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Livni Praises J Street

And implicitly disses Netanyahu

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Livni in Washington for the AIPAC conference in May.(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week Tzipi Livni, head of Israel’s Kadima party and opposition leader in the Knesset, attacked the Netanyahu government for isolating Israel on the world stage. “You have managed to beat the president of the United States, Israel’s greatest friend, or at least this is the impression you and your people tried to convey after the meeting,” she said during the opening of the Knesset. “You have managed to humiliate the only partner for a peace settlement Israel has. In short: We have beaten America, humiliated the Palestinians, isolated ourselves. Raise your head from the small politics and see what has happened, see that Israel is excommunicated.” This week, she’s continuing that line of attack, though a bit more subtly. While Netanyahu’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, very publicly declined an invitation to speak at next week’s J Street conference, sponsored by the left-leaning Israel lobby, Livni made a point of sending J Street’s founder and executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, a letter praising his group and apologizing for missing its confab. (Steve Clemens posted a copy of her note at The Huffington Post.) “In my view, the discussion within the pro-Israel community of what best advances Israel’s cause should be inclusive and broad enough to encompass a variety of views, provided it is conducted in a respectful and legitimate manner,” Livni wrote. In other words: I like you, even if closed-minded Bibi doesn’t.

Tzipi Livni Shows Prime Ministerial Stuff on J Street Conference [HuffPost]
Earlier: Oren Still Undecided on J Street Conference

Ortho Kids Like Ritual, Summer-Camp Study Shows

While Reform campers define Jewishness through success

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An Israeli sociologist has published a study based on surveys he conducted with more than 700 kids at Jewish summer camps across the United States. Campers were presented with a list of 132 symbols—a range incluiding a talis, the Talmud, a Star of David, the Holocaust, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen—and asked how much each one “expressed an aspect of their personal Jewish identity,” Ynet reports. The results are interesting: Kids at Orthodox summer camps identified their Jewishness primarily with religious practice, the Holocaust, Israel, and discrimination; at Conservative camps, they associated it with values like democracy, co-existence, ecology, and peace; Reform campers saw their Judaism best expressed through such achievements as wealth and success. Anne Frank and Hanukkah are apparently Reform, while Auschwitz and Talmud study are Orthodox.

Study: US Youth Differ in Perception of Jewish Identity [Ynet]

Tablet Today

As Jewish Body Week continues, the body falters

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As Jewish Body Week continues on Tablet Magazine, we’ve got an excerpt from the playwright Amy Fox’s novel in progress about a Jewish American that acquires a black-market kidney from a Palestinian child. Jo-Ann Mort writes about tattoos and why she decided to get one in Tel Aviv. In a Vox Tablet podcast from the archives, journalist Masha Gessen reflects on learning that she carried a genetic mutation that put her at high risk for cancer. And in an essay from the archives, Marco Roth tries to recall the day he learned his father was dying from AIDS. There will be more Jewish Body Week tomorrow, plus, as always, more on The Scroll all day long.

Israel, Iran Talk at Secret Atomic Meeting

‘Haaretz’ reports reps of both nations were at Cairo non-proliferation conference

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Last month, Israel and Iran both took part in a secret Cairo conference on nuclear non-proliferation—or, at least, so says the Israel Atomic Energy Commission and so Iran officially denies, according to Haaretz. Yael Doron, spokesman for the Israeli atomic group, insists that “no dialogue or interaction” took place between the enemy nations, while Ali Shirzdian of the Iranian Atomic Organization calls this disclosure “sheer lies” and ties it to a “psychological operation to undermine the successful [nuclear] meetings” that have taken place in Geneva and Vienna. Haaretz says that one noteworthy tete-à-tete did occur, between Meirav Zafary-Odiz, director of policy and arms control for the Israeli side, and Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency. They met “several times over September 29 and 30,” according to the paper, which also reports that though the two were not seen interacting together outside of the three closed panel sessions they attended, one eyewitness claims that in one session Soltanieh, the Iranian, asked Zafary-Odiz, the Israeli, “Do you or do you not have nuclear weapons?” Zafary-Odiz, the witness said, didn’t say anything, only smiled.

Iran, Israel Attend Secret Nuclear Meet in Cairo [Haaretz]

Checking In on Ariel Sharon

Four years after his stroke, he can wiggle his toes but not do much else

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Sharon lighting Hanukkah candles at his Jerusalem office, 2005.(Kevin Frayer-Pool/Getty Images)

Four years ago, a massive stroke sent Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s prime minister and one of the nation’s most decorated warriors, into a coma. The rapid pace of Israeli politics being what it is, Sharon quickly faded from the public’s consciousness; but now, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more mired than ever, there are those who look to the ailing Sharon for inspiration. If Sharon hadn’t suffered a stroke, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Daily Beast for a sort of profile of the comatose former leader, “I think we would have a Palestinian state.”

But Sharon can do very little nowadays. He is in what his doctors define as a “persistent vegetative state,” not precisely brain-dead but incapable of doing much more than occasionally wiggling his toes when asked to do so by a physician or a family member. A television set in his room broadcasts images of animals, particularly cows. His sons are by his side, trimming his hair and playing music for his enjoyment. “There is a feeling of communication, of realization—I mean, the eyes are open and there is kind of, like, you feel that he feels your presence,” said Dr. Shlomo Segev, Sharon’s longtime personal physician. “So it’s not completely what we call a coma. Not a deep coma, for sure. But if you asked me to quantify that, I cannot.”

Ariel Sharon’s Twilight Zone [Daily Beast]

Susan Rice Really Likes Shimon Peres

But has nothing to say about Netanyahu

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Rice speaking at Peres’s ‘Facing Tomorrow’ conference yesterday.(Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

This week, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, is in Israel, doing what diplomats do, which is not saying anything when you don’t have anything nice to say. Yesterday she met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who subsequently released a vague statement thanking Rice for a “very friendly” meeting and for the Obama Administration’s help fighting the allegations of war crimes leveled in the U.N.’s recent Goldstone report but saying nothing about a resumption of peace negotiations. Next Rice went to a big, fancy conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres and delivered a speech in which she didn’t mention Netanyahu but explained in great detail what an “inspiration and hero” Peres is. “I want to extend America’s deepest thanks for everything you do to move Israel and the world toward lasting security and peace,” she began, and went on to credit Peres with helping “bring Israel into being,” working with American presidents back to Kennedy, and even with helping pioneer the development of electric cars. (No, seriously!) “As President Peres always reminds us, being serious about peace means taking risks for peace,” she said. “We know what is holding us back: short-term, short-sighted definitions of self-interest.” Wonder who she could be talking about?

U.S. Envoy: Lip Service for Mideast Peace Not Enough [AP]
Remarks by Ambassador Susan E. Rice [State.gov]

Daybreak: Hymietown No More?

The end of New York’s Jewish voting bloc, plus Israel on Iran, a Chinese shift on Goldstone, and more in the news

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• New York City’s once-formidable Jewish vote “is declining in both significance and cohesiveness,” even as two-thirds are expected to vote for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. [Forward]
• Israeli officials believe Iranian nuclear negotiators are not interested in legitimacy, but in playing for time. [JPost]
• Though China previously voted to endorse the Goldstone Report at the U.N. Human Rights Council, it will oppose attempts to introduce it at the Security Council or any war-crimes trials. [Jewish Chronicle]
• But in an Al Jazeera interview, Richard Goldstone challenged the Obama administration to tell him where he’s wrong. [Haaretz]
• Trade through the estimated 1500 tunnels between Gaza and Egypt has never boomed more; the tunnels’ owners are Gaza’s “nouveau riche,” and are millionaires. [NYT]

Sundown: Oren Says No

Israel ambassador to skip J Street, plus planets’ names, Lambert’s laments, and more

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• Turns out the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, won’t speak at the J Street conference next week, after all. The embassy announced the final decision yesterday. [JPost]
• In honor of the International Year of Astronomy (who knew?), Uranus and Neptune will be given Hebrew names, the last two planets to get them. Vote for your favorite here. [JPost]
• Sometimes, former American Idol star Adam Lambert gets tired of all the attention he receives from Christians looking to save him from his raciness: “I’m Jewish, okay? I don’t need another crucifix! This is not an appropriate gift for me!” [Details]
• “[W]ithout meaningful services,” says the writer of an op-ed in the Jewish Week, “all you have is a community center with a Torah in it.” He advises Conservative rabbis to “focus on the eternal, not the topical,” and cantors to “try to impress the shul with the congregation’s singing, not yours.” [JW]
• An Israeli organization has arranged for seven people from Kaifeng, China, “home to a flourishing Jewish community for more than a millennium,” to make aliyah and convert. [Arutz 7]

Poets Protest J Street Cancellation

Plays are slated to take their place

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Three poets whose appearances were canceled at next week’s J Street conference in Washington aren’t happy about the situation—and they’re making sure people know it. The cancellation came last weekend, after Weekly Standard blogger Michael Goldfarb kicked up conservative ire over some of the poets’ work.

“If you’re trying to be an alternative to AIPAC, don’t behave like AIPAC,” poet Josh Healey, who was targeted by Goldfarb for comparing Israeli treatment of Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews, told Haaretz in an interview. Healey and his colleague Kevin Coval, who was criticized for comparing Israel to a whore, issued a long statement accusing J Street’s leadership of “caving in” to what they described as a McCarthyite witch hunt. (J Street officials explained on Monday that they were concerned about crossing the line between being provocative and offensive.)

Meanwhile, Tracy Soren—at 22, the youngest of the three, and just beginning her career as a professional poet—contacted Tablet Magazine to say she was surprised to have been caught up in the whole episode. “I’m not pleased with how this has gone,” said Soren in an interview, who focuses on sexual politics in her poetry and had planned to read a piece about an American trying to understand her Israeli lover’s experience on the battlefield. “I do feel [J Street] went along with the political right, and even though they have to choose their battles, I’m not surprised poetry was the first thing that got cut.”

Soren, who said she was active in her B’nai B’rith youth group as a high-schooler in Queens, added that she’d decided to skip the conference, even though organizers had assured her she was still welcome to attend. “The real issue here is that there’s no space for discussion,” Soren said. “Judaism teaches us to question things, and this was supposed to be a forum to question the conflict and not be called bad Jews. What I’m hoping comes out of this is that those who have been opposing what I was going to say see the peace within it, and that it’s more pro-Israel and pro-humanity than anything else.”

The poetry session will be replaced with a program of excerpts from productions staged by Theater J, a program run by the Jewish Community Center in Washington, D.C. Theater director Ari Roth, who was slated to moderate the poetry session, told Tablet he has proposed staging excerpts from four plays: David Hare’s 2000 play Via Dolorosa; Hare’s monologue Wall, published earlier this year in the New York Review of Books and performed at New York’s Public Theater; Motti Lerner’s Pangs of the Messiah; and Hillel Mitelpunkt’s The Accident.

J Street Conference Sessions [J Street]
Earlier: J Street Cancels Poetry Session [Tablet]

Hamas Must Investigate War Crimes, Too

HRW reminds prime minister that Goldstone Report found potential war crimes on both sides

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The human-rights world has spent the last month debating the Goldstone Report’s conclusions that Israel may have committed war crimes during its assault on Gaza last winter. Human Rights Watch is pointing out that the report accused Hamas fighters of potential war crimes, too. The group—which has lately been under fire for what critics call an anti-Israel bias—sent a letter yesterday to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, calling on Hamas to implement the Goldstone Report recommendations for a “thorough and impartial investigation” of its conduct during the conflict. “We welcome the October 15 statement from your foreign ministry, which says the authorities will conduct investigations into the allegations against the armed wing of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups,” said the letter, signed by HRW’s Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson. “We therefore call on Hamas to conduct thorough, independent and impartial investigations into alleged violations of international humanitarian law by members of the Qassam Brigades and other armed groups in Gaza, and to prosecute in conformity with international fair trial standards those found responsible for rocket attacks that target Israeli population centers, as recommended by the Goldstone report.”

The letter also directly addressed the question of whether the military wing of Hamas targets civilians with its Qassam rockets. “Human Rights Watch would also like to ask for clarification of recent statements by Hamas spokespersons that Hamas rocket attacks into southern Israel were intended to target Israeli military bases, but not Israeli civilians,” the letter said. “Previous statements by Hamas leaders, as well as our own research, indicate that rocket attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups deliberately targeted Israeli civilians or were launched towards Israeli population centers indiscriminately. The Goldstone report concluded that Hamas was responsible for serious violations of the laws of war, including war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, in connection with these rocket attacks directed against Israeli civilians.”

“Hamas, just like Israel, needs to make clear to its forces that unlawful attacks on civilians will not be ignored,” the letter said.

Hamas: Investigate Attacks on Israeli Civilians [HRW.org]
Letter to Prime Minister Haniya [HRW.org]

Ebony and Ivory

Mix in Sophie Okonedo’s latest role and in real life

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Okonedo at the U.K. premiere of Skin in July.(Tim Whitby/Getty Images)

The L.A. Jewish Journalgets a jump on the movie Skin, opening next week, with a profile of Sophie Okonedo, who stars with Sam Neill in the film about a biracial South African born to white parents in the 1950s. (The family had a black forbear of whom they were unaware.) The thorny questions of identity are ones Okonedo is familiar with—while her father is Nigerian, her Pilates-teaching, cartwheel-turning mother is Jewish, the daughter of Yiddish speakers whose own parents immigrated to London from Russia and Poland.

“Being raised in North London in the 1970s was much kinder than South Africa in the ’50s,” observes the actress, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Hotel Rwanda. “But it was helpful to understand what it is like to have a family that is a different color than you—and to question your heritage when people say, ‘That can’t possibly be your mum.’”

Jewish Actress Sophie Okonedo Explores Biracial Identity [Jewish Journal]

Erekat Arrives in D.C., Says He’ll Negotiate With U.S.

But not with Israel; meantime, Blair says final-status talks are near

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Erekat talking to George Mitchell in May.(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The Palestinian Authority is ready for talks with the United States but not with Israel, according to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who arrived in Washington yesterday to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other U.S. officials. Erekat said the top priority for making any headway on a final-status agreement with Israel is precisely the one that President Obama has backed away from in recent weeks: halting all settlement construction, according to a Palestinian newspaper quoted in Haaretz. “There are no interim solutions,” Erekat said. “It’s not a precondition for negotiations, but an explicit Israeli commitment that they have to meet.” In itself that’s something of a climb-down for the Palestinians, who have previously said that a settlement freeze was indeed a precondition. Add this nuance to the Palestinan Authoirty’s decision to defer a vote on the controversial Goldstone Report—the U.N. Human Rights Council document that alleges Israel committed war crimes in Gaza—and you have at least a gasping rationale for why Tony Blair, the Quartet Mideast envoy, said in Hebron yesterday that final-status talks are only weeks away.

Palestinian Official: We’re Ready for Talks With U.S., but Not Israel [Haaretz]

Israel Submits Arabic-Language Film for Oscars

BBC profiles ‘Ajami’

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Earlier this month, Israel for the first time chose an Arabic-language film, Ajami, as its Oscar submission; the movie was co-directed by Jewish and Arab filmmakers and follows a series of mafia-style killings in Ajami, an Israeli-Arab neighborhood in Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv. So what do Ajami’s residents think of the film? “It’s nothing but shooting and drugs, shooting and drugs—it’s true, but it will ruin our reputation,” one young man told the BBC for a feature that runs today. Some said it wasn’t political enough—“I’m shocked that Jews like the film more than Arabs, even though it shows that we are like this because of them!” another viewer reported, referring to the decades of martial law after Israel’s independence, followed by years of discrimination, that Israeli-Arabs in Jaffa have faced. And then there were the residents of Ajami who were actually in the film—the directors cast primarily non-professional actors who “were not given the script, just thrown into scenarios and told to react.” One woman who played a mother who’d lost her son to gang violence told the news service, “I was really crying, I wasn’t acting.”

Jewish-Arab Crime Film Captures Tensions [BBC]

Today on Tablet

Jewish Body Week continues with a video starring author A.J. Jacobs

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A.J. Jacobs on Jewish Body Week from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

In today’s Jewish Body Week video testimonial, author and Esquire editor A.J. Jacobs talks about his big Jewish beard. Tablet Magazine book critic Adam Kirsch considers Benjamin D. Sommer’s new book, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel. Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry talks to author Eliza Slavet about her Racial Fever: Freud and the Jewish Question and the great psychoanalyst’s theories on the inheritance of Jewishness. And we’ve got two favorites from the archives: Emory professor Sander L. Gilman’s essay on the ongoing fascination with Jews and intelligence, and a Vox Tablet interview with poet and professor Joy Ladin, who lived most of her life as a man, Jay. Jewish Body Week will continue tomorrow and Friday, and, of course, we’ll have more on The Scroll throughout today.

Did Dwek Get a Good Deal?

Informant in N.J. case gets years off sentence, but can’t go home again

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Let’s review: Solomon Dwek, the son of a prominent rabbi in the exceedingly insular and tight-knit Syrian Jewish community, gets wrapped up in some unsavory business (specifically, a multimillion-dollar real estate Ponzi scheme involving dozens of properties in northern New Jersey), and winds up getting arrested trying to kite more than $50 million in checks. Prosecutors tell Dwek he might face 30 years in prison, along with some hefty fines, if he’s convicted on the bank and mortgage fraud charges—never mind what else they might have found on him—but, you know, they’d be willing to consider a deal if he has anything interesting to tell them. Dwek, a burly 37-year-old, promptly decides to go undercover and participate in a three-year sting operation that expanded over time to include not just his own business partners, but five senior rabbis, including the 87-year-old chief rabbi of the American Syrian community, and what seems like half the elected officials in northern New Jersey.

And what did that assistance buy? Dwek pleaded guilty yesterday on one count each of money laundering and bank fraud; he is now a pariah in his community, where his own father publicly referred to him as though he were dead (though he did not actually sit shiva, contrary to some reports). And since all these people are so angry at him, he’s now apparently living under federal protection. Plus, it turns out, the U.S. Attorney’s office still plans to recommend that the presiding judge sentence Dwek to serve between 105 and 135 months in prison—which is a little less than nine years or a little more than 11, give or take whatever extra they offer for his services as a trial witness, if needed.

In other words, he got about 70 percent off. We think that sounds like a great setup for a MasterCard “priceless” ad, but apparently Peter Willis, a lawyer representing two politicians ensnared in the case, thinks it’s a bargain. “The U.S. attorneys gave him his Hanukkah gift early this year,” Willis told the Star-Ledger. “That is pretty lenient.”

Details Revealed on Solomon Dwek, Informant in N.J. Corruption Probe, After Guilty Pleas [NJ.com]
Earlier: What’s Next for the Syrian Jews?

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