Sundown: Obama Honoree Under Fire

Plus, Hamas shows two faces


• Some, including President George W. Bush’s Jewish Liason, are upset that President Obama is giving Mary Robinson a Presidential Medal of Freedom. A one-time president of Ireland, Robinson has been criticized for permitting the 2001 anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa to be dominated by anti-Semitism. [JTA]
• Hamas’s leader said his group would sit down to negotiations with Israel pending a settlement freeze and the lifting of the Gaza blockade, and that a state based on the 1967 Green Line could be on the table. [Wall Street Journal]
• However, Hamas also threatened to boycott talks with Fatah unless the rival Palestinian faction releases prisoners currently being held in the West Bank. [Haaretz]
• Orthodox rabbinate-certified “kosher” cellphones—which cannot access the Internet, so that children are not privy to inappropriate material—are all the rage in Britain, with even non-Jewish parents wanting them. [Vos Iz Neias]

Uncle Bloomberg Wants YOU

Mayor seeks campaign workers. Yiddish preferred.

Bloomberg for Mayor(Bloomberg talks to a prized constituent)

In his quest to secure a third term as mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg has apparently decided that he requires more than his Jewish background to woo the city’s not-insignificant bloc of Yiddish- and Hebrew-speaking voters. To that end, and perhaps also to do his small part to fight the recession, Bloomberg is hiring staffers to work the field in Brooklyn and Queens. For the job, which pays by the hour, Yiddish or Hebrew is preferred; you ought to be “well-spoken, persuasive, confident, and hardworking”; and you’re ideally available to work “afternoons and evenings (excluding Fridays and Saturdays) through November 3rd.” It’s good to know that even for hard-working politickers, Shabbat can still be a day of rest.

Bloomberg Campaign Seeks ‘Persuasive’ Hebrew/Yiddish Speakers [The Daily Politics]

Jewish Crooks

Our editor ponders Madoff, Dwek, and other shandes


New York has posted an article from next week’s issue by Tablet Magazine editor-in-chief, Alana Newhouse. The subject is Bernard Madoff and New Jersey’s Syrian-Jewish money-laundering ring, and specifically how Jews reconcile the existence of such prominent Jewish wrongdoers with the Tribe’s penchant for believing themselves to be “chosen.” According to Alana, the paradox comes down to the double-edged sword of Jewish exceptionalism. “Maybe we can’t have Philip Roth and Leonard Bernstein without Bernie Madoff and the informant behind the Jersey busts, Solomon Dwek,” she writes. While specific historical factors planted the seeds for Jews’ undeniable political, scientific, and cultural success, “those very same factors might have predisposed them to distinction in less-savory domains,” she adds.

But, as they say, read the whole thing. Please check out our coverage of the Dwek fiasco as well. For a people who claim to be ashamed of such characters, we sure do talk about them a lot.

Bad for the Jews? [New York]
Previously: Crisis of Faith
About Us: Alana Newhouse

Self-Loving Emanuel No ‘Self-Hating Jew’

Bibi denies earlier remark; profile proves it wrong

Rahm Emanuel in full macher mode(Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

The Benjamin Netanyahu-Rahm Emanuel “self-hating Jews” kerfuffle continued apace this week. To recap: earlier this month, according to Haaretz, Netanyahu called Emanuel, President Obama’s chief-of-staff, and David Axelrod, Obama’s top political adviser, “self-hating Jews.” Then, earlier this week, a spokesperson for Bibi denied that his boss said it. And today Haaretz runs a massive profile of Emanuel that quotes Emanuel’s father—a one-time member of the Irgun, the militant Zionist group of Mandatory Palestine—and others on the subject of just how ridiculous the notion of “Rahm Emanuel, self-hating Jew” is. “I’m simply surprised that in Israel they jump down his throat,” Benjamin Emanuel tells the newspaper of his son. “I love the country, my children are Zionists, they came to Israel every year, and I don’t know why they’re attacking Rahm. I support Netanyahu.”

The lengthy piece mostly focuses on the crazed, brilliant, mad, pleased-with-himself Emanuel rather than this contretemps specifically, and it contains little that will be news to those of us who have read the umpteen profiles of Emanuel that have showed up in the American press. But appearing in Israel, in the same newspaper that originally broke the alleged “self-hating Jews” remark, the article could repudiate not only Netanyahu’s particular characterization of Emanuel but perhaps also Netanyahu’s larger attempt to discredit the U.S.’s calls for a more moderate approach to the Palestinian question.

Rahm Emanuel: Self-Hating Jew or Peace-Broker? [Haaretz]
Spokesman Denies Bibi’s “Self-Hating Jews” Remark [JTA]
Previously: D.C.’s ‘Self-Hating Jews’

Auschwitz Survivor Brutally Murdered

90-year-old ran one of NYC’s hottest discos


Sad and horrifying news: a 90-year-old man named Guido Brinkmann who survived Auschwitz (and even met his wife there), and then went on to run one of New York City’s hottest discos, was found bludgeoned to death in his New York apartment yesterday. His club, Adam’s Apple, was integral to the popularization of “The Hustle“ (as in, do it!) in the late 1970s. The irony in Brinkmann’s life trajectory was not lost on a friend, who told the New York Daily News, “They pulled him off the extermination line four times. He survived and these creeps killed him.” (Police don’t yet know who “these creeps“ are—the murder appeared to be part of a robbery.) While people have certainly been treated to better deaths, at least we can be thankful for the six post-Auschwitz decades that Brinkmann was lucky—the word seems odd in this context, but it is apt—to get.

Nazi Survivor, Guido Brinkmann, 90, Slain on Upper E. Side [NY Daily News]

‘Heeb’ Explains Hitler Image

Yes, that’s Roseanne dressed as the Führer


Certainly Heeb magazine intended to provoke when it included a photograph in their latest number, “The German Issue”, of comedienne Roseanne Barr dressed as Hitler and taking burned, man-shaped cookies out of the oven. (To see the image, click here.) Admirably, the New York City-based “satirical Jewish culture magazine” readily admitted to pushing the envelope for pushing the envelope’s sake: doing so is part of its quest, its publisher explains in a blogpost, to be a magazine that “interrogates stereotypes and ideas (hopefully in creative ways) that many hold sacred in order to represent the complex and nuanced perspectives that many Jews have about their identities.” As another example, he cited a past image of Jewish actor Jonah Hill dressed as Moses and holding the two tablets, which in Heeb are replaced with two kegs of beer.

The Barr photo, the publisher said, was meant to question “whether something new was happening in the culture—whether the taboo against joking about the Holocaust and the Nazis exerted as much power as it used to.” While that’s a legitimate mission, it was probably clear that the Holocaust taboo had weakened over 40 years ago, when Mel Brooks’s The Producers was released. Which brings us to our only question about the Barr image: what, actually, is the joke? Unlike The Producers, in which the humor is as obvious as the offensiveness, the Barr image is arresting and provocative but little more. We agree that people would be wrong to accuse Heeb of ill intentions. But Heeb should be less worried about such overt critics and more concerned about those who take a look, register the image, and then move on to something else that doesn’t commit the lesser sin of protesting too much.

Heeb Publisher Comes Clean on Barr Brouhaha [Heeb]

Today in Tablet

Modest ‘Blossom’, cups of Israeli Joe, and more


In Tablet Magazine today, Mayim Bialik, who starred in the early-‘90s series Blossom, relays how her religiously-motivated modest dress can conflict with her career. Douglas Century wraps up his saga on Israel’s criminal underground (previous sections: 1; 2; 3; 4). Betcha can’t read just one of Liel Leibovitz’s articles today: please enjoy both his weekly midrash—this week’s parasha features Moses’s farewell speech—and his meditation on the relationship between Israeli identity and coffee. And if blogposts are volumes, then The Scroll will be speaking volumes throughout the day.

Madonna’s First Israeli Column

Has zeal of the sort-of converted


In the first of her “Exclusive” columns for Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, Madonna narrates the road-to-Damascus—or, in her case, dinner-party-in-L.A.—moment when it became clear to her that, because of Kabbalah, the ancient strain of mystical Judaism, “my life would never be the same.” It was 14 (yes, only 14) years ago. She had just finished filming Evita and was pregnant with daughter Lourdes. She “was looking for an answer,” and not to the question of who was catering this fabulous food. Woman tells her about class; Madonna starts attending; she gets hooked; etc. “I also began to see that being Rich and Famous wasn’t going to bring me lasting fulfillment and that it was not the end of the journey; that it was the beginning of the journey,” she writes. She praises Michael Berg, the son of Hollywood-Kabbalah founder “Rav” Berg, for being perhaps “the smartest person I know,” who “is as comfortable and knowledgeable about discussing the teachings of the Ari as he is of discussing his favorite Seinfeld episode” (for the record, it’s the one where Jerry’s car smells really bad).

So, yeah. Kinda wacky, mostly harmless. Pretty much what you’d expect.

I Found An Answer [ynet]

Daybreak: The ‘Times’ Makes Some Suggestions

Turkey wants in, Lieberman picks a fight, and more


The New York Times’s lead editorial commends President Obama’s call for a settlement freeze, but finds “little sign” of progress and suggests explaining to Israelis “why freezing settlements and reviving peace talks is clearly in their interest.” [NYT]
• Turkey requested of Egypt that it become a mediator between warring Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas. Egypt is currently the sole mediator. [JTA]
• Obama has yet to name a Congressionally-mandated Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, angering some activists. [JPost]
• Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez of anti-Semitism (a subject we discussed yesterday) to a Bolivian newspaper during a South America trip. [Arutz Sheva]

Sundown: Israel Practices Self-Defense

Madonna the columnist, the Coen Bros., and more


• Israel published a 160-page report justifying last January’s three-week military incursion into Gaza and reporting the results of several related investigations. The report comes in advance of two United Nations papers on the action that are expected not to be so kind. [JTA]
• Madonna, pop mega-star and Hollywood-style Kabbalist, will publish the first installment of a new column in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot tomorrow. [NYPost]
• The World Health Organization asserted that Israel’s blockade of Gaza has limited the importation of needed medical supplies. Israel denied the accusation. [Haaretz]
• Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins admitted he “screwed up” the management of the Crown Heights riots of 1991, which pitted African-Americans against Hasidic Jews. It will appear in the first line of his obituary, he said. [Ben Smith]
• The trailer for the Coen Brothers’ new movie, A Serious Man, dropped. Set to premiere in October, it is about a Jewish man in 1967 who consults with rabbis in his quest to become a mensch. [Apple]
• Some guy with a 200mm camera lens took really awesome pictures of Israeli Air Force planes conducting exercises in the Nevada sky. [The Jewish Star]

Obama To Honor Harvey Milk

Famed gay activist was also a Jew

Harvey Milk, 1978.(Daniel Nicoletta via Wikimedia Commons; some rights reserved.)

Harvey Milk, the San Francisco gay-rights activist slain in 1978 by a fellow city Supervisor—and, of course, played by Sean Penn in last year’s Milk—will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His nephew will accept the honor at the White House on August 12 along with Sen. Ted Kennedy, Sidney Poitier, and other luminaries. Milk is primarily known for his work on behalf of gays, as well as for being the first openly gay non-incumbent elected to public office in America. (Indeed, one very much suspects that Milk’s selection for the Medal was driven in part by President Obama’s need to shore up gay support, which has waned in recent months; former tennis star and lesbian activist Billie Jean King will also receive it this year). But Milk, originally from Woodmere, N.Y., on Long Island, was also Jewish. Last year, the Forward reported that while Milk had no interest in formal religion, his Jewishness was integral to his “profound sense of himself as an outsider.”

Harvey Milk To Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom [Towleroad]
Harvey Milk, in Life and on Film, Typified the Proud Jew as Outsider [Forward]

Organ Donation’s Legality, Jewish and Otherwise

Arrested kidney broker raises big questions


Perhaps the most memorable of the 44 people arrested in last week’s FBI sting was the Orthodox Brooklynite accused of trying to sell a human kidney for $160,000. Such a transaction would violate a U.S. law, similar to those in most developed countries, banning the sale of human organs. A piece in today’s The New York Times poses the question of whether such prohibitions really make sense. The argument for keeping them on the books is simple and powerful: as the Times puts it, “society’s poorest people should not be enticed to sell their own bodies and … its richest should not be able to buy their way out of the existing system.” But these bans have not prevented an estimated 10% of the 63,000 kidneys transplanted annually in the world from having been illegally purchased; nor have they prevented the rich from buying organs from the poor—if anything, the bans exacerbate that dynamic by globalizing it, with the rich in rich countries buying from the poor in poor countries (where selling is legal). Additionally, one need not be an Ayn Rand acolyte to sympathize with a decriminalization argument premised on free markets and personal liberty. Finally, legalizing the practice would lower long wait times (an average of nine years in New York state), probably save lives, and, by bringing already-existent organ-selling under regulation, make it safer.

Meanwhile, last week Slate tackled the question of whether organ donation, illegal or not, accords with Jewish law. As to Jews serving as organ donors, the short answer is, Yes, Jewish law permits it, despite the claims of some that one may only be buried with all one’s organs. As to Jews selling their organs, the question is more complicated, though there is an argument that it can be considered okay if done under the Jewish injunction to do practically anything you can to save a life. Yet despite organ-donation’s kosher status, Jews are significantly less likely to be donors than Gentiles: only 8% of Israelis hold donor cards, compared to 35% of the residents of most Western nations.

The Halachic Organ Donor Society exists to educate Jews and to encourage Jewish organ donation to Jews and non-Jews. They are doing the Lord’s work in several senses of the phrase. Certainly it would be a great pity, and a real damage done, if the sordid example of one disgraced Brooklyn kidney broker dissuaded Jews, or anyone else, from making a decision that could save one life (and save the world entire).

Worldwide Market Fuels Illegal Traffic in Organs [NYT]
Organ Failure [Slate]
Whistle-Blowing Prof Played Key Role in Trafficking Case [JTA]
Previously: Insider Led Agents to Rabbis, Pols

Israel, U.S. At Odds on Iran

Week of meetings produces no consensus

Benjamin Netanyahu(Atef Safadi - Pool/Getty Images)

In contrast to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meetings in Jerusalem earlier this week with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Special Envoy George Mitchell, his chat yesterday with President Obama’s National Security Advisor, Gen. James Jones, was decidedly low-key and “private,” raising the question of whether more frank words were exchanged. Jones’s mission in Israel was mainly to discuss Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program: “Gates’s and Jones’s separate visits come amid ever rising speculation over whether Israel intends to strike Iranian nuclear facilities,” Haaretz notes. On Monday Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak pointedly refused to take military options for dealing with Iran off the table, and former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, a prominent hawk who advocates such a move, recently professed, “it will be no surprise if Israel strikes by year’s end.” An attack is very likely to be opposed by the Obama administration (as it was by George W. Bush’s). The U.S. and Israel may be talking about this issue at the highest levels, but that is no guarantee that they will end up agreeing.

Netanyahu, Mideast Security Advisor Meet on Iran, Israel Peace [Haaretz]
It’s Crunch Time for Israel on Iran [WSJ]
Previously: Gates in Jerusalem Today

The Real Michael Savage Stands Up

The Jewish right-wing pundit as classic neocon


People usually put radio host Michael Savage in the company of other bombastic conservative broadcasters like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. But in a brilliant profile in this week’s New Yorker, writer Kelefa Sanneh places Savage—born Michael A. Weiner to Jewish immigrants who ran a Lower East Side antique store and voted Democratic—in the much more interesting company of Jewish reactionaries (in the literal sense of the term) like Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol, and David Horowitz. Savage started out as a member of the 1960s and ‘70s counterculture, Sanneh reports: after graduating from Queens College he moved to the Bay Area, earned a Ph.D. in nutritional ethnomedicine from Berkeley, and authored numerous holistic health books. His political turn came in the early 1980s, when many patients began turning up at his San Francisco clinic with mysterious illnesses. Savage hypothesized—correctly, of course—that the disease was spreading through the city’s gay bathhouses, and it was his failed attempt to get San Francisco to shutter them that sent him on his rightward journey, eventually landing him in his current province of nativist, anti-affirmative action, media-hating talk.

Still, Sanneh argues that underneath all the bluster Savage is still just a neurotic New York Jew: one who peppers his show with references to shaygitzes and Shabbes goys; who flinches when remembering the time his car backfired in front of a shul on Yom Kippur, and who used to drop by Chabad services; who is preoccupied with his father’s early death and his own mortality. So what’s the difference between Savage and his Jewish neocon comrades? In the podcast that accompanies the story, Sanneh says it’s simple: “He stayed weird.”

Party of One [The New Yorker (subscribers only)]
Alternative Conservative [TNY podcast]

Yankees Trade For a Jew

Pitcher Hirsh’s mother must be so proud


The New York Yankees surely have a robust Jewish fanbase: the Bronx squad is not only Major League Baseball’s most popular team (if also its most hated), it’s also the most popular team in the heavily Semitic Tristate Area. Yet the Yankees’ last Jewish player, southpaw pitcher Kenneth Holtzman, left the team over 30 years ago. So we are pleased that pitcher Jason Hirsh could become the next Jew to sport those obnoxiously aristocratic pinstripes as soon as this season. Yesterday, the Yankees traded for Hirsh, and assigned him to their top minor league team. (Though Hirsh has started big-league games in the past, he has struggled with his rotator cuff for over a year.) Here’s hoping he makes it up to the rotation, or at least the bullpen, in time for one of the Yankees’ three remaining series against the Red Sox. We would pay good money to see him face off against Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis, the most accomplished current Jewish ballplayer and star of literally the greatest video clip in history.

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