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Poets Protest J Street Cancellation

Plays are slated to take their place

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Three poets whose appearances were canceled at next week’s J Street conference in Washington aren’t happy about the situation—and they’re making sure people know it. The cancellation came last weekend, after Weekly Standard blogger Michael Goldfarb kicked up conservative ire over some of the poets’ work.

“If you’re trying to be an alternative to AIPAC, don’t behave like AIPAC,” poet Josh Healey, who was targeted by Goldfarb for comparing Israeli treatment of Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews, told Haaretz in an interview. Healey and his colleague Kevin Coval, who was criticized for comparing Israel to a whore, issued a long statement accusing J Street’s leadership of “caving in” to what they described as a McCarthyite witch hunt. (J Street officials explained on Monday that they were concerned about crossing the line between being provocative and offensive.)

Meanwhile, Tracy Soren—at 22, the youngest of the three, and just beginning her career as a professional poet—contacted Tablet Magazine to say she was surprised to have been caught up in the whole episode. “I’m not pleased with how this has gone,” said Soren in an interview, who focuses on sexual politics in her poetry and had planned to read a piece about an American trying to understand her Israeli lover’s experience on the battlefield. “I do feel [J Street] went along with the political right, and even though they have to choose their battles, I’m not surprised poetry was the first thing that got cut.”

Soren, who said she was active in her B’nai B’rith youth group as a high-schooler in Queens, added that she’d decided to skip the conference, even though organizers had assured her she was still welcome to attend. “The real issue here is that there’s no space for discussion,” Soren said. “Judaism teaches us to question things, and this was supposed to be a forum to question the conflict and not be called bad Jews. What I’m hoping comes out of this is that those who have been opposing what I was going to say see the peace within it, and that it’s more pro-Israel and pro-humanity than anything else.”

The poetry session will be replaced with a program of excerpts from productions staged by Theater J, a program run by the Jewish Community Center in Washington, D.C. Theater director Ari Roth, who was slated to moderate the poetry session, told Tablet he has proposed staging excerpts from four plays: David Hare’s 2000 play Via Dolorosa; Hare’s monologue Wall, published earlier this year in the New York Review of Books and performed at New York’s Public Theater; Motti Lerner’s Pangs of the Messiah; and Hillel Mitelpunkt’s The Accident.

J Street Conference Sessions [J Street]
Earlier: J Street Cancels Poetry Session [Tablet]

Hamas Must Investigate War Crimes, Too

HRW reminds prime minister that Goldstone Report found potential war crimes on both sides

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The human-rights world has spent the last month debating the Goldstone Report’s conclusions that Israel may have committed war crimes during its assault on Gaza last winter. Human Rights Watch is pointing out that the report accused Hamas fighters of potential war crimes, too. The group—which has lately been under fire for what critics call an anti-Israel bias—sent a letter yesterday to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, calling on Hamas to implement the Goldstone Report recommendations for a “thorough and impartial investigation” of its conduct during the conflict. “We welcome the October 15 statement from your foreign ministry, which says the authorities will conduct investigations into the allegations against the armed wing of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups,” said the letter, signed by HRW’s Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson. “We therefore call on Hamas to conduct thorough, independent and impartial investigations into alleged violations of international humanitarian law by members of the Qassam Brigades and other armed groups in Gaza, and to prosecute in conformity with international fair trial standards those found responsible for rocket attacks that target Israeli population centers, as recommended by the Goldstone report.”

The letter also directly addressed the question of whether the military wing of Hamas targets civilians with its Qassam rockets. “Human Rights Watch would also like to ask for clarification of recent statements by Hamas spokespersons that Hamas rocket attacks into southern Israel were intended to target Israeli military bases, but not Israeli civilians,” the letter said. “Previous statements by Hamas leaders, as well as our own research, indicate that rocket attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups deliberately targeted Israeli civilians or were launched towards Israeli population centers indiscriminately. The Goldstone report concluded that Hamas was responsible for serious violations of the laws of war, including war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, in connection with these rocket attacks directed against Israeli civilians.”

“Hamas, just like Israel, needs to make clear to its forces that unlawful attacks on civilians will not be ignored,” the letter said.

Hamas: Investigate Attacks on Israeli Civilians [HRW.org]
Letter to Prime Minister Haniya [HRW.org]

Ebony and Ivory

Mix in Sophie Okonedo’s latest role and in real life

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Okonedo at the U.K. premiere of Skin in July.(Tim Whitby/Getty Images)

The L.A. Jewish Journalgets a jump on the movie Skin, opening next week, with a profile of Sophie Okonedo, who stars with Sam Neill in the film about a biracial South African born to white parents in the 1950s. (The family had a black forbear of whom they were unaware.) The thorny questions of identity are ones Okonedo is familiar with—while her father is Nigerian, her Pilates-teaching, cartwheel-turning mother is Jewish, the daughter of Yiddish speakers whose own parents immigrated to London from Russia and Poland.

“Being raised in North London in the 1970s was much kinder than South Africa in the ’50s,” observes the actress, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Hotel Rwanda. “But it was helpful to understand what it is like to have a family that is a different color than you—and to question your heritage when people say, ‘That can’t possibly be your mum.’”

Jewish Actress Sophie Okonedo Explores Biracial Identity [Jewish Journal]

Erekat Arrives in D.C., Says He’ll Negotiate With U.S.

But not with Israel; meantime, Blair says final-status talks are near

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Erekat talking to George Mitchell in May.(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The Palestinian Authority is ready for talks with the United States but not with Israel, according to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who arrived in Washington yesterday to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other U.S. officials. Erekat said the top priority for making any headway on a final-status agreement with Israel is precisely the one that President Obama has backed away from in recent weeks: halting all settlement construction, according to a Palestinian newspaper quoted in Haaretz. “There are no interim solutions,” Erekat said. “It’s not a precondition for negotiations, but an explicit Israeli commitment that they have to meet.” In itself that’s something of a climb-down for the Palestinians, who have previously said that a settlement freeze was indeed a precondition. Add this nuance to the Palestinan Authoirty’s decision to defer a vote on the controversial Goldstone Report—the U.N. Human Rights Council document that alleges Israel committed war crimes in Gaza—and you have at least a gasping rationale for why Tony Blair, the Quartet Mideast envoy, said in Hebron yesterday that final-status talks are only weeks away.

Palestinian Official: We’re Ready for Talks With U.S., but Not Israel [Haaretz]

Israel Submits Arabic-Language Film for Oscars

BBC profiles ‘Ajami’

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Earlier this month, Israel for the first time chose an Arabic-language film, Ajami, as its Oscar submission; the movie was co-directed by Jewish and Arab filmmakers and follows a series of mafia-style killings in Ajami, an Israeli-Arab neighborhood in Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv. So what do Ajami’s residents think of the film? “It’s nothing but shooting and drugs, shooting and drugs—it’s true, but it will ruin our reputation,” one young man told the BBC for a feature that runs today. Some said it wasn’t political enough—“I’m shocked that Jews like the film more than Arabs, even though it shows that we are like this because of them!” another viewer reported, referring to the decades of martial law after Israel’s independence, followed by years of discrimination, that Israeli-Arabs in Jaffa have faced. And then there were the residents of Ajami who were actually in the film—the directors cast primarily non-professional actors who “were not given the script, just thrown into scenarios and told to react.” One woman who played a mother who’d lost her son to gang violence told the news service, “I was really crying, I wasn’t acting.”

Jewish-Arab Crime Film Captures Tensions [BBC]

Today on Tablet

Jewish Body Week continues with a video starring author A.J. Jacobs

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A.J. Jacobs on Jewish Body Week from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

In today’s Jewish Body Week video testimonial, author and Esquire editor A.J. Jacobs talks about his big Jewish beard. Tablet Magazine book critic Adam Kirsch considers Benjamin D. Sommer’s new book, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel. Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry talks to author Eliza Slavet about her Racial Fever: Freud and the Jewish Question and the great psychoanalyst’s theories on the inheritance of Jewishness. And we’ve got two favorites from the archives: Emory professor Sander L. Gilman’s essay on the ongoing fascination with Jews and intelligence, and a Vox Tablet interview with poet and professor Joy Ladin, who lived most of her life as a man, Jay. Jewish Body Week will continue tomorrow and Friday, and, of course, we’ll have more on The Scroll throughout today.

Did Dwek Get a Good Deal?

Informant in N.J. case gets years off sentence, but can’t go home again

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Let’s review: Solomon Dwek, the son of a prominent rabbi in the exceedingly insular and tight-knit Syrian Jewish community, gets wrapped up in some unsavory business (specifically, a multimillion-dollar real estate Ponzi scheme involving dozens of properties in northern New Jersey), and winds up getting arrested trying to kite more than $50 million in checks. Prosecutors tell Dwek he might face 30 years in prison, along with some hefty fines, if he’s convicted on the bank and mortgage fraud charges—never mind what else they might have found on him—but, you know, they’d be willing to consider a deal if he has anything interesting to tell them. Dwek, a burly 37-year-old, promptly decides to go undercover and participate in a three-year sting operation that expanded over time to include not just his own business partners, but five senior rabbis, including the 87-year-old chief rabbi of the American Syrian community, and what seems like half the elected officials in northern New Jersey.

And what did that assistance buy? Dwek pleaded guilty yesterday on one count each of money laundering and bank fraud; he is now a pariah in his community, where his own father publicly referred to him as though he were dead (though he did not actually sit shiva, contrary to some reports). And since all these people are so angry at him, he’s now apparently living under federal protection. Plus, it turns out, the U.S. Attorney’s office still plans to recommend that the presiding judge sentence Dwek to serve between 105 and 135 months in prison—which is a little less than nine years or a little more than 11, give or take whatever extra they offer for his services as a trial witness, if needed.

In other words, he got about 70 percent off. We think that sounds like a great setup for a MasterCard “priceless” ad, but apparently Peter Willis, a lawyer representing two politicians ensnared in the case, thinks it’s a bargain. “The U.S. attorneys gave him his Hanukkah gift early this year,” Willis told the Star-Ledger. “That is pretty lenient.”

Details Revealed on Solomon Dwek, Informant in N.J. Corruption Probe, After Guilty Pleas [NJ.com]
Earlier: What’s Next for the Syrian Jews?

Daybreak: War Works

Plus apologies, self-defense, and more in the news

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The New York Times looks at the troubling truth that violence has succeeded where diplomacy hasn’t for both Israel and the Palestinians, and that Isrealis are “keeping track of a series of ticking clocks as they ponder still another military endeavor—against Iran.” [NYT]
• Meanwhile, in response to criticism from founder Robert Bernstein, Human Rights Watch has issued a statement that it “stands fully behind the work we have done on Israel,” which is “a tiny fraction of Human Rights Watch’s work as a whole.” [HRW]
• The two South Carolina Republican officials who defended Senator Jim DeMint by comparing him to penny-watching Jews have apologized, asserting their admiration for Jews and opposition to anti-Semitism. [NYT]
• A legal action filed yesterday on behalf of victims of Bernard Madoff includes some details on his life in jail, where he “sleeps in the lower bunk and he eats pizza cooked by an inmate convicted of child molestation.” [Times of London]

Sundown: Founder Disses Human Rights Watch

Plus fetal justice, and two kinds of Holocaust confusion

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• Robert Bernstein, founder of Human Rights Watch, turns against his creation for “issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state” and hopes the organization will return “to its founding mission and the spirit of humility that animated it.” [NYT]
• An article on the Jewish take on abortion makes a leap of logic when it compares a fetus endangering a pregnant woman’s life to a murderer intentionally pursuing an innocent victim, but its heart is in the right place. [The Bible and Interpretation]
• A New Zealand gay dance party has been canceled due to outrage over its planned theme: Concentration Camp! “The whole idea was to concentrate on the word ‘camp,’” says one of the organizers. “It was not meant to have any pull on the Holocaust.” [Dominion Post]
• The trial of the alleged killer of a Wesleyan University student, Stephen Morgan, whose journals contained such sentiments as “I think it’s ok to kill Jews,” has been postponed to allow more evidence to be accrued. [WTNH]
• 25-year-old Holocaust denier Eric Hunt, who assaulted Elie Wiesel in 2007, is suing an 80-year-old Holocaust memoirist for “tormenting Gentiles and instilling hatred in Jews using such hideous lies.” [Boston Herald]

Korda Praises Marton’s Hungary Memoir

Both kids of Hungarian refugees (and both parts of the Manhattan media elite)

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Former Simon & Schuster chief Michael Korda, born in London to a Hungarian father, heaps praise on Enemies of the People, a “genius” new book by Kati Marton, on The Daily Beast today. Marton’s memoir is the story of her family’s struggle to survive in Hungary from the 1940s; her maternal grandparents died in Auschwitz, and her parents, both reporters for American news agencies, were targets of the Communists. Marton didn’t find out they were both Jewish until she was 30, and Korda can relate—he discovered his father was Jewish later in life. (Although for some reason he sees more of a connection to Marton, the wife of diplomat Richard Holbrooke and an ex-wife of the late ABC anchor Peter Jennings, in the fact that “we were awarded the honor of Commander of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary at the same ceremony.” That or he’s just bragging.)

Korda has particular empathy with Marton’s portrayal of her father’s coldness when she confronted him with her discovery: “How well one understands that!” he writes. It’s safe to say the “one” here is Korda, who adds that “Nobody is more sentimental about Hungary than a Hungarian who has left it behind,” and recalls “that strange patriotism assimilated Hungarian Jews have always felt for the country, the language, the culture they loved, and their inability to separate themselves from it.” Just don’t tell it to Hungarian Parliament member Oszkar Molnar, who recently said that “Jewish capital … wants to devour the entire world, especially Hungary.”

Escape from Hungary [Daily Beast]

J Street Has Its Logic Backward

‘Peace’ should come before ‘Israel,’ argues commentator

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There’s something wrong with J Street’s branding—or there will be in a week, after the left-leaning Zionist lobby’s first national conference raises its profile in Washington, Bernard Avishai, a liberal commentator on Israeli affairs, argues on Talking Points Memo. Right now, the group’s motto, and apparent underlying ideology, is “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” There’s an implied “therefore” between those terms, says Avishai (a member, by the way, of J Street’s advisory panel) that only makes sense for a limited constituency—i.e., some Jews—that takes support for Israel as a given and reasons politically from there. That’s not going to fly if J Street succeeds in becoming a real political force: “One cannot just assume that Congress will care what Jews want. One has to start with America’s foreign policy strategy and then apply its logic to the Middle East,” he writes. And that’s where AIPAC, the conservative Zionist lobby that J Street developed as an alternative to, is a useful model, he says: the group “actually became influential in Washington because it defined itself at a critical time not as ‘pro-Israel, pro-(well,) toughness’ but as ‘pro-freedom, (therefore) pro-Israel…. You can say that AIPAC was misguided, that it’s even become a pernicious force, but you can’t deny that it got its strategic premises ordered properly.” J Street would be a worthier opponent of AIPAC if it got its political logic straight, he argues: “pro-peace, pro-Israel.”

J Street and World Order [TPM]

Ultra-Ortho Group Calls Shalit Unworthy

Say captured soldier doesn’t follow commandments, shouldn’t be rescued

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Members of the Neturei Karta, an ultra-Orthodox sect known for its ongoing opposition to Israel’s statehood, have publicly objected to the potential rescue of Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier captured three and a half years ago by Hamas. The group says Shalit’s acknowledgment in a video last month that he ate in a Druze restaurant proves he does not observe the commandments and therefore “there is no obligation to redeem him or to rescue him according to Jewish law,” they write in a letter to supporters. The group goes even further, criticizing the attention the country has given him these past few years. “Unfortunately, around the national calf called Gilad Shalit, everyone blindly dances. It does not occur to them that, with all the pain and sorrow and ‘the baby taken prisoner’, there is halacha first and foremost.”

The leader of a group known as the Association of Friends of the Sons of Torah for Gilad Shalit quickly challenged the Neturei Karta declaration, saying “a Jewish soldier who has dedicated his life for the entire nation of Israel is observing one of the biggest mitzvoth. It is outrageous ingratitude to claim that there is no obligation to redeem him.” Which seems to us to make a bit more sense.

Neturei Karta: Returning Shalit Not a Commandment [Ynet]
Earlier: Gilad Shalit Is Alive

Today on Tablet: Jewish Body Week Continues

And a video of the fabulous Rachel Shukert

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Rachel Shukert on Jewish Body Week from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

For today’s installment of Jewish Body Week, we present a video clip Tablet Magazine contributing editor Rachel Shukert talking about her Jewish body. Also today, Liel Leibovitz asks why Jewish men who made it in show business opted to cast non-Jewish women for so many leading roles. Eddy Portnoy looks at the tradition of Jewish muscleman, complete with a slideshow. Eryn Loeb explains how vegetarianism has connected her to the kashrut of her youth, and how she’s begun to leave both behind. Plus, a treat from the archives: Elissa Strauss explores the colorful variety of Yiddish slang for “vagina.” Stay tuned all week for more on the the Jewish body and a new video testimonial each day. And, of course, The Scroll is here to update you all day.

FBI Arrests Potential Israeli Spy

U.S. scientist sold information to agents posing as Mossad

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Stewart David Nozette, a 52-year-old American scientist who worked for the Energy Department and NASA and helped prove that there’s water on the moon, was arrested Monday for trying to sell classified state secrets to an FBI agent posing as a Mossad operative. In addition to a long career with the U.S. government, he also spent 10 years as a technical adviser for a consultant company owned by the Israeli government, the Associated Press is reporting. The criminal complaint also suggests a history of odd behavior, according to the wire service: In January of this year, he allegedly traveled outside the United States with two thumb drives and didn’t return with them, and he allegedly told a colleague that if the U.S. government ever tried to jail him for an unrelated crime, he’d go to Israel and “tell them everything” he knows. That was enough to get the FBI to embark on an elaborate sting operation in which Nozette ponied up information about U.S. satellites for $2,000 in cash, then gave more on “nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, and other major weapons systems” for $9,000.

So does this mean Nozette a spy who got caught or a megalomaniac with high-level clearance? So far, signs suggest the latter. “The complaint does not allege that the government of Israel or anyone acting on its behalf violated US law,” the AP says.

FBI Nabs Scientist on Espionage Charges [JPost]

Giuliani Race-Baits Brooklyn Jews

If Bloomberg loses, it could be Dinkins redux, he implies

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Giuliani campaigning for Bloomberg on Sunday.(NYTimes.com)

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani stumped for incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg over breakfast at the Jewish Community Council in Borough Park, Brooklyn, on Sunday. Rather than simply saying Bloomberg’s done a helluva job, worthy of that third term he gave himself license to run for, Giuliani sounded a warning note about what life in the city used to be like and what it can be like again if Mike isn’t returned to office: crime and chaos and a pandemic “fear of going out at night and walking the streets.” As if people didn’t know exactly what Giuliani was talking about, he added, “You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

The comment, delivered as it was among Orthodox rabbis and Jews old enough to remember the black-Jewish Crown Heights riots of the mid-’90s (and to remember that Giuliani’s predecessor as mayor was David Dinkins, who, like Bloomberg challenger Bill Thompson, is black), drew the expected fire from Thompson’s campaign, but also from Brooklyn City Councilman Bill de Blasio, who told the New York Times that Giuliani was on the “verge of race-baiting.” Even Giuliani’s admiring biographer, the conservative historian Fred Siegel, was appalled. “It’s smart to have Rudy out there, but not in this way,” Siegel told the New York Observer. “You want a positive appeal to draw ethnic voters to the polling place. But the overtones here are double-edged.” Siegel also said that Bloomberg’s follow-up to Giuliani’s remark—to compare New York to Detroit, where “gains are always in danger of being turned around”—was neither “neither morally defensible nor politically sensible.”

Stumping With Mayor, Giuliani Stirs Old Fears
Siegel: ‘Neither Morally Defensible Nor Politically Sensible’

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