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What Will Happen to the P.A.?

Speculation on a post-Abbas Palestinian Authority

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Abbas at a rally commemorating the fifth anniversary of Arafat's death on Wednesday.(Omar Rashidi/PPO via Getty Images)

Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t rescinded his announcement that he won’t be running for a second term as Palestinian Authority president, but he’s agreed to postpone the P.A. elections that he had previously scheduled for January. Hamas, the party that controls Gaza—and has a worsening relationship with Abbas’ Fatah party in the West Bank—had refused to participate in those elections, so the postponement is viewed as a last-ditch effort by Abbas to avoid formalizing the divisions between the two territories.

The pressing questions about Abbas’ putative retirement, then, may be slightly less pressing, but no less confusing. First and foremost, is Abbas really planning to step down? He has, as the Economist points out, threatened resignation before. “Some of the Palestinian leader’s aides, however, insisted that this time he would go,” the magazine reported. “Others predicted that he would be persuaded to stay. Still others speculated that he could drop his post as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), while continuing to wield power as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the umbrella organisation that embraces an array of nationalist groups, and as head of Fatah.”

And if Abbas does step down, who will replace him? No one’s exactly jumping for the job, but the most frequently named successor is Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader who helped organize the first and second intifadas, and is popular within Hamas as well. The problem with Barghouti is that he’s serving five life terms in Israeli prison. If he were to win the election, Yossi Beilin, a former justice minister of Israel and a friend of Abbas, writes in the Forward,a whole new set of questions would emerge: “Will Israel release Barghouti from jail and negotiate with him? Or will Israel’s leaders express a sigh of relief and feel justified in refusing to negotiate with someone they consider a terrorist?”

And then there are the more drastic possibilities. Some Fatah officials are considering unilaterally declaring an independent Palestinian state along 1967 borders, and then demanding “the UN to come and drag the occupation forces from our land,” as an Abbas aide told the Financial Times. There’s also a proposal to internally dismantle the P.A. in protest of its lack of real power, the paper said.

In any case, the portrait of Abbas that is emerging is of a man who is resigned in the emotional if not yet in the political sense of the word. As Beilin put it, “Abu Mazen never much liked power, never liked being president, and he eagerly awaits the day he will leave his job.”

Mahmoud Abbas Puts Off Palestinian Elections After Hamas Opposition [Guardian]
Will He Jump? [Economist]
Missing the Abu Mazen Opportunity [The Forward]
Fatah Signals New Strategy if Abbas Quits [Financial Times]

Today on Tablet

Powerful images and images of power

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Orlee Maimon presents a slideshow of photographs by Frederic Aranda, whose current exhibition in London is called “Kosherface” and features images of Hasidic Jews. Liel Leibovitz explores the ideas of power and authority in this week’s haftorah. And, of course, much more to come here on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Rubashkin Convicted

Plus a Ponzi scheme in Florida, Nazi imagery, and more in the news

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• Shalom Rubashkin was convicted of 86 out of 91 fraud charges during his tenure as owner of the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant in Iowa; “combined sentences could reach over 1,250 years,” says the JTA. [JTA]
• Meantime, the Ponzi scheme allegedly perpetrated by Florida attorney Scott Rothstein is growing in scope as the FBI investigates and is now suspected to involve over $1 billion and thousands of investors in the United States and abroad. [AP]
• A B’nai Brith Canada ad in the National Post pointed out the “common objectives of Nazism and radical Islam”; the group Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors is angry that Jewish leaders would “trivialize the Shoah.” [JTA]
• But Pro-Palestinian protesters in Brazil carried posters of Israeli President Shimon Peres, who is currently visiting their country, sporting a telltale mustache and labeled “Shimon Hitler.” [Ynet]
• And the EveryOne Group for International Cooperation on Human Rights Culture is encouraging Israel to buy the house where Hitler was born in Austria and turn it into a Holocaust art gallery, which would ease the mind of the town’s mayor, who fears the property will “fall into the hands of extremists.” [JPost]

Sundown: Have You Hugged a Jew Today?

Plus elections deferred, spilling the beans, and more

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• To mark the creation of a bizarre new Facebook group naming today “Hug a Jew Day,” the Jewish Chronicle asked a few (all male) minor celebs who they would like to embrace; two of them unimaginatively chose Sarah Silverman. Maybe it would be a good day for Sacha Baron Cohen to revisit the Today show. [JC]
• In the wake of President Mahmoud Abbas’s announcement that he will not run for reelection and might even resign, and Hamas’s refusal to allow residents of Gaza to vote, the Palestinian Authority has determined that elections cannot take place in January as planned; no other date has yet been proposed. [NYT]
• Alysa Stanton, the first black female rabbi, has taken the pulpit at Congregation Bayt Shalom in Greenville, N.C.; according to one member, “The women run this congregation.” [Forward]
• An article about the traditional Jewish stew cholent—a piece that, for unexplained reasons, is framed as a conversation between an unnamed doctor and chef—offers recipes, and an abridged history of beans. [Haaretz]
• For a Muslim community meeting to prepare for backlash after the Fort Hood shooting, New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg counter-productively invited Siraj Wahhaj, who was declared an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the 1995 World Trade Center Bombing. Whoops! [NYDN]
• This Monday, a Bay Area theater is staging a reading of Caryl Churchill’s controversial play Seven Jewish Children paired with a reading of a play written in response, Israel Horovitz’s What Strong Fences Make; although “the plays sit on opposite sides of a controversy,” one audience member at a previous performance said they “described the same reality: both sides trapped by the justification for everything they do.” [Berkeley Daily Planet]

‘Harper’s’ Writer Finds U.S. Crypto-Jews

Finds descendents of Inquistion-era forced converts in New Mexico

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Curiosity sparked by a children’s book about a Hispanic boy descended from Crypto-Jews (those forced to convert during the Inquisition to Catholicism who secretly kept up various Jewish practices)—and by his own childhood, in which his mother asked him to pretend that he was Unitarian so neighbors in their Bible Belt town wouldn’t ostracize him—Theodore Ross headed to New Mexico in search of genuine American Crypto-Jews. He offers a chronicle of what he found in the December issue of Harper’s Magazine; the expansive article is currently available in print only.

Some folks he met remember relatives lighting Friday night candles, attending religious services on Saturday not Sunday, and avoiding shellfish and pork—practices they thought were local customs, not Jewish ones, until they learned they were part of this semi-obscure demographic. Ross also met a Catholic priest who took a DNA test that confirms he descends from the priestly caste of kohanim and a rabbi who oversees the conversions of Crypto-Jews back to traditional Judaism so they can, under Israel’s law of return, move there and create, Ross writes, “a sort of anti-Muslim neutron bomb”—that is, populate the country.

There are a few problems in Ross’s piece. He admits to having projected onto Crypto-Jews a “needful hope in their existence,” but never fully explores the source of that need. Though generally meticulous in defining Hebrew terms, going as far as calling the tzitzit by its proper name, tallit katan (small prayer shawl), he gets Judaism’s essential prayer, the Shema, wrong, misquoting its first words as “Hashem yisrael” rather than, “Shema yisrael.” (We concede that could’ve been a typo overlooked by a negligent fact-checker.) Finally, though, by reporting on a Messianic Jew who wears a yarmulke embroidered with the Hebrew words “Yeshua Ha’mashiach” (Jesus the Messiah) alongside the stories of real descendants of those forced to convert to Catholicism, Ross undermines the seriousness of his piece. He lumps legitimate historical claims and personal histories in with what seems to us to be little more than religious quackery, casting a somewhat cynical light on his whole enterprise.

UPDATE, November 16: Theodore Ross writes: “Just wanted to briefly respond to Sara Ivry’s blog post on my article ‘Shalom on the Range’ (‘Harper’s writer finds U.S. Crypto-Jews”). Sara correctly noticed the inaccuracy of the rendering of the Shema in the article. However, in defense of my stalwart fact-checker, I feel compelled to point out that the version used in the piece, with the word ‘Hashem’ rather than ‘Shema,’ is exactly the prayer as delivered by Father William Sanchez. It was my belief that readers would catch the mistake and enjoy the small joke of a Catholic priest leading me in a Jewish prayer and getting it wrong.”

Shalom on the Range [Harper’s]

David Irving to Speak in New York, Secretly

But protesters try to infilitrate Holocaust revisionist’s plan

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Irving leaving a debate at the Oxford Union in 2007.(Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

Notorious British Holocaust revisionist David Irving will be speaking in New York City on Saturday, but don’t ask him where. Because he tends to draw protesters, Irving has implemented an elaborate procedure on his current United States tour in which would-be attendees must register on his website, at which point, Irving said in an interview with Tablet Magazine, he uses screening software to weed out likely protesters. Those who pass the screening are then notified by email a few hours before the event about where it will take place. “We have to do that because various Jewish groups will go out of their way to smash me up,” Irving said.

Elan Steinberg, vice-president of a national organization called the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, told Tablet Magazine that Irving is scheduling his engagements this way for another reason. It’s “a way of disguising who he is to hotel managers and others who rent out public venues,” Steinberg said. “Time and time again, hotel managers, bookshops, etc, have allowed him to speak there not realizing who he is.” The American Gathering is therefore alerting the press that Irving will be in town, in the hope that venue managers will inquire into the identity of any mysterious guests who might be renting space on Saturday, Steinberg said. That strategy worked in Jackson, Mississippi, he said, when his group notified the city’s mayor that Irving planned to speak at City Hall, prompting Irving to move his talk to a different location.

In the case of his upcoming New York engagement, a spy-versus-spy situation has emerged: a group called New Yorkers Against David Irving is attempting to infiltrate the lecture; Irving, in turn, said that two of his followers were present at the protest organization’s planning meeting last night. Steinberg said that the American Gathering is not attempting to get on Irving’s email list, but that if he gets a tip on Irving’s whereabouts ahead of time, he’ll send his own email inviting members to go protest.

A talk Irving gave in Palm Beach, Fla., late last month, ended in violence, not between followers and protesters, but between two followers, one of whom police identified as a white supremacist, according to the Jackson Free Press. They got into a knife fight outside the meeting room.

Knife Fight at Holocaust Denier Book-Signing [Jackson Free Press]

Messinger: Jewish Service Must Be Real Service

Focus on needs, not college applications, says former NYC pol

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Ruth Messinger, the former Manhattan borough president and Democratic mayoral challenger to Rudy Giuliani, had the good fortune of going to an elite private school (Brearley) and an even more elite college (Radcliffe) but she credits a much humbler venue with giving her the earthy edge she needed to become a New York City pol: the back of a garbage truck. “I was the only girl willing to go on the garbage run every day,” Messinger recalled last night at the Woolworth Building, where she was speaking at a ceremony celebrating the opening of the new Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU’s Wagner School, of her experience volunteering as a teenager at a settlement house in Beacon, New York. “It was really good training for my career in politics.”

Messinger, who now heads the American Jewish World Service—a kind of Jewish peace corps that runs humanitarian projects in developing countries—went on to argue that the ever-expanding array of volunteer programs designed to build Jewish identity through community service can only succeed if they provide concrete benefits to needy people. In other words, they have to be authentic service programs, and not make-work designed to foster a fuzzy tikkun olam experience. “I want, as Jewish service grows, to be sure that it pays respect to the Jewish notion that we have responsibility to others,” Messinger told the audience. “We have to focus on beneficiaries’ needs, not on the need of the volunteers to feel Jewish, or to get something on their college applications.”

Berman Jewish Policy Archive [BJPA]

Visit Ramallah in Luxury!

Territories’ first chain hotel coming soon to West Bank

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The first hotel chain to open an outlet in the West Bank will be Swiss company Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, which plans to open a luxury location in Ramallah this fall. Neal Ungerleider, who blogs as “Falafel Mafia” on “entrepreneurial journalism” site True/Slant, says that the hotel is currently hiring staff and will offer “172 rooms and suites, an executive floor, extensive conference and meeting facilities up to 800, all fully equipped with the latest audio-video technology, an all day dining restaurant, an Italian restaurant, two bars, pool with bar and restaurant in season.” It’ll be the only five star accommodations in the Palestinian city, he says.

Ungerleider points out that “the depressed Palestinian economy makes it impossible for all but the rich and upper-middle class to afford regular hotel stays,” which means the new business will likely cater primarily to business and political travelers, who tend to overnight on visits to the West Bank due to the lengthy bureaucratic process of getting in and out. He also posts a bleakly shot video introduction to Ramallah, which promises that “it’s always fun to walk around, even if you weren’t looking for something,” but ends on a somber note: “Ramallah is great,” reads a caption, “but do you know what lies beyond our city? A Wall. Separation. Isolation. Checkpoints.”

Hotel Chains Discover the West Bank [True/Slant]

Tablet’s Kirsch Makes Forward 50

‘This century’s first pre-eminent Jewish man of letters’

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Excuse us while we kvell for a moment: Adam Kirsch, Tablet Magazine’s book critic, has been named to this year’s Forward 50, the newspaper’s annual list of the most important American Jewish leaders. Here’s what the Forward had to say:

This year Adam Kirsch, 33, has cemented his position as this century’s first pre-eminent Jewish man of letters. A widely admired poet and essayist, his mind is exercised both by Jewish particularity and the broader world of culture. Both are evident in, for example, his biography of Benjamin Disraeli or when reminding readers of the New York Times that Ayn Rand was born Alissa Rosenbaum.… Yale professor Langdon Hammer — writing in The New York Times — praised the Harvard-educated Kirsch as a poet-critic akin to a previous “generation of poets who won positions in American colleges as literary critics” and even traced a lineage back to T.S. Eliot.

Mazel tov, Adam.

Adam Kirsch archive [Tablet]
Adam Kirsch: Benjamin Disraeli [Nextbook Press]

‘Jewish Week’: Bloomberg’s Jewish Vote Skyrocketed in ’09

But did it?

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Bloomberg at New York's Veterans Day parade yesterday.(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

This week’s Jewish Week notes that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg received three-quarters of the city’s Jewish vote in his surprisingly narrow third-term victory last week, representing a huge increase in his Jewish tally since his first reelection, in 2005, which the paper pegs at 53 percent. This means that “extensive spending on campaign offices and staff, including Yiddish and Russian translators in Jewish communities … was well spent,” says the paper. We’re a little bit less convinced. The Jewish Week cites a New York Times exit poll for the 2009 statistic, and, sure enough, the Times data shows that 75 percent of New York’s Jews voted for Bloomberg. But the Jewish Week doesn’t provide any source for 2005 number. So we did some research, and we found a Pace University exit poll from four years ago. How’d Bloomberg do then? According to Pace, he got 72 percent of the Jewish vote. Which means all the “extensive spending” to reach Jewish voters netted the mayor only an additional 3 percent of them.

Big Jewish Turnout for Bloomberg [JWeek]
Profile of New York City Voters [NYT]
New York City Mayoral Election Study [Pace]

Tablet Today

Films about insiders and outsiders

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On our weekly podcast, Vox Tablet, Sara Ivry talks to Andrew Jacobs about his new documentary Four Seasons Lodge, which captures the last season at a Catskills vacation colony that was the summer home of a community of elderly Holocaust survivors. Liel Leibovitz looks at a film festival devoted to the work of Israeli Arabs. And The Scroll rolls out new posts all day.

Daybreak: Battle for Latin America

Plus Teitel indicted, Australia surrenders ex-Nazi, and more in the news

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• Israel and Iran are competing to gain support in Latin America. [Times (London)]
• And the current battleground is Brazil, where Israeli President Shimon Peres has been on a diplomatic visit this week, during which President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva justified his plan to host Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad later this month, saying “You don’t build the necessary peace in the Middle East if you don’t talk to all the political and religious forces that both want peace and are opposed to peace.” [JTA]
• Yaakov Teitel, a Jewish settler accused of terrorism against Palestinians in Israel, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. “It was my pleasure and honor to serve my God,” he responded. [JPost]
• Australia has approved the extradition of 88-year-old alleged former Nazi Charles Zentai to Hungary, where he will stand trial for murdering a Jewish teenager in 1944; Zentai’s son is wary as to “whether Hungary can provide a fair trial for my father in the absence of any living witnesses.” [AP]

Sundown: God on Board

Plus nudgy phones, revealing tchotchkes, and more

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• A federal judge has ruled that license plates issued by South Carolina decorated with a cross and the words “I Believe” are unconstitutional; here’s hoping the state doesn’t secede. [AP]
• Quentin Tarantino collaborator Eli Roth says that the filmmaker may put out a prequel to his World War II revenge fantasy Inglourious Basterds. Moviefone suggests a title: “Inglourious Feetuses.” [Moviefone]
• A new study has shown that nagging text messages imploring you to save money or take your meds can actually make an impact; Newsweek calls the idea “your Jewish mother, on your mobile.” Um, what’s new about that again? [Newsweek]
• The rise and fall in popularity of certain souvenirs at a shop in Gaza—from U.N. flags to mugs reading “SMILE You are in Largest Jail on Earth Gaza”—illustrates the changing political situation in the region. [NYT]

Rockin’ Rabbi Takes NYC Pulpit

Jazz fixture Greg Wall to head Lower East Side synagogue

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Wall at his installation ceremony on October 31.(NYTimes.com)

We’re not sure how we missed this New York Times blog post from Monday, which opens thusly: “At first glance, the term ‘jazz rabbi’ might seem incongruous.” Now, to those of us who eat, sleep, and breathe Jewish miscellanea, it actually kind of doesn’t. But still, we were curious to discover that avant-garde jazz musician Greg Wall has taken the pulpit as the rabbi of Sixth Street Community Synagogue, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The position combines his two relatively un-lucrative passions; “I still can’t quite make a living as a rabbi, though, so I need to have something to fall back on—like being a jazz musician,” he said to his new congregation at his inaugural event, a concert on Halloween featuring musicians from all over the world playing in a variety of eclectic styles.

Like John Coltrane, whose inclusion of a Jewish prayer in the liner notes to the album A Love Supreme inspired Wall, the rabbi, who was ordained in 2006, is thrilled to have found a way to express the religious feeling that he found through music: “If you start talking about spirituality during a show, then you’re seen as a fanatic, but if you’re a rabbi, they cut you some slack.”

An East Village Synagogue Gets a Jazzy Rabbi [NYT]
Related:
Live Wires
[Tablet]

Journos Fight Over Health Reform, Lieberman, Judaism

Jeffrey Goldberg, Dan Baum launch blog feud

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Atlantic national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg and journalist Dan Baum (who left the New Yorker under something of a cloud in 2007) are engaged in a Jew-on-Jew brawl, over health care and Joe Lieberman. Two days ago, Baum sent an email to Jewish friends and contacts imploring them to contact Lieberman and object to his pledge to filibuster a health care reform bill, which Lieberman has threatened to do if a bill contains any hint of a public option. “I’m the last guy in the world to try to organize people by religion, but we Jews may be the only people to whom Senator Joseph Lieberman might listen,” Baum wrote in the note, which he told us he sent to about 50 people.

Goldberg, who is also a Tablet Magazine contributing editor, objected to the faith-based corralling and posted what Baum calls a hostile attack on his Atlantic blog. Baum “may have revealed himself to be an ‘As-a-Jew,’ a particular Semitical sub-type,” Goldberg wrote. “As-a-Jews are people who invoke their heritage only when they feel a need to dump on another Jew, or a Jewish organization, or the Jewish state. It’s a low practice.”

Calling Goldberg’s post “despicable,” “vicious,” and “smarmy,” Baum confessed to us that he frankly didn’t understand it. “Yes, I am a Jew. I am appealing to other Jews to put pressure on a Jewish member of the Senate as Jews. I don’t know what a ‘Jew-type’ is,” he said. “If he supports Senator Lieberman’s position on health care, he should say so. But I don’t really know what he’s objecting to, unless he’s objecting to any kind of identity politics, in which case, that train’s done left the station.”

Reached by phone, Goldberg stated bluntly that he’s “for a single payer system. I’m for completely removing the profit motive,” and further explained that his post has nothing to do with Senator Lieberman or health care. What appalls him is Baum’s “ethnic bullying” with its implication that there is only one Jewish point of view on health care; such an approach diminishes Judaism, Goldberg said. Baum, he continued, is using his “blood ties to an ancient tribe to make a self-righteous point. You can’t have it both ways. Either you’re a member of the tribe and you live that membership in a kind of way or you don’t believe it’s a tie that binds and you don’t live in a way that suggests it’s a tie that binds. But to invoke your blood connection to Joe Lieberman seems kind of atavistic,” Goldberg said. “You can’t be Noam Chomsky and Abe Foxman in the same email.”

The Ineffable Dan Baum’s Latest Project [Atlantic]

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