Obama, Netanyahu Meet, Stay Silent

All we know is they talked about Iran and peace

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Washington for the Jewish federations’ annual General Assembly this week, went to the White House last night for a meeting with President Barack Obama. The two men were joined by senior staffers—including Israel’s American-born ambassador, Michael Oren—and talked for about an hour and forty minutes. What did they talk about? Well, that’s what no one knows. The meeting was closed to press, and there were no pre- or post-visit press conferences held by either party—though, up until late yesterday, the Israelis were telling reporters they expected to hold a public debriefing of some kind. That appears to have been scrapped, and Netanyahu is on his way to Paris, where he’s scheduled to meet tomorrow with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Why? No one seems quite sure about that, either. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs chalked it up to the last-minute nature of the meeting—which wasn’t confirmed until Sunday, prompting plenty of grumbling from pundits who saw it as a White House effort to put Netanyahu at a disadvantage.

In any case, the only account of what happened last night has come from the White House, which issued the following terse statement:

“The President and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed a number of issues in the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship. The President reaffirmed our strong commitment to Israel’s security, and discussed security cooperation on a range of issues. The President and Prime Minister also discussed Iran and how to move forward on Middle East peace.”

There you have it.

Readout of the President’s Meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu []
Earlier: Bibi on Peace: ‘Let’s Get on With It’

Today on Tablet

Legacies explored


Adam Kirsch looks at a new study on Kristallnacht in honor of the anniversary of the pogrom. Marissa Brostoff reports on a documentary project undertaken by two best friends, one Jewish, one the granddaughter of a Nazi. And as ever, stay tuned to our blog, The Scroll.

After Abbas, the End of the Palestinian Authority?

Fatah officials speculate Authority will collapse without him

Fatah supporters at a rally in Ramallah yesterday.(

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who announced last week that he won’t be a candidate for another term in the election he has called for January, is likely to resign his office in the next month or so, Ethan Bronner reports in today’s New York Times. In last week’s reports, Bronner’s sources suggested that while Abbas wasn’t bluffing with his announcement, it was also unlikely that the election would happen as scheduled, keeping the president in office longer. Worse, Bronner’s sources are now speculating that Abbas’s resignation could mean the end of the Palestinian Authority. “I think he is realizing that he came all this way with the peace process in order to create a Palestinian state, but he sees no state coming,” longtime Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Times. “So he really doesn’t think there is a need to be president or to have an Authority. This is not about who is going to replace him. This is about our leaving our posts. You think anybody will stay after he leaves?”

Palestinian Authority’s Future in Question [NYT]

Daybreak: Obama Praises Jewish Federations

Plus an unproductive talk, the shooter’s past, and more in the news


• President Barack Obama met briefly with Jewish federation leaders in Washington yesterday and acknowledged their “countless hours of tzedakah.” [JTA]
• Rep. Dennis Kucinich has canceled his keynote speech at a Democratic fundraiser in Florida after some politicians there complained about his criticism of Israel. [JTA]
• Obama’s meeting with Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday “failed to provide any sign of progress toward reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.” [Reuters]
• The U.S. government had previously looked into alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan for his ties to radical anti-American Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and had determined that there was no cause for concern. [NYT]

Sundown: Anne Frank for the ‘Gossip Girl’ Age

Plus a Clinton cancellation, Wiesel mocked, and more


• Thought there were enough versions of the Diary of Anne Frank? Not so, says Masterpiece Theatre, whose new rendition, set to air in April, portrays the Holocaust victim as a “feisty teenager” as opposed to a “tragic Jewish saint.” [NYPost]
• Bill Clinton and George W. Bush canceled a joint appearance sponsored by the American Jewish University in part because the event was marketed as “the hottest ticket in political history,” which Clinton felt implied that a fight would ensue. A promoter can dream, right? [JTA]
• Elie Wiesel criticized the Teabaggers for using images of Holocaust victims to protest President Obama’s health care plan; they responded on Politico, calling him “disgusting PR-seeking profiteering demagogue” and a “tool of the sick, perverted, racist, anti-semetic Democrap [sic] party.” One hit below the belt: “Elie, how did that whole Madoff thing work out for you?” [America Blog]
• In honor of the New York Times finally noticing the story of the British school that brought the question “Who is a Jew?” to its nation’s supreme court, Gawker offers a quiz where you can assess your own Jewiness based on what you eat for breakfast and your opinion of Larry David. [Gawker]
• Nobel prize winning physicist Vitaly Ginzburg has died at age 93; he had said that the importance of his work in creating the hydrogen bomb for the Soviets saved him from being imprisoned (or worse) during their campaign against Jews. [AFP]

British Court Considers What Makes a Jew

And makes an observer proud to be an American, where there’s church-state separation


Reading about the “Who is a Jew?” case now before British Supreme Court, the American observer can’t help but feel a little smug. Ah, if only they did things our way and kept church and state separate, the American thinks, they wouldn’t be in this mess. But, then, at a time when the push for charter schools (in some cases religiously inflected ones) is gaining steam on this side of the pond, it probably behooves us to take a look at what’s going on over there with some sympathy.

To recap: the case in question concerns a 12-year-old boy, referred to court documents simply as “M,” whose application to London’s Jews’ Free School was rejected on the ground that his mother’s conversion to Judaism was not overseen by Orthodox rabbis. The case has forced a reexamination of whether Judaism is a religion, a race, or an ethnicity. And if there’s anything recent history has taught us, it’s that such discussions rarely yield easy answers.

Among the curious facets of the case is a 2006 law stipulating that in busy years parochial schools—which in Britain receive public funding—can give preference to applicants based on religiously-based criteria. In busy years. But what about the light years? Does the law not force the religious authorities in charge of parochial schools to accept students they would otherwise deem ineligible?

One of the more misguided-seeming solutions to the problem of how to gauge Jewishness if not by matrilineal decent was the Court of Appeals’ introduction of a “religious practice test,” which gives points for things like going to synagogue and doing charitable work. Under such a test, who is deemed most worthy? The student who donates the most? Who prays the longest? The flagellant?

Among those painted as hardliners in the ongoing debate is a Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet. To underscore his point that matrilineal descent is all that concerns him, and that observance matters not at all, he has said that “having a ham sandwich on the afternoon of Yom Kippur doesn’t make you less Jewish.”

To our mind, the rabbi makes a valid point. There’s just one problem: his position seems to be at odds with his country’s laws.

Who Is a Jew? Court Ruling in Britain Raises Question [NYT]

Dead Sea Scroll Controversy Takes Tangled Turn Online

Prof’s son arrested, ‘Times’ reports


Court papers were filed this week in the case of Raphael Golb, who’s accused of impersonating academic rivals online in attempt to discredit their view of the Dead Sea Scrolls’ origins. Golb’s father is a University of Chicago professor who takes the unpopular view that the scrolls were produced by libraries in Jerusalem and were hidden in caves outside the city when the Romans took over in the year 70. The more standard theory is that the scrolls were authored by a sect called the Essenes, who lived near the same caves. The younger Golb allegedly created some 50 online aliases, including both non-existent supporters of his father and pseudo-versions of his father’s critics, in a convoluted case the New York Times reported on yesterday. The most inflammatory charge against Golb, who was arrested in March and is being prosecuted by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, is that he created a false email address for New York University professor Lawrence H. Schiffman and circulated emails from that address “confessing” to plagiarism. Weirder still, the articles the fake Schiffman admitted to plagiarizing were in fact written by Golb under another of his many aliases. Golb’s lawyers are arguing that he was simply a parodist and that no harm was meant.

2,000-Year-Old Scrolls, Internet-Era Crime [NYT]

Bibi on Peace: ‘Let’s Get on With It’

G.A. responds enthusiastically, except for one protestor

Netanyahu preparing to speak today.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was only about four minutes into his speech to the General Assembly of the Jewish federations this morning before he was interrupted by a lone protestor carrying a red, hand-lettered sign, flashing a peace sign, and shouting “Shame on you! Stop the rape of Gaza!” The audience at a Washington Marriott closed ranks around the politician almost as fast as security tackled the man—one person shouted, “We love you, Bibi!” while others booed loudly—and Netanyahu, who seemed entirely unruffled, responded archly: “I was better received at the United Nations than here.”

Which wasn’t true, of course. At the United Nations last month, whole delegations left in a silent boycott of Netanyahu’s address, which included a show-and-tell of documents proving the Nazis’ plans to liquidate the Jews of Europe; in Washington, the audience sat rapt as he insisted that he was ready to get down to brass tacks with his Palestinian counterparts about creating an independent Palestinian state. As in his address at Bar-Ilan University last June, Netanyahu was clear about his parameters: no preconditions, no right of return for refugees, total demilitarization of Palestinian territory, and recognition of the Jewish state. But progress, he insisted, as he has for several months now, is entirely in the hands of the Palestinians, and specifically to Mahmoud Abbas, the embattled president of the Palestinian Authority. “My goal is to achieve a permanent peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, and soon,” Netanyahu said, to applause. “I cannot be more emphatic on this point—but to get to a peace agreement, we have to start negotiating a peace agreement. We have to stop negotiating about the negotiations. Let’s get on with it! Let’s move!” The assembled Jewish leaders cheered.

Man of the Past [Tablet]
Obliging Obama [Tablet]

Should Nazi Ties Discredit Heidegger?

Debate grows with publication of new book, ‘Times’ reports


The long-simmering debate over Martin Heidegger’s legitimacy in the pantheon of modern philosophers is getting renewed attention with the imminent translation into English of a book arguing that Heidegger’s Nazi Party membership should discredit his entire body of work. Emmanuel Faye’s Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy, published in French four years ago, “calls on philosophy professors to treat Heidegger’s writings like hate speech,” writes Patricia Cohen today in the New York Times. “Libraries, too, should stop classifying Heidegger’s collected works (which have been sanitized and abridged by his family) as philosophy and instead include them under the history of Nazism,” Cohen notes the book argues. Faye’s approach is the most radical yet toward stripping Heidegger of his towering stature in modern thought and culture, Cohen writes; his influence extends to disciplines beyond philosophy, including psychoanalysis, poetry, and architecture. Faye’s opponents recognize the difficulty of considering Heidegger’s oeuvre without acknowledging the genocidal machine of which he was a part, but don’t believe that his Nazi sympathies underlie or undermine all of his works. Faye’s supporters, on the other hand, say Heidegger’s toxicity is so thorough, it infects everything, even the way we read the esteemed Jewish thinker Hannah Arendt, who was Heidegger’s protégé and lover, and who worked to help him restore his reputation after the war.

An Ethical Question: Does a Nazi Deserve a Place Among Philosophers? [NYT]
Related: Hot for Teacher [Tablet]

Today on Tablet

Books, boxing, and bodies


On our weekly podcast, Vox Tablet, Matt Lieber reports on boxer Yuri Foreman, who is also in training to become an Orthodox rabbi. Marjorie Ingall speaks out in favor of organ donation. Books columnist Josh Lambert reads up on liturgy, pop music, and the Jewishness of Jewish poets. And more to come throughout the day on The Scroll.

Oren, Cantor Focus on Iranian Threat

In G.A. addresses yesterday

Oren speaking yesterday.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, and Virginia congressman Eric Cantor, the only Republican Jewish member of the House of Representatives, delivered a pair of addresses yesterday at the opening of the Jewish federation system’s annual three-day General Assembly meeting, held this year in Washington. More than 3,000 people involved with the federation system—the 155 local Jewish community agencies throughout the United States and Canada, and the second-largest charitable network in North America—heard both men play Cassandra on Iran rather than to wade into the stickier questions of what, exactly, is happening with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and what might happen later today, when President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the subject.

Cantor drew a stark comparison between Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the Holocaust, warning the audience that “it may be too late” to halt Iran from developing nuclear weapons that could annihilate both Israel and the United States. “Have we not been down this road before?” he asked. He argued the Iranian question wasn’t a Jewish cause or an Israeli one but an American one, and asked the audience to “discard ideology,” as well as political correctness, and move toward—well, it wasn’t clear whether he wanted sanctions or something a little tougher. Oren, for his part, was explicit about what he wants, at least as a first step: “Ask for synagogues and your schools and community centers, alongside those banners proclaiming an end to the genocide in Darfur, an end to the AIDS epidemic in Africa, there must also hang banners declaring support international sanctions and stop the Iranian bomb.”

Cantor Wants Jews to Act Before It Is ‘Too Late’ [JTA]

Louis Armstrong’s First Influence: Jewish Peddlers

Says Terry Teachout in ‘Commentary’

Armstrong in concert in Paris, 1965(AFP/Getty Images)

How did Louis Armstrong surmount pervasive racism to become the greatest jazz musician of the 20th century? Critic Terry Teachout, author of an upcoming biography of Satchmo, writes in the new issue of Commentary that one of the the musical prodigy’s first inspirations was a Jewish peddler family he worked for as a boy in New Orleans. In a recollection about his relationship with the Karnofskys, “Louis Armstrong + the Jewish Family,” Satchmo told how at 7 years old, he recognized “the ungodly treatment that the White Folks were handling the poor Jewish family that I worked for. They were always warm and kind to me, which was very noticeable to me, he fondly recalled, just a kid who could use a little word of kindness.”

The experience was so transformative that Armstrong became a lifelong philo-Semite who wore a Star of David around his neck, given to him by his Jewish manager. But Armstrong’s relationship with the Karnovksys extended beyond personal affection. Teachout writes that Armstrong greatly admired how Jews overcame prejudice by banding together, seeking to better their lot through work. He was dismayed, by contrast, Teachout argues, with black reactions to racism, writing in his memoirs that “the Negroes always wanted pity, [doing] that in place of going to work.” Armstrong developed his open-mindedness and “gospel of self-help,” Teachout says, from the Jews.

Satchmo and the Jews [Commentary]
Related: A Fine Romance

Daybreak: Obama Cancels G.A. Talk

Plus Tom Friedman gives up on peace negotiations, and more in the news


• President Barack Obama canceled his appearance at the Jewish federations’ General Assembly, planned for tomorrow, in order to attend a memorial for the victims of the Fort Hood shooting. He’ll still meet with Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington today. [JTA]
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman thinks the White House should give up on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, at least for now. [NYT]
• The great-grandson of Richard Wagner protested the use of the composer’s “chauvinistic war-mongering music” at an event marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, calling his great-grandfather a “militant anti-Semite.” [JTA]
• Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, implored his constituents to eat less meat to help the environment. [JTA]
• A Spanish-language eBook version of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf illustrated by a swastika image was for sale on Apple’s App Store on Friday; by Saturday it had disappeared, possibly due to outrage in the blogosphere. [JPost]

Sundown: Reform Jews Call For Equality for Israeli Arabs

Plus Israel’s minority, an Olympian soundtrack, and more


• The Union for Reform Judaism has passed its first resolution calling for equal treatment of Israeli Arabs in the Jewish state. [JTA]
Entertainment Weekly asked Matisyahu, whose song “One Day” is being used to advertise the 2010 Winter Olympics: “So, how did a Jewish reggae guy end up as the official soundtrack to lugeing, curling, and freestyle skiing?” We can’t imagine what the mag is implying about Jews and extreme sports. [EW]
• Peter Kaplan, former editor of the New York Observer, commented on the goings-on at his old rag: “He never thought he’d see the headline ‘Jewish Publisher Hires Pope,’” reports a blogger. He was referring to the paper’s owner Jared Kushner’s selection of Kyle Pope as the new editor, but this headline is not that far off. [Portfolio]

U.K. Kids Think Auschwitz Is Theme Park

But only some of them, in a multiple-choice poll

(Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images)

If kids say the darnedest things, they’re bound to get even darned-er if you feed them funny potential answers to serious questions: A multiple-choice survey of 2,000 9- to 15-year-old children in the United Kingdom found that “while a majority of children have basic knowledge about the two world wars, a significant minority have no clue.”

One stat has us sincerely hoping that the children being surveyed were showing off their senses of humor: “77 percent of the children aged 9-15 recognised Hitler as leader of the Nazi party, but 13.5 percent thought he invented gravity in 1650 and seven percent thought he coached Germany’s football team.” Another seems oddly revealing about how the Holocaust is treated: “Auschwitz was correctly identified by 70 percent—but 15 percent thought it was a WWII-based theme park.” A third is simply baffling: “61 percent knew who Goebbels was but 21 percent thought he was a ‘well-known Jew who wrote a diary in the attic.’” Perhaps we’re biased, but it’s hard to imagine anyone not having a pretty clear idea who Anne Frank was, what with the constant media attention given to the girl and her diary.

Of course before proceeding to mock the sad state of education in the United Kingdom, consider the fact that more than 90 percent of respondents know who Winston Churchill is. We’re not sure the same can be said about school children on this side of the pond.

Kids Think Hitler Was German Football Coach: Poll [AFP]

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