Iran Ferociously Denies Israeli Handshake Happened

If you’re so concerned, just use some Purell!

President Ahmadinejad, last month, doesn’t want to think about shaking Israeli hands.(Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images)

It might have seemed routine for an adviser to the Israeli tourism minister to mention that his boss shook hands with another tourism minister at a royal Spanish reception. These are tourism ministers! If anyone is a friendly type, surely it’s a tourism minister!

But the tourism minister with which the Israeli one shook hands—allegedly!—is from Iran. And in Iran, shaking hands with an Israeli is like wearing white after Labor Day—it’s just not done. That the two exchanged pleasantries is an “ugly and false rumor,” according to an Iranian spokesperson. The Islamic Republic’s tourism minister, we are told, “never encountered Israeli officials in any form”: after all, “the permanent struggle against this international pariah is divine duty.” Maybe that can be Iran’s new tourism slogan! That’ll bring in the crowds.

Diplomatic Hand Extended: Furor May Erupt if Shaken [NYT]

Today on Tablet

Iran’s nukes, not afraid of Tariq Ramadan, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Nathan Thrall brings us up-to-date on Iran’s nuclear program with a helpful timeline. Senior Writer Allison Hoffman considers The Girl on the Train, a new French film that explores non-Jews’ desire “to access some of what being Jewish has to offer”—specifically, the history of suffering. We interview noted intellectual and journalist Paul Berman on Tariq Ramadan, the Muslim intellectual whom the United States has decided to allow into the country, and who is the subject of Berman’s forthcoming book. Corruption allegations against former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert cause Etgar Keret to wonder why the already-rich and –powerful break the law to become more so. In his weekly haftorah column, Liel Leibovitz compares Biblical Egypt to another empire past its prime: NBC (for the record, Leibovitz is with Coco). The Scroll is not rooting for O’Brien, Leno, or Letterman as much as for a continued rollicking good story.

ADL Condemns Limbaugh’s ‘Bankers’ Remark

Foxman: ‘borderline anti-Semitic’

Limbaugh at the White House, January 2009.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Regarding President Obama’s attacks on alleged greedy bankers (no ethnicity specified), Rush Limbaugh had this to say: “To some people, banker is a code word for Jewish; and guess who Obama is assaulting? He’s assaulting bankers. He’s assaulting money people. And a lot of those people on Wall Street are Jewish. So I wonder if there’s—if there’s starting to be some buyer’s remorse there.” Er, Rush? Thanks, but no thanks.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman called the comments “borderline anti-Semitic” and suggested that Limbaugh apologize:

Limbaugh’s references to Jews and money in a discussion of Massachusetts politics were offensive and inappropriate. While the age-old stereotype about Jews and money has a long and sordid history, it also remains one of the main pillars of anti-Semitism and is widely accepted by many Americans. His notion that Jews vote based on their religion, rather than on their interests as Americans, plays into the hands of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists.

Limbaugh put the cart before the horse: what Obama said is offensive to Jews only if he was making the connection that bankers are Jews. But, of course, he wasn’t. Instead, Limbaugh made the (offensive) connection himself, and then tried to cut-and-paste it into Obama’s prior remarks. It doesn’t really work that way. Sometimes a banker is just a banker.

ADL Whacks Limbaugh [Ben Smith]

Daybreak: Israelis Uneasy About Haiti Aid

Plus Qaeda in Israel, the tefillin non-bomb, and more in the news


• Israelis are oddly torn over their military’s heroic efforts in Haiti. The government wants the world to take note; the right wonders why the world doesn’t take note more; the left wonders why Israel doesn’t behave similarly in slightly more proximate (and also catastrophic) Gaza. [NYT]
• Plans for a wall along Israel’s Egyptian border took on new urgency, as military experts warned of the potential for Sudanese to enter the country illegally and establish Qaeda-backed cells. [JPost]
• Even as President Obama admitted to setting Mideast expectations too high, his regional envoy, George Mitchell, relaunched the peace push in talks with Israeli leadership; today, he meets with their Palestinian counterparts. [AP/Haaretz]
• U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called for peace talks, and reiterated his opposition to Jewish construction in East Jerusalem. [Haaretz]
• American-Jewish journalist Jared Malsin said he believes his expulsion from Israel was politically motivated. [Ynet]
• Finally, the Times has a nice postmortem on yesterday’s incident in which a flight attendant freaked out over a tefillin-wearing young man and grounded the plane. What sayeth the offending Westchester County 17-year-old’s rabbi? “I would suggest, pray on the plane and put the tefillin on later.” [NYT]

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]

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