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Sundown: Israel Practices Self-Defense

Madonna the columnist, the Coen Bros., and more

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• 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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Hugo Chávez’s Uses for Anti-Semitism

Remorse for temple vandalism is exception to rule

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez(Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday, Spain’s and Venezuela’s foreign ministers made an official visit to Caracas’s Tiferet Israel Synagogue to condemn the anti-Semitic attack perpetrated on it in January. That incident featured violence against two guards, burglary, desecration of a Torah, and graffiti. It was the Venezuelan minister’s second visit since the attack; the politicians also met with leaders of the country’s Sephardic community. “They sent a strong message repudiating anti-Semitism,” said the Latin American Jewish Congress’s director.

Here’s the problem. As this illuminating article in the latest Boston Review makes clear, President Hugo Chávez’s regime only holds such an enlightened attitude toward Venezuela’s roughly 12,000 Jews when it knows the world is watching. The Tiferet Israel attack came soon after Venezuela severed diplomatic ties with Israel in response to January’s Gaza incursion. According to the Review article, Chávez’s first instinct was to hypothesize that his regime’s opposition was responsible for the attack; only international pressure prompted an about-face and a series of arrests. Chávez has in the past claimed that Israel did “something similar to what Hitler did, possibly worse.” Jewish sites in Venezuela, including the Israeli Embassy, have previously been targets of vandalism.

Moreover, the article contends, such incidents and words are not aberrations, but rather are inextricably linked to Chávez’s populist appeal and the climate he deliberately cultivates: “Anti-Semitism is close to the intellectual heart of Chavismo,” it asserts. For example, the regime regularly utilizes anti-Semitism to discredit its opponents, as when a prominent anchor on a state television channel accused the owners of a Venezuela mall chain, the Cohens, of “financing all that is happening” in reference to the anti-Chávez student movement that gained momentum in late 2007. In other words, such pious displays as we saw yesterday are the exception to the rule. “In recent years,” notes the article, “the Jewish community in Venezuela has shrunk some 20 percent.”

Spanish, Venezuelan Foreign Ministers Visit Synagogue [JTA]
United By Hate [Boston Review]

Today on Tablet

Israel’s mob (with photos!), a daughter draws her dad

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On the fourth day of the week, Tablet Magazine brings you the fourth part of Douglas Century’s five-part investigation into the current state of Israeli organized crime (here are parts 1; 2; and 3). Accompanying Century throughout his reporting was photographer Antonin Kratochvil, and accompanying Century’s article today is a slideshow of Kratochvil’s photographs of Israel’s underworld. Sara Ivry spotlights The Impostor’s Daughter, a new graphic memoir about the author/artist’s struggle to understand her congenitally dishonest father. But on The Scroll, we always strive to tell the truth.

Daybreak: Settlers Defy Obama

The N.J. case in Israel, the Madoff case, and more

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• Over the last several days, radical settlers built 11 unauthorized West Bank outposts to commemorate a similar defiance of the British in 1946 and to rebuke the Obama administration. [NYT]
• Though Israeli institutions, notably banks, and even some Israelis allegedly played important roles in the New Jersey money-laundering case, Israel has yet to launch its own investigation. [Forward]
• The trustee representing Bernard Madoff’s investors sued his wife, Ruth, for nearly $45 million. She has already forfeited almost $80 million in assets. [NYT]
• Chabad-Lubavitch filed a motion against Russia in Washington, D.C. federal court in a case involving sacred books. Russia had withdrawn from the case in a different jurisdiction; because the allegations involve international law, though, a federal appellate court ruled that Chabad-Lubavitch could pursue its claims stateside. [JTA]
• Finally, a remotely Jewish angle to the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. brouhaha! It turns out that James Crowley, the Cambridge, Mass. policeman who arrested the Harvard professor last week, in 2007 attended a program for poice officers on racial profiling at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in L.A., where he thoroughly impressed his teachers. [WSJ]

Sundown: Holocaust Museum Shooter May Get Death

Canada’s Israel boycott, Morocco’s Shoah recognition

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• The Holocaust Museum shooter, James von Brunn, was indicted for first-degree murder, and is therefore eligible for the death penalty. [Washington Post]
• Canada’s largest Protestant sect, the United Church of Canada, plans to call for a “comprehensive boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions.” Canadian Jewish groups have called this an “obscene gesture.” [JTA]
• The King of Morocco formally acknowledged the Holocaust, and said it was “tragic”. One prominent activist called it the first instance of an Arab head of state taking “such a clear stand on the Shoah.” [Capital J]
• CBS News Anchor Katie Couric revealed that in 2000 Michael Jackson used the prominent author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach as a conduit to ask Couric out on a date. [Gawker]
• Novelist Michael Chabon, who most recently re-imagined a post-WWII Jewish state in Sitka, Alaska in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, refers to the “fundamental brutality” of circumcision in his forthcoming memoir. (His two sons were circumcised, but with anesthetic, he says.) [Page Six]

Figure in AIPAC Case Changes Story

Now says he was spying ON AIPAC for the FBI

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Hold on for a second, and pay close attention: we have here a brand-new twist to an already labyrinthine spy tale. In 2005, Larry Franklin, the Pentagon’s former Iran desk officer, pleaded guilty to disclosing secret information on the U.S.’s Iran and Iraq policy without authorization to two members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and one official at the Israeli Embassy. However, Franklin now claims that he had in reality been spying on AIPAC on behalf of the FBI, before his FBI handlers turned on him and told him he would face espionage charges, which were later downgraded to the unauthorized disclosure charges. Specifically, Franklin asserts, after the FBI began investigating him in 2004 for allegedly leaking information to CBS News about prominent Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi’s Iranian ties, the Bureau asked him to go undercover to try to learn more about alleged Israeli spying, and to help it build a criminal case against the two AIPAC officials, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. (These men were eventually indicted, but then saw all charges against them dropped this spring.) Tensions between Franklin and the U.S. government first arose when he dissented from Pentagon thinking that Iran could prove a help in the then-impending invasion and occupation of its neighbor, Iraq; Franklin believed Iran would refuse to help the U.S., and first established a relationship with the AIPAC and Israeli officials in an effort to influence U.S. policy in a manner aligned with his views on the matter.

This stuff is straight out of John le Carré. We hope to have more on it in the coming days.

EXCLUSIVE: Defense Analyst in Spy Case Was FBI Double Agent [Washington Times]

Israel Gets a Disney Channel

Why? Because…why not!

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They’re saying ‘Shalom!’(Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

A couple years ago, a lovable giant rodent with a curious resemblance to a more famous lovable giant rodent joyously instructed Palestinian children to resist the Zionists on a Hamas TV program—or he did, until someone introduced the program’s producers to the concept of copyright infringement. But in September, your favorite pal Mickey Mouse will be speaking Hebrew, along with Minnie, Pluto, and the rest, as the Disney Channel launches an Israeli station. The Mouse House will be dubbing its regular programming, including live-action series such as Hannah Montana, and featuring original shows with Israeli actors as well. We can’t wait to hear what Donald Duck’s voice does with all those hard chs. So get psyched!

Disney Channel Goes Hebrew [Forward]

Israel and America ‘In The Loop’

What a new movie can teach us

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top from the Times; bottom from In The Loop(Alessandro Gottardo/In The Loop)

An op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times made a splash for accusing President Barack Obama of not speaking directly to the Israeli people. The article’s accompanying drawing—pictured, on top—cleverly depicted the alleged communication breakdown between the U.S. and Israel. It was also reminiscent of the second image, which comes from the poster of the new British film In The Loop. In addition to being really, really, really funny (seriously, you should go see it), the movie is a blistering satire of government bureaucracy, British and American politics, and how the dysfunctions of all those things could pave the way for, say, the invasion of a Middle Eastern country based on cooked-up intelligence (the country is unnamed in the movie).

In The Loop is made up, almost entirely, of talk (you could watch it with your eyes closed). It’s also about talk—about poor word choice, about good word choice that is mangled by spin doctors, about how people say one thing and mean another. But for all the talk, the one audience that is never spoken to in the movie is the public; In The Loop’s tidal wave of words takes place entirely behind closed doors. In In The Loop, all this empty and covert chatter results in farce. It strikes us, though, that unless the U.S. and Israel untangle their communication lines, and unless both of their publics are treated as grown-ups, what follows could be far less funny.

Why Won’t Obama Talk to Israel? [NYT]
Previously: Columnists to Obama: Talk To Us!

Israel Partly Lifts Gaza Blockade

Allows materials for U.N.-approved construction

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Only one day after several United Nations agencies and aid groups banded together to request that Israel at least partially lift its blockade of Gaza, Israel is doing just that. For the first time since its military incursion there in January, Israel’s government approved the transfer of construction materials, including metal pipes and cement (substances about which Israel is touchy, as they can be used to manufacture rockets and bunkers, respectively), into the Hamas-controlled area—but only for use on specific, U.N.-approved projects, including Gaza’s largest flour mill, a sewage treatment plant, and a British cemetery. The government also signed off on the equivalent of over $27 million in monthly transfers to the territory. Neither the money nor the materials are supposed to come under Hamas’s control.

Israel to Allow Cement, Metal Pipes into Gaza [Haaretz]
Israel Approves Money, Cement Transfers to Gaza [Arutz Sheva]

‘Birther’ Leader On Colbert

Woman, born a Soviet Jew, warns of Obama

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Stephen Colbert welcomed Orly Taitz onto his Comedy Central show last night. Taitz is the California woman (whom I profiled yesterday for Tablet Magazine) who has become the de facto head of the so-called “birther” movement—the amorphous group of mostly conservative conspiracy theorists who insist, for various and changing reasons, that Barack Obama is not a “natural born citizen” and therefore ineligible to hold his current job. Taitz appeared excited to press her case to the Colbert Nation, earnestly telling her host, “If in Nazi Germany, the soldiers and the officers would have questioned the orders that came from the commander-in-chief”—Hitler, that is—“maybe 65 million people wouldn’t have died.” She also asserted, “I think we’re getting another Stalin.” That charge is particularly sensitive for her: she is herself a Soviet Jew who came to the U.S. in 1987 after six years in Israel. At this point, she told Colbert, there isn’t anything the president could say that would shake her doubts about his legitimacy. “He is a Chicago crook,” she explained.

It hasn’t been a great week for her cause: on Monday, House Republicans who had once appeared sympathetic to the birthers’ claims voted unanimously for a bill that stipulated that Obama was indeed born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961—which is what his, y’know, birth certificate says. Taitz told Tablet Magazine earlier this week that her real concern is that Obama could be some sort of “Manchurian candidate.” For whom, she wouldn’t say.

You can watch her appearance below.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Womb Raiders – Orly Taitz
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Tasers

Previously: In Doubt’s Shadow

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