Sundown: Iranian Reactor Ready in ’10

Plus Shalom mon!, the Bible is even older, and more


• The Russian state nuclear company said the reactor it built in Bushehr, Iran, will be up-and-running by the end of the year. [Haaretz]
• Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her E.U. counterpart said they would continue to try to impose upped sanctions on the Islamic Republic. [Haaretz]
• Elliott Abrams, who was George W. Bush’s top Mideast adviser, argues, “If we can separate the issues of Jerusalem and settlements, I think a settlement solution is possible.” [Jeffrey Goldberg]
• Jamaica: it has Jews, mon! [JTA]
• Newly discovered artifacts indicate that parts of the Bible could date as far back as the 10th century B.C.E.—four centuries earlier than had been thought. [LiveScience]
• The stolen-then-recovered “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign was returned to Auschwitz. [AP/Ynet]

‘American Idol’ Beatboxer is Jewish

Stone makes next round, chides Adam Lambert


On last night’s season premiere episode of American Idol, a human beatbox named Jay Stone auditioned and was “sent to Hollywood”—that is, qualified for the next round. It turns out that Stone, 25, who hails from Miami, is a loud and proud Jew. He told Haaretz that a Taglit Birthright-Israel trip in 2007 awakened him to this aspect of his identity, and that he now hopes one day to make aliyah.

Stone also had choice words for Adam Lambert, last season’s Idol sensation (though not eventual victor), who downplayed his own Jewish background. That was a “true shame,” Stone said. “It’s always a difficult debate among people whether or not they want to be vocal about their Judaism. If asked what I’m interested and passionate about—I wouldn’t even be lying, Israel is one of my biggest passions and certainly something I intend to be extremely vocal about.”

The one thing he already is quite vocal about, of course, is drumming. (Yes, you read right.) See him do The Beatles’s “Come Together,” from last night’s episode, below.

Floridian Aspires to be Jewish ‘Idol’ [Haaretz]

Earlier: Lambert Outs Himself As Jewish

Gov’t Opposes $13M Judgment Against Iran

The Bennetts had sued over murdered daughter


There’s a lovely, and sad, article in today’s Los Angeles Times about a San Diego couple (the mother writes for the local Jewish Journal, actually) whose daughter was killed in a Hamas-backed suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 2002. They sued Iran—Hamas’s sponsor—and in U.S. federal court won an uncontested $13 million judgment (they pledged to donate the sum to charities).

Enter the U.S. State Department, which has appealed the decision, on the grounds that it would involve a lien being placed on the former Iranian Embassy in Washington, D.C. The building has lay dormant since the severing of diplomatic ties in 1980—minus the occasional event, for which State charges a fee, putting the proceeds toward upkeep—but the government claims that the lien would violate diplomatic protocol, as well as further complicate U.S.-Iranian relations. Relations that are already quite complex, of course, in part due to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism. Go figure.

Family’s Legal Fight Adds to Grief [LAT]

Gibson Gets Touchy Over ’06 Comments

Accuses (Jewish) questioner of having ‘a dog in the fight’

Gibson last February. Nice moustache, eh?(Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Mel Gibson—you remember Mel?—has a new movie coming out. Something action-y. During an interview, Hollywood reporter Sam Rubin mentioned to Gibson that not everyone was going to welcome him back—an allusion to the incident in 2006 when he was pulled over for driving drunk, and proceeded to utter anti-Semitic remarks to the arresting officer (who, it turned out, was Jewish). Now, four years later and with a big film to promote, Gibson wisely responded, in measured, contrite tones, that he remains sorry for that unfortunate outburst, and humbly asks the public to forgive him.

Just kidding! First, he seemed to dispute that he actually said what he is alleged to have said—“remarks that were attributed to me,” he clarified, “that I didn’t necessarily make.” Then, he inquired of Rubin: “I gather you have a dog in this fight. Do you have a dog in this fight? Or are you being impartial?”

So, is “dog in this fight” Gibson-ese for “you’re a Jew, so obviously you can’t be ‘impartial’ when it comes to Jew-hating”? After the interview, Rubin said that while he didn’t understand the euphemism at the time, he now takes it that way, and was offended.

Yeah, he would be offended. They’re so sensitive. Right, Mel?


VIDEO: Mel Gibson Gets Defensive When Questioned About Anti-Semitic Remarks [Radar Online]

Israel Nears Third Straight Oscar Nomination

‘Ajami’ is country’s first Arabic-language submission


Ajami is one of nine 2009 movies to make the long-list for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Should it be one of the five formally nominated on February 2nd, this will be the ninth year an Israeli film was up for the award, and the third consecutive year (none have won). But Ajami is the first Israeli submission that is in Arabic.

The film, co-directed and –written by an Israeli and a Palestinian, was submitted after winning Israel’s Ophir Award for best picture. It is set in Ajami, the largest Arab neighborhood in Jaffa, and begins with a 13-year-old Arab boy witnessing a revenge murder.

The Israeli nominee in 2007 was Beaufort, and in 2008 it was Waltz With Bashir. Senior Writer Allison Hoffman wrote about both last October. And Sara Ivry interviewed Bashir director Ari Folman for the Vox Tablet podcast.

Nine Foreign Language Films Advance in Oscar Race [Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences]

Related: War Movies [Tablet Magazine]
Soldier’s Story [Tablet Magazine]
Sources of Hope, Amid A Divide [NYT]

Earlier: Israel Submits Arabic-Language Film for Oscars

Obama Admits Failure on Mideast

Says he didn’t understand local politics

Obama at the White House yesterday.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In a new, year-in-review interview with Time (yesterday was the one-year anniversary of his inauguration, in case you forgot to buy him a gift), President Obama flatly acknowledges: “The Middle East peace process has not moved forward. And I think it’s fair to say for all our efforts at early engagement, is not where I want to be.” (This is via Ben Smith.)

Why the lack of progress? (Other than, “This is just really hard”—admittedly a legitimate answer.) Obama:

We overestimated our ability to persuade them to [start engaging in meaningful conversation] when their politics ran contrary to that. From Abbas’s perspective, he’s got Hamas looking over his shoulder and I think an environment generally within the Arab world that feels impatient with any process.

And on the Israeli front, although the Israelis I think after a lot of time showed a willingness to make some modifications in their policies, still found it very hard to move with any bold gestures. … Moving forward, though, we are going to continue to work with both parties to recognize what I think is ultimately their deep-seated interest in a two-state solution in which Israel is secure and Palestinians have sovereignty.

(He added that, in hindisght, he wished his administration had not raised expectations so high.)

All politics is indeed local. It can seem frustrating, that the domestic concerns of small populations have such a huge effect on the world. But such is the power that the state of Massachusetts wields. Oh, and Israel and the Palestinian territories, too. Incidentally, U.S. envoy George Mitchell is back in the region; he meets with Abbas today in Ramallah.

Q&A: Obama on His First Year in Office [Time]

BREAKING: N.Y. Plane Grounded Due to Tefillin Scare

Jewish leather straps confused for explosive device

This West Bank settler is wearing tefillin, not a bomb.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

A U.S. Air flight headed from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport to Louisville, Kentucky, was diverted to Philadelphia, evacuated, and quarantined after a teenaged man on the flight wrapping himself in tefillin—the traditional Jewish phylactery—was mistaken for a teenaged man on the flight wrapping himself in something that could blow the plane up. Reportedly, a female flight attendant had never seen tefillin before (maybe she skipped that day of Hebrew School?). Flights at the relevant airports are unaffected—or so they say.

UPDATE: A new report says one man was taken into custody.

Plane Quarantined After Being Diverted to Philadelphia [Fox]
‘Religious Device’ Prompts Diversion of Flight to Philadelphia International Airport [CBS 3]

Today on Tablet

The Nathan Detroit of Warsaw


Today in Tablet Magazine, Eddy Portnoy uncovers the story of Urke Nachalnik a poor shtetl-dweller turned successful Warsaw kingpin turned popular memoirist and novelist of the criminal life. He died in 1942 in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising outside Warsaw. The Scroll’s lawyers want it to specify that it does not endorse law-breaking, even though it can sometimes be really, really cool.

Daybreak: Israel Circling Palestine

Plus expelled journo talks, Hamas’s change of heart, and more in the news


• In advance of talks with U.S. Envoy George Mitchell, Israel unveiled a new demand: that it maintain troops on the Jordanian border of even an eventual Palestinian state. A Palestinian negotiator immediately rejected this notion. [WSJ]
• Jared Malsin, the American journalist expelled from Israel, says Israeli authorities accused him of having “anti-Israeli politics.” [WP]
• Hamas’s top man in the West Bank said the group would be willing to nullify its charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction. [JPost]
• Members of the ultra-Orthodox enclave in Spring Valley, New York, have teamed up with the town’s many Haitian citizens to send help to Haiti. [NYT]
• New documents filed in federal court appear pretty damning for Stewart David Nozette, the U.S. astronomer accused of spying for Israel. [Haaretz]
• Avrom Sutzkever, maybe the greatest Yiddish poet of the 20th century, died at 96. [Forward]

Sundown: Palestinian NGOs Seek Self-Examination

Plus the new senator on Israel, Haiti’s president, and more


• Palestinian human rights organizations urged Fatah and Hamas to honestly self-assess the Goldstone Report’s accusations of international law violations against them. [Haaretz]
• In a pre-election interview, Senator-elect Scott Brown cast himself as strongly pro-Israel and criticized Obama’s Middle East policy for “setting the terms before even sitting down at the table.” [Boston Jewish Advocate via Vos Iz Neias?]
• Haitian President Rene Preval thanked Israel for its help. [JPost]
• 2009 was an unusually low year for attacks on Israel from the Palestinian territories, reported Shin Bet. It was also the first year in a decade without suicide attacks. [Haaretz]
• An article in the latest Oxfordian suggests that Shakespeare may really have been a converso (conversa?) named Amelia Bassanio Lanier. [Globe and Mail]
• The ALA’s 2009 best children’s book not originally written in English is about two young Viennese Jewish sisters who escape to Sweden during World War II. [A Faraway Island>]

Israel Denies American Journalist Entry

West Bank-based reporter forced to come home


Jared Malsin, a 26-year-old American-Jewish journalist for a West Bank-based news agency, flew to New York today after being denied entry into Israel and detained a week ago. The Ma’an news agency, for which he was English-language news editor, said he was deported; Israel says he left voluntarily (albeit under the circumstances of being denied entry pending a court hearing). What’s agreed is that, eight days ago, Malsin—who hails from Hanover, New Hampshire, and graduated from Yale University—was detained at Ben Gurion International Airport along with his girlfriend as the two of them returned from vacationing in Prague (the girlfriend was released two days later). According to Ma’an, Malsin was interrogated over his articles and his beliefs, which are allegedly critical of Israel. Israel said he refused to cooperate.

Malsin also had slightly overstayed his tourist visa (and, clearly, his welcome). He was registered as a journalist with the Palestinian Authority; Israel had denied his request for a press card, on the grounds that he was based in the West Bank. So: although the only way Israel would allow him to access the West Bank is, presumably, via Israel, the West Bank is not Israel enough for Israel to consider someone who works there under its jurisdiction. Didn’t Joseph Heller write a novel about this?

Israel Deports U.S. Journalist [Guardian]
Journalist Denied Israel Entry Flies Home to U.S. [Reuters]
Report: Israel Deported U.S. Editor [Ynet]

Vatican Blames Israel for Christians’ Plight

Occupation of Palestine a root cause of Mideast problems

Pope Benedict XVI with Rome’s chief rabbi, last Sunday.(FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

As the Catholic Church prepares to convene Middle East bishops next October to discuss the situation of the roughly 17 million Christians in the region, a Vatican document indicates that the Church in part blames Israel’s “occupation,” as well as the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, for hindering freedom of worship in that part of the world. The document’s authors also cite the rise of “political Islam,” but make it clear that they see the Palestine question as a root cause of problems for Christians in the region—including, presumably, Gaza Christians and Saudi Christians whose rulers do not look kindly on the worship of Jesus for reasons that don’t always have to do with Zionism.

Still, regarding Palestine, the blame goes both ways, right? Surely the Church has no interest in attracting controversy by going out of its way to lay responsibility for the bloodshed at the feet of one side over the other? “The solution to conflicts rests in the hands of the stronger country in its occupying and inflicting wars on another country,” the document argues. “Violence is in the hands of the strong and weak alike, the latter resorting to whatever violence is within reach in order to be free.” Er, this probably will not be the end of this.

Mideast Bishops Convened Amid Exodus, Violence [AP/WP]

Local Jews Aid IDF in Haiti

Jewish residents of the island prove invaluable to relief operations


The Israel Defense Force’s heroic efforts in Haiti have been (justly) well-documented. A less-known part of the story is that of two Jews, who have made their homes in Haiti for years, who have made so much of these heroics possible.

Reuven Shalom Bigio, the son of a prominent Syrian Jewish businessman, is an honorary Israeli consul to Haiti (his company does several-hundred-million dollars’ worth of business there annually). That soccer field on which the IDF established their already-legendary field hospital? That’s Bigio’s. Daniel Kedar, who moved to Haiti two decades ago for business reasons and is now married to a former tourism minister, has served as the IDF’s unofficial translator and general knowledgeable guide. He reports that he is getting about three hours of sleep each night. Truly, take a minute and read the whole article.

Meanwhile, the IDF scrambled this morning to stabilize its patients following the 6.1-level aftershock that rippled through Port-au-Prince.

Please consider giving to the American Jewish World Service’s Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund, here. You can also text “Haiti” to 90999 to automatically donate $10 to the American Red Cross’s relief efforts.

Finally, you can donate these really cool “LifeStraws”—which uses technology developed by a Weizmann Institute graduate to quickly make water potable—by going here.

Haiti: Two Local Jews Helping Israeli Aid [JPost]
IDF Field Hospital Braces Haitian Patients in 6.1 Aftershock [Ynet]

Earlier: IDF Delivers Babies, One Named ‘Israel’

The U.S. Senate Election and Israel

Scott Brown’s victory means new leeway for Netanyahu

Senator-elect Scott Brown celebrating last night.(Robert Spencer/Getty Images)

As you’ve probably heard, in a special election yesterday for Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat, Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley, providing Republicans with a filibuster-smashing 41-seat minority that threatens to derail Democrats’ plans for health-care reform.

So … good or bad for the Jews?

Domestically, to the extent that (to paraphrase Norman Podhoretz) most Jews are liberals, it obviously hurts: that 41st seat dramatically weakens Democrats’ ability to pass progressive bills, starting—though by no means ending—with health care reform. As New York Jewish Week blogger James Besser notes, though, most Jewish groups were not playing much of a role in the health care fight anyway. And, of course, not all Jews are liberals: the Republican Jewish Coalition rejoiced at last night’s outcome.

As for Israel, President Obama’s newly weakened domestic position (both structurally, in the Senate, and politically, with last night’s results confirming a perception of declining popularity) will likely force him to soften his earlier position that Israel crack down on settlement construction as a prelude to peace talks. “Does anybody really think,” asks Besser, “an administration that could lose its congressional majority in November and is besieged on a number of fronts is going to pick a fight with the pro-Israel lobby over new U.S. peace initiatives that are unlikely to go anyplace, anyway?”

And Haaretz columnist Aluf Benn credits Benjamin Netanyahu’s canny playing of the U.S. domestic political situation:

No Israeli politician matches his steps to the political goings-on in the U.S. as much as Netanyahu. He dragged out negotiations over the settlement freeze and then decided it would last for 10 months and end in September—just in time for U.S. Congressional elections in which Democrats are expected to suffer heavy losses. Netanyahu understood he must withstand the pressure until his right-wing supporters recapture a position of power on Capitol Hill and work to rein in the White House’s political activities.

Benn concludes: “If Obama’s popularity continues to dive and the Republicans recapture at least one of the houses of Congress in November, Netanyahu and his partners will be able to breathe deep and continue expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

Brown Victory in Mass., Obama’s Woes, and Capitol Hill Gridlock [JW Political Insider]
Republican Jews Hail Party Victory in Mass. [JTA]
Obama’s Lost Senate Seat is a Victory for Netanyahu [Haaretz]

Introducing ‘Forest Hills State of Mind’

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys ain’t got nothing on this


Billy Eichner, a comedian and Friend-of-Tablet-Magazine, was inspired by Jay-Z’s anthem, “New York State of Mind,” to write a similar tribute to the site of his childhood: the New World shtetl of Forest Hills, Queens. Substituting for Alicia Keys as the female background vocalist is Rachel Dratch, of Saturday Night Live fame.

So I got bar mitzvahed
And though I didn’t wanna
The theme of my bar mitzvah party
Was Madonna!

“This is my ode to young Jews in NYC and all over the world,” Eichner told us. Enjoy!

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