Today on Tablet

Shalom Auslander talks genocide in his first column


Today in Tablet Magazine, Shalom Auslander, author of The Foreskin’s Lament, inaugurates his “Diary of a Novelist” column by explaining how to find the funny in mass ethnic murder: “‘There’s nothing funny about genocide,’ you say. That’s what I thought.” For its part, The Scroll will try to find additional, perhaps more traditional things to laugh about.

U.S.-Arab Talks Held, To Pave Road to Peace

Multibillion-dollar arms deal thrown into mix


There is a flurry of diplomatic activity between the United States and several Muslim countries as America tries to lay the groundwork for Israel-Palestinian peace talks. On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with her Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts in Washington, D.C., to talk peace. Half a world away, eight U.S. congresspersons, led by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida), are touring the Middle East. Yesterday, the delegation met with Egypt’s foreign minister; in the coming days, they hit Jerusalem for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni, the Palestinian Territories for Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and Istanbul for President Abdullah Gul.

Unrelatedly—maybe—the Pentagon gave its blessing to a $3.2 billion deal between Egypt and Lockheed Martin for 24 F-16 jet fighters. The Defense Department also okayed smaller deals for Saudia Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates to buy American-made weapons.

U.S. Lawmakers Talking Peace on Mideast Mission [JTA]
U.S., Arab States Collaborating To See Mideast Talks Resume[Haaretz]
Egypt, Arab Countries Sign Massive Arms Deals With U.S.[Arutz Sheva]

Daybreak: Was Barak’s ‘Vacation’ a Secret Meeting?

Plus Polanski’s request, another Ponzi scheme, and more in the news


• Rumors abound that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak spent last Sunday and Monday in Jordan secretly meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. His aides say he was on “vacation” (presumably not hiking the Appalachian Trail). [JPost]
• Film director Roman Polanski asked a judge to sentence him in absentia for having sex with a minor. A hearing on this request is scheduled for later this month. [LAT]
• A Hamas-organized protest in southern Gaza led to a rare armed skirmish with Egyptian border guards. An Egyptian soldier died, and several on both sides suffered injuries. [NYT]
• Richard Elkinson, 76, was arrested for allegedly conducting a $29 million Ponzi scheme that specifically targeted elderly Massachusetts Jews. [JTA]
• Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), currently touring the Middle East, will attempt to cut U.S. aid to the Palestinians until they return to peace talks with Israel. [The New York Jewish Week]

Sundown: Rahm Is Pleased as Punch With Israel

Plus the Holocaust Museum on Von Brunn, and more


• The White House flatly denied that chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel threatened to disengage from the peace process because he was “fed up” with Israel. Haaretz reported he did this morning. [Jeffrey Goldberg]
• Israel’s deputy foreign minister predicted that a nuclear Iran would prompt a massive regional arms race. [Haaretz]
• Scott Rothstein, the Florida man who allegedly orchestrated a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme, is working on a plea that would spare him a life sentence. [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]
• Fun with Orange County, California, white-supremacist anti-Semitic political parties. [OC Weekly via The Awl]
• Finally, we just received the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s official statement on the death of James Von Brunn: “The Museum’s thoughts and prayers continue to be with Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns’ family at this time. Officer Johns died heroically defending the Museum, visitors and staff. This tragedy is a powerful reminder that our cause of fighting hatred remains more urgent than ever.”

Polish Police Hot on Trail of Auschwitz Theft

Sign-stealers suspected to be in Sweden


Polish police want to talk to two men in Sweden who allegedly were involved in last month’s pilfering of the wrought-iron “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign that graced the entrance to Auschwitz; one of the two is the apparent mastermind. (The sign was recovered, though it had been cut into three pieces.) The artifact was reportedly meant for an unnamed British Nazi sympathizer. Meanwhile, the replica sign that was quickly put in place will likely remain indefinitely, out of security concerns, though the real McCoy will return to the Auschwitz museum after undergoing tests. The museum, for its part, attracted a record 1.3 million visitors in 2009.

Relatedly, this letter to the editors of the New York Times appeared today:

The lack of security protecting Auschwitz is unlikely to be “perplexing” to anyone who has visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. Visitors are far more likely to be perplexed if not appalled by the utter disrepair of the Birkenau site and the snack bar selling hot dogs and ice cream at Auschwitz.

Poland Questions Two Thieves Over Auschwitz Sign Theft [Haaretz]
Auschwitz Draws in Record Number of Visitors in 2009 [Ynet]

Holocaust Museum Shooter Dies

Von Brunn, 89, succumbs in prison hospital

Flowers marking the death of the Holocaust museum security guard, last June.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The man who last June allegedly shot and killed a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., died today in a prison hospital in Butner, North Carolina. (An anonymous government official has confirmed the death.) James Von Brunn was facing a potentially capital charge of first-degree murder, as well as several smaller charges, including one for committing a hate crime. In the 1980s, he served over six years in federal prison for threatening people in the Federal Reserve Board headquarters with a sawed-off shotgun.

If you want a refresher on Von Brunn’s bizarre racist and anti-Semitic beliefs, TPM published the go-to rundown when the shooting occurred:

Von Brunn, apparently a World War II vet, has a long history of white supremacist writing. His book, Kill The Best Gentiles, embraces Adolf Hitler’s view that Jews concocted World War I as part of a scheme to stab Germany in the back—a myth the Nazis used to justify the Holocaust.

He also wrote an Internet posting complaining that Obama’s birth certificate and other documents have not been made public.

In 2003, he claimed to have conducted an investigation into the ethnic and religious background of Tommy Franks, the CENTCOM commander at the time, after some U.S. troops were placed under British command in Iraq.

Holocaust Museum Shooter Dies in Prison Hospital [AP/Fox News]

Earlier: So What If Von Brunn Hated Jews?
Related: James Von Brunn: A Profile [TPM]

British Men Want to Marry Rachel Weisz

Jewish actress wins new poll

Weisz at a premeire last month.(Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

The question was asked British Esquire, and Weisz (pronounced Vice), a 39-year-old London native, took top honors. Congratulations, Ms. Weisz!

Really, though, the heartiest congratulations are due to American-Jewish director Darren Aronofsky: he is Weisz’s fiancé. Well played, sir.

Rachel Weisz—A Woman We Love [British Esquire, via The Jewish Chronicle]

U.S. Asks Israel for Security Advice

After Christmas Day bombing, Israel knows best


The Homeland Security Department is already consulting Israel, whose airport and plane security is famously stellar, over how to head off attacks like the one that almost occurred two weeks ago. Today, Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Jane Holl Lute met with Yisrael Katz, Israel’s transportation minister; Katz promised to share the benefit of his country’s extensive knowledge and experience. Afterward, Lute visited Ben Gurion International, outside Tel Aviv, to inspect Unipass, a new biometric system there that enables fliers to complete much of Israel’s extensive pre-flight security procedure by themselves. We have to get us some of that.

Katz Vows To Aid U.S. in Aviation Security [Ynet via Vos Iz Neias?]
Israel, U.S. To Accelerate Security Memorandum on Terror [Ynet]

Earlier: How To Prevent Plane Bombings? Ask Israel

Meet The Likely Next Jewish Senator

Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal expected to win Dodd’s seat

Blumenthal campaigns for Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Senate primary.(Bob Falcetti/Getty Images)

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut) will tell the world this afternoon that he won’t run for reelection. Right after he does, Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s attorney general for the past two decades, will announce his candidacy for the open seat. Blumenthal is immensely popular, and various commentators note he is likely to win in November. Is it too late to start calling Blumenthal “The Jewish Kennedy” again?

For Blumenthal is an almost laughably perfect politician, “blessed,” Slate’s David Plotz argued in a memorable 2000 profile, “with every political virtue except recklessness and luck.” After Harvard, a stint in the Nixon White House under Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Yale Law, and a Supreme Court clerkship, Blumenthal was named Connecticut’s U.S. Attorney at the age of 31—making him the youngest lead federal prosecutor ever. As state attorney general, he got ATM fees banned and helped lead the Big Tobacco lawsuits. He is one of the hardest-working retail politicians to boot.

Plotz writes:

A generation or two ago, a politician with Blumenthal’s brains and drive would have been reserved a Senate seat because Democratic Party elders would have ensured it. But in today’s more chaotic politics, the prudent Blumenthal has kept waiting and waiting and waiting for his turn.

Richard Blumenthal’s turn has finally arrived. If he is elected in November, he would become (by our count) the 14th Jewish senator, and also the 14th Jewish senator who either is Democratic or, if we wish to include Connecticut’s other senator, at least caucuses with the Democrats.

Senator Dodd Will Not Seek Re-election, Democrats Say [NYT]
Richard Blumenthal [Slate]

Today on Tablet

Remembering Sharon, and what he did


Today in Tablet Magazine, columnist Seth Lipsky takes stock of Ariel Sharon’s career four years after the then-prime minister lapsed into his current coma.

One feature, no doubt, was that Sharon was an includer, a welcoming figure. This didn’t comport easily with his image through much of his career as a hawk. But one could see it in various encounters, beginning with the way he and his wife, Lili, ran his breakfast table at his farm in the Negev desert.

Also, The Scroll will take stock of the news and semi-news of the day.

Gilad Shalit Negotiations Progress

If the end is in sight, it’s still on the distant horizon

Shalit, from a video allegedly filmed in September 2009.(AFP/Getty Images)

What’s the latest on the biggest story in Israel (if not necessarily Israel’s biggest story)? Yesterday, the German mediator shuttled back into Gaza to convey Israel’s counteroffer to Hamas. While Israel has agreed to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for its abducted soldier, it is still reportedly balking on a few high-profile individuals. It is also insisting on deporting many of these folks either to Gaza or overseas, which Hamas objects to. The likely next step will see Hamas refusing the exact counteroffer but not shutting off talks altogether.

To end this post the way they might in an Israeli publication: Gilad Shalit was kidnapped and then taken into Gaza 1,291 days ago.

Mediator in Gaza for Response [Ynet]

Daybreak: Rahm Drops A ‘Fed Up’ Bomb

Plus the U.S. on Jerusalem, another Senate Jew, and more in the news


• White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel (a “self-hating Jew,” according to Prime Minister Netanyahu) reportedly told an Israeli consul he was fed up with Israel. One imagines the conversation dipped into profanity. [Haaretz]
• Meanwhile, an anonymous U.S. diplomat criticized (in more on-message fashion) continued Israeli building in East Jerusalem. [JPost]
• Expect the U.S. Senate Jew-count to tick up another notch: Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) is announcing his retirement, and his likely temporary replacement is State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. [WP]
• An Israeli airstrike in Gaza yesterday killed one militant: the first fatality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2010. [WP]
• A skirmish between Egyptian border security and Hamas members in Gaza led to a border guard’s death. Gazans are angry over a delayed aid convoy (and, presumably, over having to live in Gaza). [AP/Haaretz]

Sundown: The March on Gaza

Plus ‘Joan Rosenberg a.k.a. Joan Rivers,’ and more


• More than 1,000 people, including Holocaust survivor and celebrated activist Hedy Epstein, gathered in Cairo for a march on Gaza to mark the first anniversary of “Cast Lead.” Egypt will permit 100 to enter the Strip. [NYT]
• The Israeli security service is taking seriously a death threat lodged against Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The brief note cited Barak’s “destroying settlement in Judea and Samaria.” [Ynet]
• Joan Rivers was a victim of newly heightened airport security: she was bounced from a Costa Rica-to-New York flight because her passport identifies her as “Joan Rosenberg a.k.a. Joan Rivers.” (It was her late husband’s surname.) [NY Post via Jewcy]
• Rep. Steve Rothman, from northern New Jersey, defends himself against his constituent Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s charges. Boteach is upset that the Libyan ambassador has been permitted to move in next door. [JTA]
• Much of what you’d want to know about Jews who box. (And if you’re hungry for more, check out Douglas Century’s Barney Ross, from Nextbook Press.) [Haaretz]

War of Words Continues Over British War-Crimes Warrants

IDF delegation cancels trip


Just when you thought it was safe for senior Israeli political and military officials to travel to Great Britain, a delegation of IDF officers canceled its trip for fear of being arrested on war-crimes warrants of the sort a court there issued against Tzipi Livni last month. The current situation makes it “difficult for the two countries to maintain a normal relationship,” Israel’s deputy foreign minister told British officials (in Jerusalem, wisely). One of those officials, a British attorney general (it has more than one), told a group at Hebrew University that Britain was committed to ensuring that current and former Israeli officials, and, more broadly, current and former Israeli soldiers—which is to say, most Israelis—could feel secure traveling to Britain. If commitments were horses …

Deputy FM: Arrest Warrants Harming Britain-Israel Ties [Haaretz]
British AG: Change Policy That Allows Arrest Warrants Against Israeli Leaders [Ynet]

Earlier: UK Court Issued Warrant for Livni

Why We Hate Her

The roots of Jewish anti-Palinism

Palin in Fairfax, Virginia, last month.(Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Jennifer Rubin’s essay in Commentary (via Ben Smith) is titled, “Why Jews Hate Palin”. She provides a number of answers: the former Alaska governor’s staunch position against permitting abortion; false reports of her association with Patrick Buchanan; the sheer fact that Jews are mostly Democrats. There is more specific cultural correlation between Jews and Palin-haters, too: “American Jews are largely urban, clustered in Blue States, culturally sophisticated, with more years of college and postgraduate education than the average American,” Rubin points out. Finally, Rubin finds an explanation in the historic Jewish emphasis on learning:

Jews, who have excelled at intellectual pursuits, understandably are swayed by the notion that the presidency is a knowledge-based position requiring a background in the examination of detailed data and sophisticated analysis. … Palin’s intellectual unfitness in the eyes of Jews was exaggerated during the course of the campaign as they, like other Americans, received an incomplete image of her abilities and talents.

(Of course, an image may be incomplete but not inaccurate. Just saying.)

Responding to Rubin, David Frum has a different idea:

More than any politician in memory, Palin seems to divide her fellow-Americans into first class and second class citizens, real Americans and not-so-real Americans. To do her justice, she has never said anything to suggest that Jews as Jews fall into the second, less-real, class. But Jews do tend to have an intuition that when this sort of line-drawing is done, we are likely to find ourselves on the wrong side.

Then again, perhaps, as Frum puts it in  a throwaway line, Jewish attitudes toward Palin are “another manifestation of the old rule about Jews being like other people, only more so.” In 2008, 53 percent of voters went for Barack Obama; 78 percent of Jewish voters did so. It should be similarly unsurprising that most Jews disapprove of Palin—and disapprove of her like Ahab disapproved of the whale.

Why Jews Hate Palin [Commentary]
Do Jews Hate Palin? [FrumForum]

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