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Today on Tablet

A Mideast power shift and the death of Anatevka

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Mideast columnist Lee Smith reports from Beirut on the vertigo the traditional regional Sunni Arab powers—primarily Egypt and Saudi Arabia—are feeling now that momentum has shifted toward non-Arab states Iran, Turkey, and Israel. Book critic Adam Kirsch considers a new history of the shtetl, and specifically its demise during (when else?) the 1940s. Meanwhile, The Scroll considers Tuesday the most difficult day of the week, and hopes that we can get through it together.

Report: NYT J’lem Chief Has Son in IDF

Potential conflict-of-interest explored

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Ethan Bronner.(Mediaite)

Has the son of Ethan Bronner—the New York Times’s current Israel beat reporter—enlisted in the Israeli military? (And, if so, would that constitute an unacceptable conflict of interest for Bronner?) An earlier report of this was subsequently retracted, but yesterday the blog Electronic Intifada seemed all but confirmed the news. The blog—which tends to be extremely skeptical of Israel and its policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians—contacted Bronner after receiving a tip; he referred them to the Times foreign editor, who responded: “Mr. Bronner’s son is a young adult who makes his own decisions. At the Times, we have found Mr. Bronner’s coverage to be scrupulously fair and we are confident that will continue to be the case.” Electronic Intifada’s media blog has repeatedly criticized Bronner for an alleged pro-Israel bias.

Prior Times Jerusalem bureau chiefs include James Bennet, now the editor of The Atlantic, and Thomas Friedman, now the über-columnist. When it comes to shaping U.S. opinion about Israel, it’s a pretty prominent and important gig.

‘New York Times’ Fails to Confirm Jerusalem Bureau Chief’s Conflict of Interest [Electronic Intifada]

Daybreak: Bibi, Lieberman Visit Hip Countries to Just, Like, Chill

Plus Rahm in crosshairs, Turkish PM doesn’t like Jews, and more in the news

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• Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia are receiving senior Israeli officials this week (Prime Minister Netanyahu is in Poland). Though the trips coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, they are really about strenghtening already-warm diplomatic ties. [JPost]
• Israel is likely to convene a panel of senior jurists to rigorously investigate its conduct during last January’s Gaza conflict. [Haaretz]
• Chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel is emerging as the left’s pre-eminent fall guy, the one blamed for President Obama’s political misfortunes and decision to move toward the center. [WSJ]
• An Israeli Foreign Ministry report alleged that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “indirectly incites and encourages anti-Semitism” by associating Jews with his critical stance toward Israel as well as making stereotypical generalizations. [Haaretz]
• Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s chances of landing a second five-year term, which seemed bleak only last week, now look strong. [WP]

Sundown: Harold Ford’s ‘Schmear Campaign’

Plus the IDF to leave Haiti while Israel adopts orphans, and more

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• On a radio show, former congressman Harold Ford, Jr., alleged he was the victim of a “schmear campaign” launched by New York political insiders who don’t want him to run for the U.S. Senate. He then corrected himself: “I’m a little country, I apologize. It’s s-m-e-a-r.” If anything, the slip should allay fears that he’s “a little country,” no? [City Room]
• An Iranian mullah bashed the United Arab Emirates for allowing an Israeli minister to attend an Abu Dhabi energy conference. [Haaretz]
• With the arrival of substantial U.S. military and medical forces, the Israeli team-on-the-ground in Haiti is set to depart by Thursday. [JTA/Forward]
• That said, the Israeli government is reportedly considering adopting Haitians orphaned by the earthquake. [JPost]
• After Israel’s ambassador to Germany applied pressure on the government there, a German firm canceled plans to construct a port for Iran. [Haaretz]
• Former oil tycoon and George H.W. Bush Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher—who converted to his wife’s Presbyterianism, but was born Jewish in New York—died at 82. [NYT]

Why the Rabbis Are Silent on Tropper

Reserving judgment on sex scandal reported by Tablet

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Over four articles (all of which you can find here), Tablet Magazine traced the scandal surrounding Leib Tropper. A one-time Monsey, New York, Orthodox rabbi, Tropper raised himself to the status of Jerusalem-based conversion guru by dint of powerful connections, only to fall from grace after audiotapes purportedly recorded him making sexual advances toward prospective converts. In her final article, Allison Hoffman reported on the conspicuous silence with which ultra-Orthodox Judaism’s rabbinic elite have greeted the revelations—some of them broken by Tablet Magazine. And there has barely been a slap on the wrist: Tropper remains, for example, rosh yeshiva—the head of a religious day school in Monsey.

The 5 Towns Jewish Times, which serves a heavily Orthodox area of Long Island, runs a fantastic interview with another Monsey rabbi that tries to get to the bottom of this troubling lack of condemnation. The rub seems to be that the rabbis feel they are barred, under Jewish law, from speaking out against Tropper until his case has been formally tried in front of a Beth Din (a formal rabbinical court). Says the rabbi: “until there is due process we are not Halachically permitted to issue condemnations against an individual, or to take any other action against him.” He adds:

This terrible episode has brought great pain and embarrassment to the entire Torah community. … If, however, [the allegations] are proven to be true, then we have discovered a venomous snake in our midst, an immoral individual who abused his rabbinical position and caused immeasurable Chillul Hashem [desecration to the Name], and shame to our community.

The rabbi also denied that Tropper’s extensive connections throughout the community has anything to do with the kid gloves with which that community has (so far) treated the allegations against him.

So: hemming, hawing, non-denial denials; earnest concern that Jewish law be followed; and somewhat useful boilerplate that at least recognizes the magnitude of the allegations.

Meanwhile, an editorial in The Jewish Star, which also serves Long Island’s Orthodox communities, offers a slightly different point of view:

Are we the only ones taking crazy pills or does anyone else find it strange that virtually not a single prominent rabbinical figure outside the leadership of the Rabbinical Council of America—and they are hardly household names—has said a public word about the incredible scandal this man created? After years of instigating holier-than-thou controversies over conversions and other issues, funded by someone else’s millions, Tropper was unmasked as the worst sort of hypocrite—he has denied nothing—and yet, he continues to go to the office each day and call himself a rosh yeshiva.
Really, this one takes the cake.

Leib Tropper—Why the Rabbis Were Silent [5TJT]
Editorial: A Smart Career Move [The Jewish Star]

Related: Sex, Lies, and Audiotape [Tablet Magazine]

Shalom, Barack and Michelle!

This is a really ridiculous Israeli commercial

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To be clear: this is an Israeli cable commercial featuring Obama impersonators performing a musical number that involves, among other things, them dancing in the Situation Room in front of a picture of Osama bin Laden. Proceed at your own risk. (Via Negev Rock City.)

Jews Lose at the Supreme Court

Campaign finance decision likely to dilute groups’ influence

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In a momentous decision last week, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down crucial parts of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. The upshot is that corporations will be far more free to spend money on specific candidates running for office; more broadly, you can expect more, and more direct, corporate money flowing into elections.

James Besser talks to a political scientist about the decision, and how it will affect American Jews. His argument, and it sounds valid, is that the influx of direct corporate spending will dilute the power of interest groups—including Jewish ones—that, under the current system, take in money and then spend it where and how they choose. Moreover, the sheer amount of money now likely to come into the system from corporations will minimize the impact of individual donations. Besser paraphrases:

Jews are big political givers, based mostly on the issue of Israel—but that could quickly be dwarfed by the mega-millions corporations are now likely to spend in pursuit of their special interests, starting with profits and limiting government regulation, he said.

Jewish campaign givers aren’t going away and Jewish political clout isn’t in jeopardy. But there’s little question this week’s Supreme Court decision will transform American electoral politics by adding to the campaign finance muscle of the biggest corporations—and diluting the influence of everybody else. And that includes Jewish and pro-Israel givers.

You could go a step further: arguably, those interests whose groups were the most powerful beforehand actually stand the most to lose from the decision. They have a farther distance to fall. Which would, given their current power, be bad for the Jews.

Supreme Court Campaign Finance Decision and Jewish Clout [JW Political Insider]
Justices, 5-4, Reject Corporate Spending Limit [NYT]

Podhoretz Defends Limbaugh from ADL Accusation

It’s an anti-Semitism round robin!

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Norman Podhoretz.(Hudson Institute)

Rush Limbaugh has enlisted an ally from within the shtetl. Last week, Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, accused Limbaugh of “borderline anti-Semitic” comments after the conservative talk-radio mega-star said (without, er, any basis in fact) that President Obama’s fulminations against Wall Street smacked of the whole bankers-as-Jews stereotype. Now, to Limbaugh’s defense comes Norman Podhoretz, the legendary neoconservative. Podhoretz argues:

Foxman has a long history of seeing an anti-Semite under every conservative bed while blinding himself to the blatant fact that anti-Semitism has largely been banished from the Right in the past forty years, and that it has found a hospitable new home on the Left, especially where Israel is concerned. … Now Foxman has the chutzpah to denounce Rush Limbaugh as an anti-Semite and to demand an apology from him to boot. Well, if an apology is owed here, it is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League who should apologize for the defamatory accusation of anti-Semitism that he himself has hurled against so loyal a friend of Israel as Rush Limbaugh.

So, to recap:

Limbaugh to Obama: You’re an anti-Semite!

Foxman to Limbaugh: No, you’re the anti-Semite!

Podhoretz to Foxman: No, the anti-Semites are on the left! Besides, Limbaugh likes Israel, which means he cannot possibly be an anti-Semite!

This has been productive!


Podhoretz, Defending Limbaugh, Blasts Foxman’s ‘Chutzpah’
[Ben Smith]

Earlier: ADL Condemns Limbaugh’s ‘Bankers’ Remark

Related: Why Are Jews Liberals? A Symposium [Tablet Magazine]

Today on Tablet

Make your own parenting story, goulash in Budapest, and more

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Ever wonder what it’s like to be a New York City parent? Today in Tablet Magazine, parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall lets you choose your own adventure (it’s way cool). Reporter Hugh Levinson and Budapest-based ethnomusicologist Bob Cohen eat goulash in a Vox Tablet podcast sure to make you … hungry. Serbian journalist Milena Miletic argues that the International Court of Justice’s forthcoming ruling on Kosovo’s separation from Serbia will set an important precedent regarding the Palestinian question. Josh Lambert provides his weekly preview of forthcoming books of interest. And The Scroll provides its daily rundown of News Jews Can Use.

Powerful Congressman Fears ‘Immense Toll’ of Occupation

Rep. Berman speaks mind to Americans for Peace Now

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Berman in Moscow last June.(Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

At an Americans for Peace Now event, Rep. Howard Berman (D-California), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had the following, unusually dovish thoughts (which we received via email from APN):

I made my first congressional trip to Israel in 1983. It was then that I began to discern the primary problem Israel would have to face if it maintains its rule over the West Bank and Gaza. Either it would eventually have to rule over a disenfranchised Palestinian majority, or if it enfranchises the Palestinians Israel would eventually cease to be Jewish. I call it the demography-democracy problem. I knew I wanted Israel as a Jewish homeland to be a democracy. That was 1983. Over the years, I discovered two things: first, I learned that there were indeed many Palestinians who were prepared to accept Israel and who genuinely believe in coexistence. Second, I discovered the immense toll the occupation is taking on Israel.

He went on to praise APN, which tends to the left on these sorts of matters, for its “firm commitment to peace.”

Here’s the thing: Berman is no peacenik. Last time we mentioned him, for example, he was pushing for tougher Iran sanctions; and you don’t attain his position of power, much less keep getting elected to his Hollywood district, if you are perceived as unduly harsh on Israel. What he utters represents, by definition, what is mainstream for America’s pro-Israel political leaders. Which is, apparently, that Israel’s current policy of occupation and disenfranchisement is unsustainable.

Earlier: House Passes Symbolic Iran Sanctions Bill

Daybreak: Anti-Semitism at Post-Holocaust High

Plus bin Laden cites Israel, Bibi claims ‘eternal’ settlements, and more in the news

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• The last time global anti-Semitism attained its current level, World War II was still going on, a new report found. Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky and an Israeli minister presented the document. [JPost]
• In an audiotape endorsing the attempted Christmas Day bombing, Osama bin Laden linked it and future attacks on the United States to its backing of Israel. [WP]
• While planting trees there for Tu B’Shevat, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that several Jewish settlements in the West Bank would “for eternity” be “inseparable part[s]” of Israel. [NYT]
• Syrian and Libyan leaders Bashar Assad and Muammar Gadhafi called for Arab countries to unite in opposition to Israel at March’s Arab Summit. [Ynet]
• A few details from Israel’s formal rebuttal to the Goldstone Report leaked (it will be submitted to the United Nations soon). Among other things, the rebuttal argues that key Gazan infrastructure was destroyed incidentally in the course of last January’s conflict, not deliberately, as the Report alleges. [NYT]
• Following President Obama’s admission that he raised Mideast peace expectations too much, his administration downplayed envoy George Mitchell’s meetings with both sides last week. [LAT]

Sundown: New Evidence Against Molester Mondrowitz

Plus Margolick on Kristol, Phil Jackson on mitzvot, and more

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• New evidence indicates that Avrohom Mondrowitz—the high-profile alleged Brooklyn child molester who is being protected from extradition by Israel—was engaged in illicit activities with underage boys as recently as 2006. [The New York Jewish Week]
• Tablet Magazine contributing editor David Margolick writes about the late neoconservative intellectual, editor, and political activist Irving Kristol. [Newsweek]
• Really cool ketubahs–check out the graphics! [Moshe Mikanovsky Art Blog]
• Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson advised Donald Sterling, the owner of the hapless cross-town L.A. Clippers, to perform mitzvot to eliminate the “Clippers curse”: “If you do a good mitzvah, maybe you can eliminate some of those things. Do you think Sterling’s done enough mitzvahs?” [ESPN]
• This article is two months old, but we still can’t come up with a better way for you to spend 45 minutes this weekend than reading about the Crypto-Jews of the U.S. southwest. [Harper’s]
• There were once plans for a Jewish homeland on the island of Tasmania, off the coast of Australia. [ABC Australia]

Turkey Demands Israel’s Respect

More than just a little bit

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Turkish President Abdullah Gul with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, last November.(Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images)

Suat Kiniklioglu, Turkey’s “deputy chairman of external affairs” (we presume this is something like an assistant secretary of state), requests in tomorrow’s International Herald Tribune that the world, particularly Europe and Israel, make a “mental shift” regarding Turkey. According to Kiniklioglu, Turkey is still treated as though it is a pawn of the Great Powers, when in reality it has emerged as a regional force in its own right. Regarding the incident from earlier this month when an Israeli diplomat deliberately (and, it should be said, unwisely) humiliated Turkey’s ambassador, Kiniklioglu argues:

Israel appears to be yearning for the golden 1990s, which were the product of a very specific situation in the region. Those days are over and are unlikely to come back even if the ruling Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., ends up out of government.

The A.K.P. has bucked Turkey’s traditional rigorous secularism in favor of a modified Islamist approach to governing. He continues:

The natural uniting and bonding in Turkey over the Ayalon affair should be an eye-opener for those who believe that all would be dandy if only the A.K.P. would fall from power. Friends and foes better treat our ambassadors accordingly. Clumsy efforts to humiliate a Turkish ambassador should never be part of Israeli domestic political calculations.

Fair points all. Even so, relatively young nations with Black Sea-sized chips on their shoulders have rarely boded well for short-term international comity.

A Little Respect, Please [IHT]

Earlier: The Turkish To-Do: Turkey Wins, Israel Loses

Breaking: Ukrainian Leader is Not Jewish

Or, anti-Semitism has (mostly) left Ukraine

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Not-Jewish Tymoshenko campaigning for president earlier this week.(Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

“Anti-Semitism is no longer rampant, but it is partly a failure to teach history that allows Nadia Mateiko, an art student in Kolomiya, to say of [Prime Minister Yulia] Tymoshenko: ‘I don’t want this Jew to be the president of my country. It is not their land.’ (Ms Tymoshenko is not even Jewish.)”

Five Years On in Kiev [The Economist]

After Tefillin Scare, A Need for Education

Philly PD sniffs out the problem

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In the wake of yesterday’s tefillin-grounded flight, Agudath Israel America—the governing body of non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodoxy—said (in an email) that it has already been working with the Transportation Security Administration and several airlines to spread awareness of tefillin and other Jewish religious practices. However, sensitivity is a two-way street, according to Agudath Israel’s government affairs director: “we have also cautioned members of our own community that they must understand that many citizens may not be familiar with Jewish prayer rituals, and that they should explain the practice to individuals in authority.”

Yesterday’s incident certainly indicated that a little more mutual knowledge could go a long way. In the video below, the Philadelphia Police Department’s chief inspector explained that the whole thing was indeed a misunderstanding—“there was no threat, there never was threat.” The male passenger, he explained, “was wearing what is known as an olfactory.” Er, that’s phylactery! At least the Philly inspector … smelled … no fear: “It is completely harmless,” he said of the tefillin. You know, except for those red marks it sometimes leaves on your forearm, but those go away pretty quickly.

Oh, and want to know more about tefillin? Slate’s got you covered (or wrapped).

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

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