More and more, Jews there are leaving

Email
Caracas, Venezuela.(Vos Iz Neias?)

The Jews of Bogotá, Colombia, have established a special committee to receive Jews arriving from Venezuela, mainly because so many Venezuelan Jews are deciding to do just that: the anti-Semitic climate in Venezuela, at times actively cultivated by President Hugo Chávez’s government, has not abated. The World Jewish Congress estimates that “several dozen” Jewish families have already made the trip (which is much more when you consider the relatively small total number of Jewish families in the country). “We are not promoting that Venezuelan Jews come here because such a thing wouldn’t be fair to Venezuela’s Jewish community,” said a leader among the Bogotá Jews. “But we have to take care of the situation and we have set up telephone lines so they can be in touch with us whenever they want.”

Venezuelan Jews Move to Colombia Due To Political, Economic Crisis [World Jewish Congress/Vos Iz Neias?]

Earlier: Hugo Chávez’s Uses for Anti-Semitism

An Orthodox Jewish Cowboy

The football kind, that is

Email
This year’s Lombardi Trophy, which will go to the winning team Sunday night.(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

We learn in the New York Times today about Shlomo Veingrad, a former Green Bay Packer and Dallas Cowboy offensive tackle who should probably be counted as among the best Jewish football players since Sid Luckman led the Chicago Bears to NFL championships in the 1940s, if for no other reason than that he wears a Super Bowl ring! (He was on Dallas’s 1992 championship squad, from before the Cowboys started sucking.) Now, an observant Jew, he tours Chabad houses talking about how he rediscovered his religion when a Green Bay, Wisconsin, shop owner took him under his wing.

The article contains this provocative meditation on how Jews feel about Jewish athletes:

For Jews, abundant as fans but uncommon as top players, the visibility of a Shlomo Veingrad serves both reassuring and cathartic roles. Having a Jew to root for—whether Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax or the Israeli N.B.A. rookie Omri Casspi—“has a lot to do with our desire to define ourselves as Americans in the most American way, which is sports,” said Jeffrey S. Gurock, a history professor at Yeshiva University and the author of Judaism’s Encounter With American Sports.

At a deeper and more anxious level, American Jews continue to grapple with the stereotypical view of the Jew as egghead, nerd, weakling. That dismissive portrayal was a staple not only of anti-Semites, but also of early Zionists, who envisioned their “new man” with his plow and rifle as the antidote to the “golus Yid,” the exilic Jew unable even to defend himself.

A Jewish ballplayer is one thing; a Jew on the ultra-violent, no-holds-barred gridiron—and one who plays not one of the daintier skill positions like quarterback, or wide receiver, or even cornerback (or even, HaShem help us, kicker), but offensive lineman—might be the ultimate “new man.” Anyway, if sports are America’s (mostly) harmless, (mostly) guilt-free outlet for all those primal tribal urges that are best not put to more consequential use, then surely the original Tribe deserves to get in on it, too.

Oh, and a reminder for Sunday night: Jews have no special obligation to pull either for the Indianapolis Colts or the New Orleans Saints. It’s usually more fun to root for the winner, though, so you should probably root for the Colts. The Scroll’s pick: Colts (-6) over Saints.

An Offensive Tackle Named Shlomo [NYT]

Earlier: Jewish QB Got Zero Playing Time

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.