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Did NYC Candidate Publish Anti-Gay Ad to Attract Satmars?

Ad ran in Yiddish paper, candidate denies placing it

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In an only-in-Brooklyn turn of events, a kerfuffle has broken out over whether a liberal Jewish city council candidate placed an ad in an ultra-Orthodox Yiddish newspaper representing himself as anti-gay. It all started on August 20, when the paper Der Blatt—affiliated with the Satmar hasidic sect, which includes an important bloc of voters in the district—ran an advertisement for conservative Catholic candidate John Heyer claiming that Heyer agreed with the community’s position on “abominations”—toyves, in Yiddish, or homosexuality. A week later, the paper ran a very similar ad for liberal, Jewish, pro-gay marriage candidate Brad Lander that says Lander “stands clearly against the various abominations and immoral laws that are a major issue in these elections.”

After that, the story changes depending on whom you ask. The editor of Der Blatt, Alexander Deutsch, told Tablet—via our columnist Eddy Portnoy, a professor of Yiddish at Rutgers University—that, after being contacted by Lander’s Satmar-community liaison Rabbi Yitzhok Fleischer, he “received copy for a paid advertisement and put it in just like any other ad.” Fleischer, he said, “bought the advertisement in the name of the Lander campaign,” and thus Der Blatt sent the campaign a bill (which is now floating around the internet).

Lander, however, told Tablet—as he has been telling reporters since the story broke—that Fleischer (who’s listed as a prominent supporter on the campaign’s website) never contacted the campaign about placing such an ad, and, moreover, that Fleischer himself merely provided Der Blatt with pictures of Lander and didn’t dictate the copy. “Everything suggests that [Der Blatt] just wrote it,” Lander said. So, in this version of events, Der Blatt—or someone trying embarrass Lander—made up the ad, then sent the bill to the Lander campaign.

Regardless of what actually happened, Lander, considered the front-runner in the race, has taken a hit from it. The Stonewall Democrats, a political club supporting a (gay) Lander opponent took the opportunity to argue that this is “not the first time Brad Lander has courted homophobes.” Josh Skaller, yet another candidate in the race, told Tablet in a jibe at his opponent, “If you’re not trying to cut corners, you don’t get yourself into trouble.”

‘Abomination’ Ad Strikes at Core of Heyder-Lander Battle for Borough Park [City Hall]
The Toeivah Continues: Brad Lander icht Nisht a Mensch (aka Lander Slanders) [Room Eight]

Museum Lists Most Influential New Yorkers

And a quarter of them are Jews

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Remember the line in Annie Hall where Woody says he hears people calling his hometown Jew York? Fact is, Jews have made a special contribution to New York City, to the point that New York’s very identity seems wrapped up with that of the Jews. So it’s unsurprising that of the 400 people whom the Museum of the City of New York recently listed as the folks “who have helped define New York City for the past 400 years,” many belong or belonged to the Tribe—96 members, or 24 percent, by our count (give or take a Jew).

The Times’s City Room blog asks who was left off the list. From the Jewish perspective, we think it conspicuous that none of those great mid-20th-century thinkers, who were so tied up with New York that they became known as the New York Intellectuals, appears. These men and women were brilliant and immensely influential in their day, particularly regarding how others see New York and  howNew York sees itself; and the significant majority of them were Jewish. So, City Room, that’s our answer.

The New York City 400 [Museum of the City of New York]
Who are the Most Influential New Yorkers? [City Room]

A Palestinian Peace Accord

Between Fatah and Hamas, that is

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Could a rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah be on the horizon? Sources close to Hamas told Haaretz yesterday that the Islamist group is willing to engage in a “reconciliation accord” with its political rival. That accord will be signed before the end of 2009. Also on the table for negotiation is incorporating Hamas militants into the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, which are currently controlled by Fatah, incorporating Hamas representatives into PLO institutions, releasing Hamas backers from P.A. prisons in the West Bank, and creating a unity government pledged to “respect” if not quite adhere to the tenets of the Oslo Accords.

A Hamas delegation is due to arrive in Cairo Tuesday, on the heels of several high-profile visits to the city by the group’s leader Khalid Meshal. This announcement of intra-Palestinian reconciliation was timed to coincide with imminent release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who has spent more than four years in a Hamas prison, and comes about a week before P.A. President and Fatah head Mahoud Abbas is set to meet with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu as a preliminary to peace talks.

Hamas, Fatah Set to Reconcile by 2010 [Haaretz]

Christmas Without Jesus?

Not if California ballot measure makes it on the ballot

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Not bad enough that California’s ridiculous initiative-and-referendum system can essentially bankrupt the state? Turns out it might do this, too: Put on the ballot the question of whether Christmas carols should be compulsory in public school assemblies. Former Los Angeles Times reporter Joe Mathews notes on his New America Foundation blog that a brother-and-sister pair named David Joseph and Merry Susan Hyatt (yes, she really spells her name like that) filed a draft ballot initiative yesterday that would force the state’s public elementary and secondary schools “to provide opportunities to its pupils for listening to or performing Christmas music at an appropriate time of year.” Merry Hyatt, a teacher, told Mathews she felt an initiative was necessary in case schools were avoiding carols in winter holiday programs because they were nervous about criticism. “We were having Christmas without Jesus,” she added, rather succinctly.

Hyatt said she plans to canvass churches for support, since she doesn’t have the $2 million it usually costs to collect enough signatures to get a measure on the ballot. But we can’t really see this one making it past the old church-state separation hurdle, even though the “Freedom to Present Christmas Music in Public School Classrooms or Assemblies” measure includes a provision requiring schools to give parents who prefer their Christmases light on the Jesus—not just Jews, of course, but Muslims, and atheists, and all kinds of other folks—an opt-out notice. Because, you know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to take kids out of school in order to put the Jesus back in December.

Taking that Christmas Spirit to the People [Blockbuster Democracy Blog]

Army Archerd Dies

Longtime ‘Variety’ columnist prompted Michael Jackson to change anti-Semitic lyric

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Archerd with his wife, Selma, in 2007.(Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)

Legendary Variety columnist Army Archerd died yesterday after a 50-year career at the paper. He broke the news that Rock Hudson was being treated for AIDS in 1985, told colleagues he fought alongside Herman Wouk in World War II (providing the novelist inspiration for a character in the Pulitzer-winning novel The Caine Mutiny), and, most importantly (for those still grieving over Michael Jackson), was the catalyst for the King of Pop’s rewriting parts of his 1995 song “They Don’t Care About Us,” which originally included the controversial lyrics “Jew me/Sue me.” According to Variety, Archerd wrote a column criticizing the song, and Jackson telephoned him to inform him he would change it.

Obit: Variety Columnist Army Archerd [Variety]

The Messiah Comes From the East

Sephardic rabbi predicts Sephardic savior

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Rabbi Ovadia.(Ynet.com)

Moses Maimonides famously believed that the Messiah will come, “though he may tarry.” But Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Israel’s ultra-religious Shas political party, has gone the Rambam one better: the Messiah, it turns out, not only will come, but will be Sephardic. “We cannot determine that we were correct until the Messiah comes and will make us one people,” Yosef told his weekly Saturday night class. “Only the Messiah can do this.… When Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will rise up in the revival of the dead, what will they say? They will start to say they were from Halabim, from Aleppo.” (Yosef, who once was Israel’s Chief Sephardi Rabbi, himself hails from Basra, Iraq.) Once the Messiah comes, Yosef went on to predict, Ashkenazim will adopt Sephardic customs—which is good news for those who have always wanted to eat rice during Passover.

Rabbi Ovadia: Messiah Will Rule Sephardic-Style [Ynet]

Today on Tablet

Talmud for sale, hear the music, vote Democratic

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Allison Hoffman reports on 85-year-old Jack Lunzer’s efforts to sell his extensive collection of Judaica, including a flawless copy of the first-ever printed Talmud, to the Library of Congress. The weekly Vox Tablet podcast features Israeli-born world-music musician and educator Oran Etkin. Columnist Seth Lipsky considers Norman Podhoretz’s new Why Are Jews Liberals? in light of his own political trajectory. Why Do Jews Read The Scroll? Find out, all day, here at The Scroll.

Daybreak: Secret Meetings

Plus Iranian uranium and two Gaza operations

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• Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to an undisclosed location for a few hours Monday, and a new report has it that he was in Russia engaging in secret talks over Iranian arms deals. His office says he didn’t leave the country. [ynet]
• Speaking of covert diplomacy, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s current trip to Africa, nominally humanitarian, is really intended to help increase defense exports and to initiate cooperation on intelligence against Muslim extremists. [Haaretz]
• A U.S. diplomat reported that Iran very nearly or already has enough low-enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. [AP]
• The B’Tselem organization released a new report finding that of nearly 1,400 Palestinans killed during last January’s Gaza incursion, the majority were noncombatants. The Israeli army’s numbers are lower, and of a less unfavorable proportion. [Haaretz]
• Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert testified in front of a state commission that, strategically, “there was no way around” the 2005 Gaza evacuation spearheaded by Ariel Sharon. [JPost]

Sundown: U.S. Jews Agree That Nuclear Iran Is Bad

Plus Ehud Barak backs settlement freeze, Gilad Shalit writes home, and more

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• In advance of Thursday’s National Jewish Leadership Advocacy Day on Iran in Washington, D.C., major organizations affiliated with the Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox movements together called on American Jews to highlight the urgency of the Iranian nuclear question. [JTA]
• Even though the government he serves in just approved the construction of over 450 new houses in the West Bank, Defense Minister Ehud Barak called a settlement freeze a “national necessity”. [Haaretz]
• Several prominent members of the Israeli left and center are planning a campaign to buttress Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declared support for a two-state solution (and, one suspects, to hold him to it). [ynet]
• The first letter soldier Gilad Shalit wrote since his 2006 capture was obtained by Yediot Ahronot. Only a month in, he reported, “My health is deteriorating daily.” [ynet]
• And if you’re in New York tomorrow night, consider watching Tablet Magazine deputy editor Gabriel Sanders interview Zoë Heller, whose novel, The Believers, depicts a contemporary New York City Jewish family in decline. [Museum of Jewish Heritage]

Ad Calls Non-Israeli Jews ‘Lost’

And the Diaspora is just a bit offended

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The group Masa (the word is Hebrew for “Journey”), which runs study-in-Israel programs for Diaspora Jews, has a new ad running on Israeli TV urging viewers to tell non-Israeli Jews about their organization. If these benighted souls do not visit Israel, you see, they may be “lost” and “assimilated” and perhaps, the ad ever-so-subtly hints, sent somewhere ominous on trains. You can watch it below:

The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg translates the Hebrew as: “More than 50% of young Jews overseas are assimilating and we are losing them. Do you know a young Jew overseas? Call Project Masa, and together we will strengthen the tie to Israel so we won’t lose him. Masa—a year in Israel, a love for a lifetime.” Goldberg hypothesizes—no doubt correctly—that “assimilating” is code for intermarrying, and that the 50 percent figure comes from an infamous 1990 study finding such a rate (later proved to be inflated). And he sensibly observes, “From a practical point of view, the issue in America is no longer how to fight intermarriage. That horse is out of the barn. The question now is how to draw the new Jews to Judaism.”

On top of the ad’s practical idiocy, there is its odious message: that Jews who do not find Israel have disappeared altogether. The spot recalls nothing so much as the old Catholic doctrine (which the Church, to its credit, has repudiated) that good Christians have an obligation to try to convert Jews as an act of mercy. Did we mention that Masa gets half of its budget from the Israeli government?

‘Lost’ In Plain Sight [J.J. Goldberg]

Freeze That Settlement?

Three opinions (but only one Jew) in today’s op-ed pages

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Jimmy Carter with Desmond Tutu and others in the West Bank village of Bilin last month.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

As we noted earlier today, the 455 new houses Israel is building in the West Bank will be located in settlements likely to end up in Israel proper even should a separate Palestinian state emerge. However, the announcement of new building has prompted a broader and provocative discussion of the importance (or unimportance) of a settlement freeze—something President Obama has called for—and specifically its relation to economic growth in the Palestinian territories.

The anti-settlement cause was buttressed by a prominent (if unsurprising) voice: Jimmy Carter. The former president, who a few years ago published Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, reported Sunday on a trip he took to the territories with a few other former world leaders, whom he refers to (somewhat creepily, no?) as “the Elders.” “We found a growing sense of concern and despair among those who observe, as we did, that settlement expansion is continuing apace,” he relates. He calls a settlement freeze “key.” This earned him the ire of prominent neoconservative writer and former Bush adviser Elliott Abrams, who chastised Carter and cited the West Bank’s predicted 7 percent rise in GDP (“a rate of growth that would be far in excess of ours—or Israel’s”) as evidence that Palestinian society is, with Israel’s conscious help, actually beginning to thrive. Also today, this time on the International Herald Tribune’s opinion page, Zahi Kouri, who runs the West Bank’s Palestinian National Beverage Co. (which appears to be a Coca-Cola bottler), credits that 7 percent growth rate not to Israeli benevolence but to “Palestinian reforms undertaken in spite of the obstacles Israel continues to place in the way of Palestinian development.” Like Carter, he deems a settlement freeze “a crucial first step to salvaging the two-state solution.”

Actually, a crucial first step would be knowing whose facts to believe. But in a world where everyone has an opinion, perhaps that’s asking too much.

The Elders’ View of the Middle East [WP]

What Carter Missed in the Middle East
[WP]
The West Bank’s Deceptive Growth [NYT]

Egypt Restores Synagogues, Secretly

Word leaks thanks to changed political calculus

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Restoration work at the Cairo synagogue where Moses Maimonides once worked and studied.(NYTimes.com)

When Egypt’s antiquities department two weeks ago announced plans to restore a medieval synagogue, many immediately smelled a ploy: Farouk Hosny, the country’s minister of culture—who last year made an incendiary comment about burning Israeli books—is angling for the position of Unesco director general, and so Egypt, conspiracy theorist argued, was trying to make nice with the Jews. Yesterday, though, the New York Times told a more nuanced version of the story. Egypt has “slowly, quietly been working to restore its synagogues for several years,” the paper reported, but has been keeping the efforts secret because of widespread anti-Semitism among the populace. “This was such a reverse of what we experienced in Eastern Europe, where governments don’t do much but want to present the picture they are doing things,” said an American Jewish Committee director quoted in the article. “In Egypt they were doing things but, ‘Shhh, don’t let anybody know!’” Now that the government’s promoting Hosny for the Unesco job, though, looking good to international observers has trumped the cause of not infuriating its own citizens.

Private Motive for Egypt’s Public Embrace of a Jewish Past

L.A. JCC Shooter Renounces Racism

Says it makes him happier not to hate.

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Buford O’Neal Furrow Jr., who stormed a JCC in the Los Angeles suburb of Granada Hills a decade ago, has now apologized, and claims he’s broken with his white supremacist past. In a letter responding to a request for an interview from the Los Angeles Daily News, Furrow, who is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole, wrote that he has thrown away his “racist books, literature, etc.” At the time of the shootings, he insisted that the attack—in which he wounded five people, including three children, and killed a Filipino postal worker—was intended as “a wakeup call to America to kill Jews.” Today, Furrow, an Olympia, Washington, native who had a long involvement with the Aryan Nation extremist group, claims “a life based on hate is no life at all.” “I now publicly renounce all bias toward anyone based on race, creed, color, sexual orientation and am a much happier person,” he wrote.

Which is nice for him, but maybe not enough for the victims. One refused to be interviewed by the paper, and the father of Josh Stepakoff, then a 6-year-old camper who was shot in the thigh and back, said he didn’t think the apology was sincere. “This doesn’t change what he did,” Alan Stepakoff said. Relatives of the postal worker, Joseph Ileto, agreed, but were more magnanimous. “It still hurts that our brother and son was taken from us, and a letter won’t make up for that,” Ismael Ileto told the paper. But, he added, “It gives us some type of hope that people are able to rehabilitate themselves.”

JCC Shooter Furrow Renounces Past Beliefs [LADN]

Apple to Introduce a Tablet?

Get your own name, Jobs!

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Apple, the computer-maker-turned-cult, is holding another one of its product unveilings tomorrow. As per usual with such spectacles, executives are tight-lipped, bloggers are hysterical, and the rumor mill runs furiously. Some believe Apple will announce a fancy new iPod; others claim that the Beatles’ catalogue is finally coming to iTunes, Apple’s online music store. But there’s another rumor, and one we at Tablet Magazinefind troubling: Apple, whisper some techno-soothsayers, will soon introduce a new product, a cross between an iPod and a laptop computer, a flat-screened beauty designed for watching movies on the go and speedily surfing the web. The product’s alleged name? Tablet.

We’re a little bit flattered, of course. But we’re also concerned. Is the Internet big enough for both of us? We’ll soon see. And, by the way, have you heard about Jeffrey Goldberg’s biography of Judah Maccabee, forthcoming from Nextbook Press? We’re thinking we’ll call it the MacBook.

Apple Telegraphs iPods; Fans See Beatles, Tablets [AP]

Israel Approves Settlement Construction

Seen as a sop to right-wing parties

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A boy outside the biggest settlement, Maale Adumim, yesterday.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

In preparation for a forthcoming six-month freeze on settlement construction, Israel over the weekend authorized plans for 455 new houses to be built in the West Bank. It’s a move contrary to U.S. and Arab demands for a complete halt on settlement grown, but apparently it’s not contrary enough to further stall already long-stalled Arab-Israeli peace talks. For one thing, most of these houses are to be built near the 1967 lines in the settlements of Har Gilo, Givat Zeev, Maale Adumim, Kedar and Alon Shvut—territories which all sides, either tacitly or explicitly, concede are going to wind up under Israel’s control. For another, this license for construction is seen in Israel as an emollient to the far-right parties that participate in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government. Indeed, the Jerusalem Post leads this morning with an article that Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu party has no plans to topple the current administration in protest over the freeze. Lieberman himself, the foreign minister, is not really involved in the multilateral talks (although he is meeting with U.S. envoy George Mitchell next week) and is happy so long as Israel is allowed to build unfettered in the contested capital of Jerusalem.

Israel Tries to Placate Settlers by Allowing Some Construction Before Freeze [NYT]
Lieberman: Despite Settlement Freeze, Right Won’t Topple Gov’t [JPost]

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