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Jewish Group Appeals to Sen. Lieberman

Justice, justice and the public option shall you seek

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Although the U.S. Senate has since passed a health-care reform bill that lacks a public option, the Shalom Center (“A Prophetic Voice in Jewish, Multirelgious, and American Life”) has not given up on Sen. Joe Lieberman. Instead, it has asked him to perform tshuvah, or rededicate himself to the Torah and its message—and in so doing, come to support the public option (again):

we believe your obligation of pekuach nefesh, saving life, saving the lives of the flesh-and-blood citizens of Connecticut, shaped in flesh and blood in God’s Image and subject to damage of that same flesh and blood that requires healing, is an even higher obligation than you owe to your insurance-company constituents. Indeed, two-thirds of your flesh-and-blood constituents support a health-care bill that includes a strong public option.

Hard to avoid that this reasoning buttresses others’ argument that the income tax distorts God’s design by punishing virtue. Or that permitting gay marriage subverts God’s will.

Lieberman—It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over [JTA]

Earlier: Is Joe Lieberman Too Jewish?
How To Explain Joe Lieberman: He’s Just Kinda Dumb!

Report Criticizes Israel for Gaza Blockade

As ‘Cast Lead’ anniversary approaches, protests in the offing

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Since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza a year ago, Israel’s subsequent blockade has left residents of the Hamas-ruled Strip unable to rebuild their homes and society. So finds a new report signed by over a dozen Western humanitarian groups, including OxFam and Amnesty International. Among other bulletpoints, the groups note that only 41 truckloads of construction equipment have been permitted into Gaza in the past twelve months, and that polluted water has allowed fatal diarrhea to run rampant, particularly among the young. The report was timed for the first anniversary of the beginning of the conflict, on December 27th.

Speaking of which: several international pro-Palestinian groups are planning “Gaza Freedom Marches” to commemorate Cast Lead, starting next Sunday. Most dramatically, on December 31st marchers from northern Gaza and from Israel will converge at the Erez Crossing and demand, nonviolently, that Israel make reopening that passage, one of few out of the 139-square-mile territory, its prime New Year’s resolution.

Rights Groups: World Has Betrayed the Citizens of Gaza [Haaretz/Reuters]
Global Anti-Israel Protests Expect on ‘Cast Lead’ Anniversary [Arutz Sheva]

Legendary Diamond District Eatery Closes

Iconic kosher restaurant mourned

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Diamond Dairy yesterday.(Marissa Brostoff)

Tucked away above a bustling swap-meet of jewelry purveyors in midtown Manhattan’s diamond district, blintzes and gefilte fish have attracted kosher-keeping visitors from around the country since at least 1955. But no more: at the beginning of this month, Diamond Dairy closed down after failing to renegotiate a lease with the building’s new owners, ABS Partners Real Estate.

“A new real estate firm bought the building and I couldn’t get a new lease, I was evicted, whatever you want to call it,” said Diamond Dairy owner Samuel Strauss, who used to commute every day from the Orthodox suburb of Monsey, in Westchester County, to this block of West 47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. Strauss noted that nearly two dozen other tenants have met the same fate: “In about two years he wants this building completely vacant. He wants to turn it into a fancy office building.” Strauss said that by mid-January he will begin looking for a venue in the diamond district where he can reopen.

The old-fashioned dairy restaurant’s chief mourners are the jewelers who work in the area, many of them Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox Jews.

“I used to eat there every day,” said vendor Gaby Raz. “Delicious food. The best tuna fish, scrambled eggs, blintzes, cholent. I remember when I first came here”—in 1976—“the old woman who had opened the place was still there. She reminded me of my grandmother.”

A room adjacent to the restaurant was used daily for mincha, the afternoon prayer service, and Talmud study, which made it an even more popular destination.

“If somebody comes to midtown from anywhere in the United States and they want to daven mincha, they come here,” said Yitzchok Fleischer, another vendor. The short service would be held six times in a row so that if a worshiper missed one, another would quickly follow.

Diamond Dairy also drove business to the jewelers on the floor below, including the many tourists for whom the restaurant was a New York landmark. They’re still showing up, Raz said, not knowing that the restaurant has closed.

“People are shocked. They almost cry,” Raz said. “Let me tell you, darling: nothing in life is forever. Nothing but Hashem.”

Abbas Insists on East Jerusalem

Palestinian Pres says he’ll compromise on lots, but not that

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to freeze construction in East Jerusalem or to permit that issue on the negotiating table is a leitmotif throughout Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s new interview in the Wall Street Journal: he keeps returning to it, citing it as the obstacle in the way of direct negotiations on a final settlement. An example:

Netanyahu says, ‘I call on Abbas to negotiate, but he has to understand that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, that’s not up for discussion. The refugees—there will be no talk about them at all. He has to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.’ So who is putting conditions. I’m not putting them. He is putting conditions.

The “refugees” issue—the so-called right of return, which may be the one topic even more toxic to the Israelis than East Jerusalem—appears to be something Abbas could give up. “We are serious in building peace with you,” he tells the Journal, when asked what his message for Israel is, “in building a Palestinian state that lives side by side with Israel on the ’67 borders in peace and stability. … If we reach a final solution, we will drop all kinds of other demands.” (My emphasis.) A call for two states frankly implies no right of return anyway. We could be persuaded away from it, Abbas seems to say, but only if our state is delineated by “the ’67 borders.” Those borders locate East Jerusalem in Palestine.

Transcript: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [WSJ]

Earlier: Op-Eds Duel Over Netanyahu’s Freeze

Brittany Murphy’s Mother Was Jewish

Deceased actress was very close to her

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Murphy at a tennis match in 2008.(Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The news, if you like, technically means that her daughter was Jewish as well. Just as importantly, though, Brittany Murphy was very close to her mother, Sharon, living with her into adulthood. Murphy’s husband, British screenwriter Simon Monjack, was a self-identified Jew; the two married in a Jewish ceremony in 2007.

Murphy’s most famous role was also, in a way, her most Jewish. In the 1995 smash Clueless, Murphy played Tai, a streetwise but fashion-unconscious teenager from New York. Though that character isn’t necessarily Jewish, her clashing, ambivalent relationship with the movie’s protagonist, Cher Horowitz (who is necessarily Jewish), is a hilarious and memorable illustration of one Jewish archetype (the L.A. princess) conflicting with another (the outer-borough ethnic).

Our Loss, By Brittany Murphy’s Family [Jewish Chronicle]
Brittany Murphy, Actress in ‘Clueless,’ Dies at 32 [NYT]

Today on Tablet

A tale of murder and medicine

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Joshua Cohen’s monthly column on translated works considers Ernst Weiss’s Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer and the rest of the early-20th-century Czech Jew’s medically rigorous fiction. And The Scroll will do its best to diagnose what ails us all day today.

What Copenhagen Means For Iran

A watered-down emissions treaty could mean watered-down sanctions

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York yesterday.(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Does a weak international climate accord presage weak international resolve on Iran? That’s the provocative argument anonymous diplomats made to Haaretz over the weekend following the U.N. summit in Copenhagen, which produced no binding requirements to lower emissions.

Following the end of the summit, diplomats said that China’s flexing of its political muscles in its disputes with the United States at the conference should serve as a warning of what will happen when the Obama administration seeks to bring tougher sanctions against Iran for U.N. Security Council approval.

China has expressed at least as much hesitance to truly bring the hammer down on Iran as it has to substantively curb its emissions. And if anything, China has greater power when it comes to Security Council resolutions. On a matter like an international climate treaty, China’s influence is huge—any resolution without its support can only accomplish so much, and will look bad to boot—but not formal. Within the 15-member Security Council, however, China’s permanent veto is literal and absolute.

Diplomats: Weak Climate Deal Is Harbinger of Failure on Iran [Haaretz]

Daybreak: Israel Makes Offer For Shalit

Plus Polanski’s way out, Egypt’s hated wall, and more in the news

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• Israel confirmed its condition for releasing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured soldier Gilad Shalit: mass deportation. Hamas is considering it. [Ynet]
• In an exclusive interview, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas vowed to begin talks with Israel in the event of even a quiet five-month construction freeze that includes East Jerusalem. He also pledged not to permit an intifada on his watch. [WSJ]
• A California appellate court rejected Roman Polanski’s request to dismiss his statutory rape charge, while suggesting that should he agree to be sentenced in absentia, he may ultimately avoid jail-time. [LAT]
• The New York Times profiles Women of the Wall, a feminist Orthodox group whose members, in acts of deliberate civil disobedience, wear tallit and carry the Torah at the Kotel in an effort to expand what women are allowed to do. [NYT]
• Egypt’s new underground barrier at the Gaza border—designed to preclude smuggling tunnels—has earned the title “wall of shame” and Egypt the enmity of much of the Arab world. [LAT]
• One report has it that the stolen (and since recovered) “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign from Auschwitz was destined for a private citizen in Sweden. [Ynet]

Sundown: Israel Admits Docs Harvested Organs

Brittany Murphy’s widower is Jewish, Israel wants further reparations, and more

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• Israel admitted that in the 1990s some forensic pathologists harvested organs from corpses, including Palestinians, without family permission. Reports in a Swedish newspaper that some Palestinians were killed for their organs remain unproven and vigorously denied. [Vos Iz Neias?]
• Actress Brittany Murphy, who died yesterday at age 32, had been married to a British Jewish screenwriter named Simon Monjack in a Jewish ceremony. [People]
• Brooklyn’s Naftali Tzi Weisz, the leader of the Hasidic Spinka sect, was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to helping Spinka evade federal income taxes. [San Jose Mercury News]
• Israel will request an additional 450 million to 1 billion euros ($642 million to $1.4 billion) from Germany in Holocaust reparations. [Haaretz]
•The left-wing Israeli arrested last week for leaking FBI documents to a blogger had served as defense counsel to Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti. [Vos Iz Neias?]

And on the Seventh Day, God Sent Snow

Blizzard disrupts nude bike lane protest

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A snowed-in New York City street, yesterday.(Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

The plan was for a “Freedom Ride”: a nude group bicycling session through the heavily Orthodox section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The cause was for a protest: the cyclists are disputing the recent removal of the Bedford Avenue bike lane due to the Hasids’ complaints of scantily clad hipsters peddling by. The time was to be midday Saturday: right when the neighborhood’s puritanical residents were leaving shul. But HaShem had other plans, as Saturday saw the beginnings of one of the bigger blizzards that this part of the world has ever seen in December, and the ride ultimately featured little nudity (though there were, reportedly, a smattering of fake breasts). Nudity belongs to the bikers, but Shabbat belongs to the observant.

Too Cold To Strip: Bike Protesters Stay Clothed in Hasidic Area of New York [Haaretz]

Earlier: Brooklyn Bike Activists Are Arrested

Uproar Over Holocaust Pope’s Road to Sainthood

But at least Benedict’s been to Yad Vashem!

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Over the weekend, the German-born Pope Benedict XVI moved Pope Pius XII one step closer to sainthood, prompting immediate outrage from Jewish groups who contend that Pius, who was Eugenio Pacelli before being elected pontiff in 1939, didn’t do enough to prevent the Nazi slaughter of Jews (let alone its persecution of Catholic priests). Rabbi David Rosen, a member of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, scoffed at the church’s repeated assertions that Pius’s silence in the face of the Holocaust can be explained by his desire to protect thousands of Jews who were in hiding.

Benedict, who is already booked for a visit to Rome’s synagogue in January, responded earlier today with a mollifying speech about, yes, the Holocaust: specifically, about his visit earlier this year to the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel. “The visit to the Yad Vashem has meant an upsetting encounter with the cruelty of human fault, with the hatred of a blind ideology that, with no justification, sent millions of people to their deaths,” he said. Human fault: another way of saying that not everyone’s a saint.

Pope Says Visit to Holocaust Memorial ‘Upsetting’ [AP]

Carter Asks Jews To Forgive His Sins

Shouldn’t he be fasting, too?

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Jimmy Carter, who has been an outspoken critic of the Israeli government’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians, has asked the American Jewish community for an “al Het”—the ritualistic forgiveness that Jews request of and receive from God on Yom Kippur.

We must recognize Israel’s achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel. As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which is appropriate at any time of the year, I offer an Al Het for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so.

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League called the seasonal message the “beginning of reconciliation.” Unrelatedly—maybe—Carter’s grandson, Jason, is running to represent a significantly Jewish suburb of Atlanta in the Georgia State Senate.

Carter Offers Jewish Community ‘Al Het’ [JTA]

Earlier: Carter’s Grandson Running in Jewish District

How the Swiss Minaret Ban Could Hurt Jews

U.N. watchdog warns ‘non-Muslim minorities in the Mideast’

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Muslims protest the Swiss ban in Bern earlier this month.(Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

The head of U.N. Watch, a gadfly of the world body, pointed this weekend to what he argues are unintended and destructive consequences of Switzerland’s ban on the construction of new mosque minarets. Emboldened by the Swiss law, argues Executive Director Hillel C. Neuer, the Algeria-led U.N. Human Rights Council is seeking to change an international treaty in order to allow Islamic governments to quash dissent that falls under “defamation of religion.”

Paradoxically, the most intolerant Islamists are likely to be strengthened by this act of bigotry, not weakened. Acts of intolerance by Western countries provide justification for banning religious freedom in Muslim countries. … What a pity that Switzerland’s minaret folly—which, at the least, discourages religious expression by individuals—may end up hurting non-Muslim minorities in the Mideast as well as liberal Muslims.

The argument echoes that of many European Jewish leaders, who expressed disappointment at the Swiss. Meanwhile, a new poll suggests that a referendum for a similar ban would likely pass in the United Kingdom and would face a fighting chance in the United States.

A Swiss Ban on Minarets [NYT]
How to Interpret the U.K. ‘Ban Minarets’ Poll [New Statesman]

Earlier: Europe’s Jews Oppose Swiss Minaret Ban

Sudanese Official Compares Climate Pact to Holocaust

Also, foxes speak out for hens’ rights

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The U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen revealed a very real, legitimate divide between the developed world, which favors aggressive action to curtail harmful emissions, and developing nations, who oppose strict, universal standards. There is looking out for one’s own interests, however, and then there is Lumumba Stanislas Dia-ping, Sudan’s delegate to the conference. He described the Copenhagen Accord, the basic agreement that was reached, as “a solution based on values, the very same values in our opinion that funneled six million people in Europe into furnaces.” Thanks so much for the input, Sudan.

Sudan Delegate Compares U.S.-Led Climate Proposal to Holocaust [Haaretz]

Today on Tablet

Children’s music you won’t mind

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Today in Tablet Magazine, on the weekly Vox Tablet podcast parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall celebrates 2009’s best Jewish children’s songs. Josh Lambert’s look at forthcoming books of note includes an anthology that collects the work of noted early comic artist Milt Gross. And The Scroll is back after a restful weekend, so be sure to check in.

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