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Is Joe Lieberman Too Jewish?

A new explanation of his bizarre health-care flip-flops

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Sen. Lieberman at a committee meeting in November.(Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday, one (Jewish) writer accused Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), perhaps the Senate’s most famous Semite, of possessing an un-Jewish lack of intelligence. Since then, Lieberman has proved himself, if not smart, then at least influential: his objections to certain progressive features of the U.S. Senate health-care reform bill—albeit features he supported only a few months ago—led the Democratic leadership to remove them. Now, today, another writer (also Jewish) offers yet another explanation for Lieberman’s seemingly nonsensical policy flip-flops: he’s not un-Jewish, he’s too Jewish! So says cultural critic Lee Siegel in The Daily Beast:

During the past decade or so, there has been a rising panic over the growing influence of fundamentalist Christian precepts on modern American politics, but no one has said very much about Joe Lieberman’s fundamentalist Judaism. Although he prefers to call himself an “observant” rather than an “Orthodox” Jew, he is in fact an Orthodox Jew. His approach to modern life is just as uninflected as that of his Christian counterparts.

When applied to politics, this fundamentalist perspective, Siegel argues, enables Lieberman to comfortably espouse substantive policy decisions based on nothing more than the irrational feeling that he is right: “You don’t doubt the morality of your feeling, because you have used your strict, self-sacrificing observance of Jewish law to prove to yourself that you are a good man.” Thus, what felt right in September can feel wrong in December, and that’s not inconsistent (even though, objectively, it is).

Siegel further points out that, actually, the detached irony required to extract Jewish morality—a commitment to social justice, say—from Jewish religion is, in its own way, Jewish as well. So Lieberman is un-Jewish, too Jewish, or not Jewish enough. Or maybe all three? Or perhaps the incoherent saga of Joe Lieberman’s health-care positions has nothing to do with his Jewishness at all. Perhaps Lieberman is, simply and typically, a petty politician hopelessly in thrall to his own worst traits and to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Connecticut’s formidable insurance industry has so generously given him. Just saying.

Joe, Start Acting Jewish! [The Daily Beast]
Lieberman Gets Ex-Party to Shift on Health Plan [NYT]

Earlier: How To Explain Joe Lieberman: He’s Just Kinda Dumb!

Conan O’Brien Sings Mormon Song for Hatch

‘Tonight Show’ drummer Weinberg responds to senator’s song on Tablet

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Last night, NBC’s The Tonight Show highlighted our video of Sen. Orrin Hatch recording the oh-so-catchy tune he wrote for the Jewish people, “Eight Days of Hanukkah.” Host Conan O’Brien proceeded to announce that his show’s resident Jew, drummer and bandleader Max Weinberg (who also sets the rhythm in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band), wanted to return the favor to Utah’s senior senator and his co-religionists of the Mormon faith. Bottom line: you can watch the cast’s holiday song— “Mormons, Mormons, Mormons/We haven’t got a clue/Of what you folks believe in/Or think or drink or do”—below.

Today on Tablet

Where Jewish humor comes from, our favorite menorahs

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Today in Tablet Magazine, a collection of Adam Brio’s extended Jewish joke-stories prompts our critic Adam Kirsch to trace the arc of distinctly American Jewish humor as it begins, perhaps, to die altogether. For a slideshow, Hadara Graubart selects our favorite—or, in some cases, simply most provocative—hanukkiahs. From our archives, husband-and-wife novelists Karen E. Bender and Robert Anthony Siegel yank the commercialism out of Hanukkah. We’ll get our one commercial of the day out of the way: this “Today on Tablet” was brought to you by The Scroll.

Carter’s Grandson Running in Jewish District

Jason Carter has been praised by ADL

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President Carter in China last month. His grandson also has the political bug.(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Jason Carter, a.k.a. President Jimmy’s grandson, is looking to serve a significantly Jewish district in the Georgia Senate: a more interesting development than it otherwise would be given that his grandfather is an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies (one book of his is titled Palestine Peace Not Apartheid) and not a particularly popular figure in the American Jewish community. The district, which includes the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, is currently represented by David Adelman; but Adelman has been nominated (though not yet confirmed) to serve as Ambassador to Singapore. Attempting to head off any controversy, Carter the Younger told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “You and I both know that the Georgia Senate doesn’t set Middle East policy.” Very true. That said, Carter is also wisely publicizing a bit of praise he received as a lawyer for his “efforts to protect voting rights”—from the Anti-Defamation League.

The Return of the Carter Name to Georgia Politics [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

Daybreak: Abbas Sets Conditions for Talks

Plus Obama urges Lebanon on arms, and more in the news

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• Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas set specific conditions for resuming peace talks: no settlement construction, and recognition of the borders of a future state. In the meantime, he added, he would not permit a return to Intifada-level violence. [JPost]
• At the White House, President Barack Obama asked Lebanese President Michel Sleiman to slow the flow of smuggled arms into his country, saying the weapons violate a U.N. resolution and threaten Israel. [Reuters]
• The situation between the Israeli government and West Bank settlers deteriorated further after Defense Minister Ehud Barak pulled funding for a radical West Bank yeshiva that instructed soldiers not to obey settlement-evacuation orders. [WSJ]
• The Washington Post examines how the current divide, particularly in terms of living conditions, between the West Bank and Gaza could influence the shape and character of an eventual Palestinian state. [WP]
• Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) persuaded Democrats to drop several progressive features of their health-care bill, including a Medicare buy-in clause for those 55 and older that he has previously supported, earning the unmitigated ire of many liberals. [NYT]

Sundown: Top Chef’s Eli Cooks Kosher

Plus Moldovan anti-Semitism, a Hanukkah world record, and more

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• Recent Top Chef contestant Eli Kirshtein will soon start as “guest chef” at Solo, a kosher steakhouse in Manhattan. [Eater NY]
• Several Moldovans, led by an Orthodox Christian priest, toppled a menorah in the capital city of Chisinau and replaced it with a cross. (Video included.) [Arutz Sheva]
• A Knesset bill would ban foreigners from owning Israeli newspapers—most notably the country’s second-highest circulation daily, Israel HaYom, which is owned by American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The owner of the top-selling Israeli daily, Maariv, is one of the bill’s parliamentary sponsors. [True/Slant]
• 10 U.S. senators, representing several wings of both parties, signed a letter chastising Turkey for the “downward trend of relations between Turkey and Israel this past year.” [Weekly Standard]
• At a Moscow club, 1,440 Hanukkah candles were lit simultaneously; organizers believe this is the new world record. [JTA]

UK Court Issued Warrant for Livni

Former PM accused of Gaza war crimes; Foreign Office apologizes

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Livni in Paris earlier this month.(Gerard Cerles/AFP/Getty Images)

Turns out that, as al-Jazeera reported earlier today (and as Israel earlier denied), a London court issued a warrant for the arrest of Tzipi Livni, the leader of Israel’s Kadima Party, on account of alleged war crimes committed in the course of last January’s conflict in the Gaza Strip, during which time she was acting prime minister. The warrant, which came at the request of lawyers representing alleged Palestinian victims of the conflict under a theory of “universal jurisdiction,” was abruptly withdrawn when it turned out that Livni—who had planned a trip to London, but canceled two weeks ago—was not in the country. While one London-based Palestinian group lauded the initial warrant, the British Foreign Office expressed atonement and concern: “The UK is determined to do all it can to promote peace in the Middle East and to be a strategic partner of Israel,” it said in a statement. “To do this, Israel’s leaders need to be able to come to the UK for talks with the British government. We are looking urgently at the implications of this case.” Though lawyers have requested such warrants of the Westminster Magistrates Court before—including for former prime minister and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak—this was the first time a UK judge actually issued such a writ. A final nota bene: Livni does not technically enjoy diplomatic immunity, while, say, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does. Though the legal reasons for that discrepancy are internally logical, it nonetheless seems inconsistent if as important a figure as Livni cannot feel safe to travel.

British Court Issued Gaza Arrest Warrant for Former Israeli Minister Livni [Guardian]
Israeli Sources Deny Report of Arrest Warrant Against Livni in London [Ynet]

Nextbook, JDub Announce Partnership

JDub to aid Tablet Magazine parent with marketing

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Nextbook Inc., the non-profit umbrella organization responsible for Tablet Magazine and Nextbook Press, today announced a strategic partnership with Jdub. JDub will create and manage marketing and communication strategies and public programs to expand the impact of Tablet Magazine and the offerings from Nextbook Press.

“JDub knows the audience for creative Jewish products and how to deliver to them,” says Alana Newhouse, the creative director of Nextbook and editor-in-chief of Tablet. “In the past year we co-presented a handful of events together that attracted a truly vibrant, new audience. Their track record speaks for itself.”

“We are constantly seeking partnership and collaboration with like-minded organizations,” adds Aaron Bisman, JDub’s chief executive officer. “Like JDub’s music and events, Nextbook Inc. creates content and experiences without barriers to entry where people can find their community and interact with it on their own terms. We are very excited to work with these great and growing Jewish brands.”

On January 27th, Nextbook Press will present readings from David Lehman’s new book A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs alongside a unique musical performance by Hal Willner featuring Rufus Wainwright, Bill Frisell, and Van Dyke Parks at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Burning Corpse Found in Synagogue Parking Lot

Corpse, unrelated to Long Island shul, discovered Friday night

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At 7 P.M. Friday night—one hour before the beginning of Shabbat services—an abandoned car with a still-burning male corpse was found in the parking lot of Long Island’s B’nai Israel Temple by a synagogue caretaker. However, yesterday police identified the body and all but concluded that its location had nothing to do with the congregation. “Whoever dropped him there took a very big chance, because it was right before services,” Marilyn Gales, B’nai Israel’s president, told Tablet Magazine today. “I would’ve been there in ten minutes.”

Cops ID Body Found in Burning Car Behind Freeport Temple [Newsday]
Torched Body Found Near B’nai Israel Temple in Freeport, Long Island [Daily News]

How To Explain Joe Lieberman: He’s Just Kinda Dumb!

Not all Jews can do math well, notes (Jewish) writer

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Writer Jonathan Chait of The New Republic has a Semitically inflected theory of what explains Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and his seeming compulsion to throw a wrench into the Democratic policy agenda whenever he can—most recently, in the case of health-care reform. (Last night, Lieberman told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he would not, as expected, support the current bill.) Many folks on the left, Chait notes, are positively dumbfounded by Lieberman’s refusal to support what Democrats consider to be sensible reform, especially given that he is typically thought of as moderate-to-liberal when it comes to domestic matters. So, grasping at straws, liberals accuse Lieberman of letting his personal grudge toward Democrats (many of whom supported Democratic nominee Ned Lamont rather than Lieberman during the 2006 Senate race) to influence his actual vote. But Chait offers this elegant and concise alternative explanation for Lieberman’s moves: “Lieberman isn’t actually all that smart.” And why is this fact difficult for liberals to acknowledge? “I suspect that Lieberman is the beneficiary, or possibly the victim, of a cultural stereotype that Jews are smart and good with numbers,” Chait hypothesizes. “Trust me, it’s not true.” (Probably worth noting that Chait himself is Jewish.) “If Senator Smith from Idaho was angering Democrats by spewing uninformed platitudes, most liberals would deride him as an idiot. With Lieberman, we all suspect it’s part of a plan.” Why Are Jews Liberals? Maybe only the smart ones are.

Understanding Joe Lieberman [The Plank]

Related: Why Are Jews Liberals? A Symposium [Tablet]
Joe Lieberman Says No to Medicare Buy-In [Politico]

Puerto Rican Activist Blames Jews for Unwanted Facility

Says monkey-breeding facility is Israeli (actually, it’s Mauritian)

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The Anti-Defamation League has accused a Puerto Rican activist named Robert Brito of penning articles that blame “Jewish economic interests” for trying to impose a monkey-breeding facility on the island, which Brito opposes. Brito alleged that an “Israeli company” is behind the facility (the company in question is listed as being based in Mauritius) for purposes of “ethnic discrimination” and “genocide.” He furthermore called for a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses and synagogues in the U.S. island commonwealth. One of the best articles on the controversy actually appears in Puerto Rico’s English-language Daily Sun—one of the papers in which Brito’s original article appeared. “We call upon the authorities and different sectors of the society to repudiate these false and anti-Semitic accusations,” a spokesperson for the Jewish Community of Puerto Rico told the Daily Sun. “It is of the utmost importance to understand that, independent of the side of the debate one takes, it is totally inexcusable to use the Jewish community or any of its members as a scapegoat.”

ADL: Anti-Semitism Injected into Puerto Rico Dispute [Ynet]
Jewish Community Blasts Anti-Semitic Statements in Bioculture Controversy [Daily Sun]

Today in Tablet

A very Ladino Hanukkah, a very Latvian Hanukkah, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, listen in on several Sephardim in Washington, D.C., the subjects of this week’s Vox Tablet podcast, as they enjoy their annual Hanukkah gathering while speaking the nearly extinct Judeo-Spanish tongue of Ladino. Josh Lambert reports on forthcoming books of interest (a lot of Holocaust tomes this week). In her family column, Marjorie Ingall reveals some provocative American Hanukkah numbers. From the archives, David Bezmozgis recalls Hanukkah on the down-low in Soviet Latvia. And you can tell everyone to check The Scroll throughout the day.

Economist Paul Samuelson Dead at 94

“Smart, Jewish Keynesian” somehow succeeded

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It is a bit ironic that yesterday, when the New York Times posted its obituary of the M.I.T. economist Paul A. Samuelson on its home page, the story immediately to the left reported the latest economic proclamation by Larry Summers, the former Harvard president who is now President Obama’s chief economic adviser, and who was also Samuelson’s nephew. Samuelson, who died yesterday at 94, was among a generation of Nobel Prize-winning economists who catapulted from education-obsessed Jewish immigrant households into the stratosphere of American academia on the strength of their own genius, upsetting the genteel order of the Ivy League. As a young tyro at Harvard, Samuelson provoked his department chairman, Harold Hitchings Burbank, by both publishing an enormously successful dissertation on using a mathematical approach to economics and by arguing that economists should spend more time thinking about why there were bread lines outside their windows—that is, about real people, rather than abstract factors. Burbank denied Samuelson a professorship. (His Jewish colleague Robert Solow later noted, “You could be disqualified for a job if you were either smart or Jewish or Keynesian. So what chance did this smart, Jewish Keynesian have?”) Samuelson defected to M.I.T., where he spent the rest of his professional life; the enormously successful publication of his dissertation, Samuelson said, was “sweet revenge” against Burbank. We can only surmise that when Summers— another smart, Jewish Keynesian—became one of the youngest professors ever to win tenure at Harvard a half-century later, it was even sweeter for his uncle.

Paul A. Samuelson, Economist, Dies at 94 [NYT]
Remembering Paul Samuelson [WSJ]

Related: Something Old, Something New

Daybreak: Three Days After Arson, West Bank Still On Edge

Plus Iran’s unpopular proposal, Lieberman nixes health care, and more in the news

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• Ever since settlers’ arson last Friday of a West Bank mosque, fears that the Palestinian cause could now take on a more religious tinge and that the conflict could suddenly turn more violent have abounded. [NYT]
• Having demanded most of it all at once, Western negotiators scoffed at Iran’s proposal to trade little bits of its uranium over a longer period of time. [WSJ]
• The latest version of health-care reform to hit the U.S. Senate floor hit a major setback last night when Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) decided he would not support it. [Politico]
• Syrian President Bashir Assad’s little brother died “after a long struggle with a severe illness,” according to reports from the country. [Haaretz]
• President Shimon Peres will represent Israel at the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen; last week, Netanyahu cancelled his trip, fingering the cost to the taxpayers for his extensive security detail. [JTA]

Sundown: Happy Hanukkah from Barack and Michelle

Plus likely Iran sanctions and the Western Wall on Twitter

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• Barack and Michelle Obama released a Hanukkah message in English and Hebrew, saying in part, “May Hanukkah’s lessons inspire us all to give thanks for the blessings we enjoy, to find light in times of darkness, and to work together for a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow.” [CBSNews]
• On a trip to Iraq, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates predicted the United States would pass tougher sanctions on Iran regarding that country’s nuclear program. He is likely the most senior U.S. official to assert such a move is likely. [NYT]
• Meanwhile, Iran and Syria inked a new defense cooperation pact in Damascus. [Haaretz]
Text/Context: Fresh Encounters With Jewish Tradition, a monthly literary supplement published jointly by New York Jewish Week and Nextbook (Tablet Magazine’s parent), debuted this week. [New York Jewish Week]
• Tweet your prayer into the Western Wall. [The Kotel Guy]

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