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Wexler Quits Congress to Campaign for Peace

Florida Dem to head Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation

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This morning, Robert Wexler, the seven-term Democratic congressman from Boca Raton, announced that he’s resigning his seat to take over the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, a think-tank founded by Slim-Fast billionaire (and powerhouse Democratic donor) Daniel Abraham. Wexler, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was among Obama’s earliest and fiercest Jewish backers, said in his official statement that he regrets not being able to finish out his term but made the move now because “there is no time to waste” on Middle East peace. “I am convinced that now is the time for me to engage on these issues on a full time basis,” he said.

Naturally, everyone in Washington—on both sides of the aisle—is wondering what’s really going on. It’s hard to imagine that Abraham would have appointed Wexler, and done it in such a high-profile way, if there were some dire scandal in the offing. And Wexler told the Associated Press that he is absolutely, definitely “not under any investigation. My marriage is intact. My health is good and, thank God, the health of my family is good.” The early spin, according to Politico’s Laura Rozen, was that Wexler wanted a pay bump to help out with his kids’ college tuition. Meanwhile, Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent floated some blind quotes suggesting that being out of government allows Wexler greater flexibility in pushing Obama’s agenda with the Israeli government, and in the American Jewish community. Which is a nice idea because, well, there’s always next year’s Nobel to think about.

Congressman Wexler to Accept Position as President of Center for Middle East Peace [House.gov]

Catholics Not Amused By Sarah Silverman’s Message to Pope

Of course, she’s just as mean to Jews

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(HuffingtonPost.com)

Sarah Silverman released a new video over the weekend in which she proposes that the pope sell the Vatican in order to make enough dough to end world hunger. “You preach to live humbly, and I totally agree,” she says, addressing the pontiff in her typical faux-coy manner. “So now maybe it’s time to move out of your house that is a city. On an ego level alone you will be the biggest hero in the history of ever, and by the way—any involvement in the Holocaust: Bygones.” Even greater incentive? Such largesse would lead to “crazy pussy. I don’t mean literally. That may not be your cup of tea.”

Predictably, stodgy viewers found Silverman’s approach offensive (come on, people—“house that is a city”—is sheer! comic! gold!). Among the scolds is Catholic League president Bill Donohue, quoted in an article in America, a Catholic weekly. He says Silverman is being anti-Catholic and that her “filthy diatribe would never be allowed if the chosen target were the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and the state of Israel.” Really? Donohue’s obviously not following the comedian on Twitter, where she spares nobody, least of all her own kind, from insult. To wit: “Saw A Serious Man last night — a disgusting yet accuate portrait of us grossy jews down to, like our thicker-ish saliva.”

Sarah Silverman: Sell the Vatican? [America]

Fayyad: No ‘Mickey Mouse State’

Says talks will remain suspends if Israel’s offers are too limited

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Fayyad speaking near Nablus last week.(Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP/Getty Images)

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said that he won’t accept a “Mickey Mouse state,” if that’s what Israel has in mind for Palestine. Fayyad is the author of an ambitious plan to create a de facto Palestinian state in the next two years, and his reputation as a technocrat and reformist is strong in both the West Bank and in Israel. (Shimon Peres has called him the “Ben Gurion of Palestine.”) But he now says that what would be offered in a potential Israeli peace plan “looks like it would not come close to what we have in mind.” Previously, Fayyad had been more conciliatory about Netanyahu’s demands—once telling Haaretz, for instance, that he had no real opinion on whether Israel should be designated a “Jewish state,” one of Netanyahu’s preconditions for proceeding with peace talks. But since Israel has come out against Fayyad’s proposal to create the all fundamentals of a Palestinian state—infrastructure, independent security forces, foreign investment—in anticipation of actual political statehood, he’s grown grumpier.

Fayyad to Obama: Tell Israel no Mickey Mouse State [Reuters]

Why Is the Right Getting Away With Hitler Analogies?

In ‘New York’ Mag, a look at the health-care fight

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A protester at a Brooklyn town-hall meeting last month.(Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

Why aren’t the battalions of Jewish anti-defamation organizations across the United States playing hardball with the many health-care reform opponents who’ve been comparing President Barack Obama to Hitler and health-care reform to Nazism, Peter Keating wonders on New York magazine’s website today. He suggests a few possible answers: “Nonpartisan organizations typically avoid wading into partisan battles like health-care reform. Some Jewish leaders who feel estranged from Obama over Middle Eastern issues may not want to defend him. Others may not consider radio entertainers a serious political threat.” (That last suggestion seems dubious, given that groups like the Anti-Defamation League have censured everyone from Don Imus to Michael Richards, and that, as Keating notes, the Obama-Hitler comparisons have spread from shock jocks to evangelical leaders to a Florida Jewish congressman.)

What’s really new here, Keating argues, is that the Holocaust may not be the sacred cow it once was: in the past, if the ADL criticized a public figure for an inappropriate Holocaust comparison, they’d make a show of contrition, while this crowd throws such accusations right back at the accusers (as in the attacks heaped on Barney Frank from the right after the congressman slapped down a questioner who equated Obama’s health plans with Nazism). “The radical right has created a new game,” he writes, “and Jewish groups haven’t yet figured out how to play it.”

The Right Calls Obama Hitler. Why Aren’t Jewish Groups Making More Noise? [NYMag.com]

Oren Still Undecided on J Street Conference

‘Forward’ reports that ambassador is still considering invitation

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In politics, almost saying something isn’t quite the same as actually saying it. Over the weekend, the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel’s Washington embassy had “communicated” with J Street, the dovish year-old Israel lobby, about the Israeli government’s concerns that J Street’s policies could “impair Israel’s interests.” The unusually frank statement, issued by embassy spokesman Jonathan Peled, looked an awful lot like a “no, thank you” to J Street’s invitation for Israel’s new U.S. ambassador, Michael Oren, to speak at the group’s conference later this month. But, no! Today, the Forward’s Nathan Guttman reports that Oren—who has initiated meetings with left-wing groups like Americans for Peace Now—is still considering making an appearance. “We decided to move ahead in a measured and cautious way,” Peled said. In the meantime, J Street head Jeremy Ben Ami is doing everything he can to look hospitable, including promising Oren “an open hearing,” in an op-ed published in today’s Jerusalem Post.

It’s also worth remembering that context matters, so it’s probably not entirely irrelevant that the Israeli embassy softened its position right after Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni—whose Kadima party actually came first in last February’s Knesset elections, though it couldn’t muster a working parliamentary coalition—lashed out at Netanyahu’s government for isolating Israel on the international stage. “You have managed to beat the president of the United States, Israel’s greatest friend, or at least this is the impression you and your people tried to convey after the meeting,” Livni railed during Monday’s opening of the Knesset. “You have managed to humiliate the only partner for a peace settlement Israel has. In short: We have beaten America, humiliated the Palestinians, isolated ourselves. Raise your head from the small politics and see what has happened, see that Israel is excommunicated.”

On Eve of Conference, J Street Struggles To Prove Pro-Israel Cred [Forward]
Livni Accuses Netanyahu of ‘Humiliating Palestinians’[Ynet]
Related: Generation Z [Tablet]

Tablet Today

Avant-garde windows and young intellectuals

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Samuel D. Gruber illuminates the career of Adolph Gottlieb, an Abstract Expressionist painter who introduced modernist forms into synagogue art and architecture in the 1950s. Jordan Hirsch traces the background of two well-known Zionist public intellectuals to their time to a dynamic Jewish scene at Columbia University in the 1970s. And there will be more throughout the day here on The Scroll.

Florida Students Live Like Anne Frank

A school sleepover as Holocaust study aid

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Eighth graders at Florida’s Bethany Christian School, which promises “academic excellence in a Christ-centered environment,” traded their iPods and cell phones for potatoes, bread, and carrots in an attempt to turn their classroom into Anne Frank’s attic for a strangely ascetic sleepover over the weekend, according to a report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Save for bathroom breaks, the students remained in the room from the end of the school day Friday until noon on Saturday—an entire 18 hours or so—in an attempt to understand what life was like for Anne. Apparently it worked. “It really showed me just how hard it was to live in the Secret Annexe,” said one commenter on the Sun-Sentinel’s website, who said she was a student in the class. But Andrew Rosenkranz, the Anti-Defamation League’s regional director for Florida, suggested historical reenactments are perhaps not the best way to teach the Holocaust. “Anne Frank’s experience was not a sleepover,” he told Tablet Magazine.

Christian School Wants to Simulate Anne Frank’s Hiding with Sleepover [SunSentinel.com]

Daybreak: Agriprocessors Trial Begins

Chabadniks in South Dakota, Barak works the phones, and more in the news

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•A federal fraud trial opened in South Dakota yesterday against Sholom Rubashkin, head of the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Iowa shut down last year after an immigration raid. It’s being held in South Dakota because a judge ruled that Iowans are already biased against the Rubashkins. [USA Today]
• Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is calling foreign ministers from France, Britain, Spain, and elsewhere and trying to persuade them that officially adopting the Goldstone Report, which will be discussed by the U.N. Human Rights Council tomorrow, will effectively promote terrorism. [Ynet]
Haaretz obtained a copy of the Palestinian resolution that will be presented at the U.N. meeting; it accuses Israel both of the alleged war crimes in Gaza outlined in the Goldstone Report and of continuing to limit access to Muslim holy sites in East Jerusalem. [Haaretz]
• A synagogue in Florida has installed hand-washing stations outside its Hebrew school classrooms, which it’s requiring kids to use before class as an anti-swine flu measure. Churches, meantime, have suspended the wine-sipping part of communion to avoid spreading germs. [LAT]

Sundown: Wild Things

Molestation arrests up in Brooklyn, mock court puts Abbas in slammer, Maurice Sendak, and more

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• Twenty-six arrests were made on charges of child molestation in Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox community last year, versus one or two in years prior. That’s a good sign, the New York Times says, because it means child abuse in the community is finally being reported. [NYT]
• A Hamas-affiliated organization in Gaza—which is furious at Fatah’s waffling over whether to press the U.N. Human Rights Council to charge Israel with the findings of Goldstone Report—put Mahmoud Abbas on trial in a moot court, convicted him of high treason, and sentenced him to life in prison. [Jerusalem Post]
• Meanwhile, the Israeli government has adapted an undercover intelligence unit that originally operated within the Palestinian territories to fight Israeli organized crime. [Haaretz]
• Maurice Sendak, whose Where the Wild Things Are comes to a theater near you on Friday, isn’t a fan of Hollywood’s lighthearted treatment of childhood but he sees a kindred spirit in Wild Things director Spike Jonze. [AP

Why Are U.K. Tories Aligning With Holocaust Deniers?

London’s ‘Guardian’ asks a good question

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Pop quiz: when is it a good politics to make common cause with people who sound an awful lot like Holocaust revisionists? Oh, that’s right—never. So it’s not surprising that there’s been a lot of outcry over the past week or so, and not just from Jewish groups, over the plans by Britain’s Conservative Party to welcome some dubious partners into its European Parliament coalition—including a Polish politician who has objected to Poles taking collective responsibility for the massacre of Jews during the Holocaust and members of a Latvian party that annually commemorates the service of volunteer Waffen-SS militias who slaughtered the country’s 70,000 Jews, plus another 20,000 deportees from other places, and then went on to heroically battle Stalin’s Red Army.

Yesterday, London’s Jewish Chronicle got the Polish pol, Michal Kaminski, to admit he’d worn the insignia of a violently anti-Semitic nationalist party from the 1930s. Today, the Guardian’s editorial board wheeled around to attack David Cameron, the Conservatives’ leader, for abetting the whole situation. And who does the paper invoke to make Cameron feel extra-special bad? Colin Powell, who apparently told the Latvians to knock off their Nazi memorial rallies when they were negotiating to join NATO. “If a Republican U.S. secretary of state can grasp a simple truth about Latvia’s past, why can’t David Cameron?” the editorial asks.


Latvian Waffen-SS: No Ifs, No Buts
[Guardian]
Previously: British Actor Upsets Poles

Conservatives Find Bible Too Liberal

So they’ll write a new one

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Conservapedia, the right-wing version of Wikipedia, has launched a project to eliminate what it considers liberal bias in modern versions of the Bible. Part of the problem is translators who throw around words like “comrade” and “labor,” according to Andrew Schlafly, the website’s founder (and son of anti-feminist crusader Phyllis Schlafly), and part of the problem is, well, some teachings of the Bible. An improved version, according to Schlafly’s guidelines, will not be “emasculated” or “dumbed down” as leading evangelical versions of the Scriptures apparently are, will “accept the logic of hell … as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil,” and, most amusingly, will “express free market parables”—which might be a stretch given that, as Stephen Colbert pointed out, “the meek shall inherit the earth” is most certainly a bunch of “liberal claptrap.”

The irony of the whole project, it seems to us, is that Schlafly is far from the first to politically reframe the Bible or other sacred texts—but that’s usually the province of liberals, because they’re not religious fundamentalists. It’s one thing to update a man-made text you believe is both valuable and problematic; changing the literal word of God to suit your political ends is quite a different story.

The Bible: Lost in Conservative Translation [Guardian]

Israel’s Tax Law Brings Billionaire Home

Foreign income is untaxed, so movie producer Arnon Milchan moves back

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Hoping to ignite a new wave of immigration, Israel changed its tax laws nearly a year ago, offering potential new arrivals, as well as those who’d left the country but are considering a return, a big break. According to the new rules, newcomers would pay no taxes on any foreign income for 10 years following their relocation. Now comes the news, via Globes, an Israeli business magazine, that fertilizer company scion-turned-movie mogul Arnon Milchan is taking advantage of the generous benefits and moving back to Israel. A producer on movies good (The King of Comedy) and less good (Marly & Me), Milchan was estimated to be worth $2 billion by Forbes in March. Who knows how much that’ll change once Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel is released later this year, and how much tax revenue Israel will have then forfeited in its effort to reclaim a native son.

Arnon Milchan Moving Back to Israel [Globes]

Fatah Gives Up on Obama

According to memo obtained by AP

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President Barack Obama may have won a Nobel Peace Prize, but he’s also been awarded a vote of no confidence as a peacemaker by Fatah. An internal party memo obtained by the Associated Press reads: “All hopes placed in the new U.S. administration and President Obama have evaporated. Obama couldn’t withstand the pressure of the Zionist lobby, which led to a retreat from his previous positions on halting settlement construction and defining an agenda for the negotiations and peace.” Originally heartened by his election, Palestinians now see Obama as a sequel to George W. Bush, particularly after the new president acquiesced to the reality of continued Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The big question is whether this memo reflects Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas’s view (Abbas has previously been sanguine about the status quo, citing dramatic economic and security gains in the West Bank as reason enough not to pursue a peace deal with the Israelis as quickly as the United States and Europe would like), or if it reflects the views of Fatah’s Office of Mobilization and Organization, which issued the memo. Now that Abbas has come out against advancing the Goldstone Report—the U.N. Human Rights Council investigation that accused the IDF of war crimes in Gaza—to the Security Council, Palestinians could also argue that Abbas has similarly “caved” to White House pressure.

Fatah Memo: We Lost Hope in Obama for Caving to Zionist Pressure [Haaretz]

No More Immigration Ceremonies at Western Wall

It’s ‘not a banquet hall,’ says chief of supervisory board

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British immigrants at a citizenship cermony in August.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

The Jewish Agency has long held citizenship ceremonies for new immigrants at the Western Wall, a place that is conveniently both the holiest site in modern Jewry and a nice backdrop for photographs of grinning, newly minted Israelis. As of tomorrow, though, the agency will move all of its immigration ceremonies to the roof of a nearby yeshiva—nice, sure, but a little lighter on the symbolism. The move is apparently a compromise designed to head off a growing turf battle—literally—between Paula Edelstein, a lay leader of the immigration agency who also chairs the Reform movement’s Israeli arm, and Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, head of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which manages the site. Several weeks ago, Edelstein told the Jerusalem Post that Rabinovich had demanded the Jewish Agency start separating men and women at their ceremonies, and, more awkwardly, that women—including, presumably, Edelstein—be blocked from emceeing the events. But Rabinovich tells Haaretz today that, no, of course that wasn’t the reason. He just didn’t want the religious atmosphere at the Kotel to be compromised by, you know, a loud, potentially disruptive celebration. “The Wall,” he said, “is not a banquet hall.” To which we respond, having noted all the bridal couples and b’nai mitzvot who show up there every day, really?

Jewish Agency to Halt Western Wall Ceremonies for Olim [Haaretz]

Tablet Today

Israeli deconstructions, Diasporic reconstructions, and the birth of a Torah

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Evan R. Goldstein examines the controversy around an Israeli historian’s claim that the Jews didn’t really originate in Israel, while Adam Kirsch reviews the memoir of a young American Jew who travels the world looking for positive examples of Diaspora living. Abigail Miller looks at a female sofer who’s spending a year penning a Torah on public view at a San Francisco museum. And there will be more here, all day, on The Scroll.

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