thescroll_header

Gaza War Heightens British Crimes

Most anti-Semitic attacks ever

Email

It’s certainly disturbing that there have been more anti-Semitic crimes in Great Britain in the less-than-seven months of 2009 than there were in all twelve of 2008. But also worth despairing over is the explanation: Israel’s three-week incursion into Gaza in January seems to have been the spur behind the statistic. January’s 286 anti-Semitic attacks in Britain—over half of which directly referenced the Gaza conflict—easily made it the worst month since they started keeping track 25 years ago, and February’s 111 made it the second-highest ever. “Of course it may be legitimate for individuals to criticize or be angry at the actions of the Israeli government but we must never allow this anger to be used to justify anti-Semitism,” was the response of Labor Party minister Shahid Malik. Actually, we’d take that a step further: anger at the actions of an autonomous government should never be taken to reflect on autonomous people. Even the association itself, the mindset that says Jews in Britain can be held to account for the Israeli government’s actions, is anti-Semitic. Perhaps that’s why, as depressing as these stats are by themselves, today’s news seems even more of a downer.

Anti-Semitic Attacks in Britain at Record High [JTA]

A Jewish-Themed Horror Movie Looks Like This

What else is wrong with Esther?

Email
poster for 'The Orphan'

The new horror flick The Orphan depicts a young couple’s decision to adopt a young girl gone seriously, supernaturally, and fatally awry. Ubiquitous posters spookily inform passersby, “THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH ESTHER.” Er, you mean, besides her name? We haven’t seen the movie—it opens today—but a few ideas of what else could be wrong with Esther occurred to us:

• The popular girls in Esther’s Girl Scout troop, enjoying their trayf at McDonald’s, mock the falafel Esther brought from home, evoking its resemblance to charred testicles.
• Esther’s adoptive parents dress her exclusively in ‘80s polyester hand-me-downs from their Hillel friends, despite Esther’s protestations that just because she’s descended from Eastern Europeans doesn’t mean she has to dress like she raided the bargain receptacle at a Bulgarian flea market.
• Esther’s grandmother refuses to invite Esther’s new Irish Catholic boyfriend to the first night of Hanukkah. Doesn’t bubbe know what his ancestors would’ve done for a latke during the potato famine?
• Given her penchant for decapitation, Esther wonders if she should have been named Judith.
• Esther develops an appetite for blood, which in turn leads her to (horror of horrors) the Church—transubstantiation sounds delicious!

Hezbollah Broke U.N. Ceasefire

Official says group is rearming against Israel

Email

By maintaining arms in southern Lebanon less than fifteen miles from the Israeli border, Hezbollah committed a “serious violation” of the United Nations resolution that formally ended the 2006 war between it and Israel, a top U.N. official told the Security Council today. The existence of the arms depot, which contained long-range rockets, became apparent when there was a large, conspicuous explosion in a Lebanese town last week. Israel’s U.N. Ambassador cheered the official’s finding: “Hezbollah violates [the cease-fire] all the time, but now is the first time that one of the violations has been recognized.” While Hezbollah claims the arms have been there since before the 2006 war, the U.N. official asserted that the group “actively maintained” the cache.

U.N.: Hezbollah Violated Lebanon War Ceasefire [JTA]
U.N. Official: Arms Cache That Exploded in Lebanon Was Hezbollah’s [ynet]
Hezbollah: No More Border Demos [JPost]

‘Anti-Israel’ Film to Screen at S.F. Jewish Festival

Documentary about pro-Palestinian activist

Email

Expect controversy tomorrow when the film Rachel screens as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Directed by the French-Israeli filmmaker Simone Bitton, Rachel is a sympathetic documentary about Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American activist who in 2003 was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza. The decision to program the film (which, it should be said, is apparently excellently made; Bitton is a celebrated filmmaker) and to invite Corrie’s mother, Cindy, to speak after the screening prompted the festival’s president to resign, the executive director to apologize, and festival sponsors to protest that the festival has “aligned itself with the wrong side.” The film will still screen, and Corrie’s mother will still sit for a Q&A afterward. However, the festival’s organizers did hastily invite a prominent Bay Area pro-Israel activist to speak immediately before the screening in order to provide “context”.

We haven’t seen the film, but according to the website for the Tribeca Film Festival, the film adheres to the guidelines of the International Solidarity Movement, to which Corrie belonged: “to state only objective and concrete details without placing judgment.” Of course, in choosing to subscribe to Corrie’s group’s own premises, perhaps the film has tipped its decidedly non-objective hand. Still, it reportedly features interviews both with ISM members and “current and former personnel” in the Israeli military. Frankly, it’s a shame that this controversy must play out only as a select few see the film in a couple screenings scattered across the country. If it is indeed so good, we hope that it will enjoy a wider release, so that the curious can make up their own minds.

S.F. Festival Under Fire Over Plan To Screen Rachel Corrie Film [JTA]
Tribeca Film Festival entry
Previously: Chick Flicks

Israel on Facebook

Yup, there’s an app for that

Email
(David Silverman/Getty Images)

If you’re checking Facebook—after work, say, because obviously you’d never check Facebook at work—and see that a friend’s latest status update reads, “Israel has over 200 wineries,” then chances are your friend has downloaded the Israpedia application and is letting it brag about Israel on his or her behalf. The program, started by several students at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, issues status updates for its users that highlight fun facts about Israel. (Users can always override individual updates.) So far, according to Haaretz, more than 3,000 users have downloaded it. Next stop for Israpedia’s developers? Twitter. Better get those fun facts down to 140 characters .

New Tool Uses Facebook To Improve Israel’s Image [Haaretz]
Tablet Magazine’s Facebook page

Today on Tablet

Obama on Iran, this week’s parasha, Winnipeg Jewry

Email

On Tablet Magazine today, Senior Editor Michael Weiss explains how the suppression and unrest that followed Iran’s June presidential elections have pushed President Obama’s policy toward that country to resemble President Bush’s. Pondering this week’s parasha, which depicts Moses and the Israelites at the Promised Land’s gates, Liel Liebovitz to considers whether any of us will ever make it out of our own wandering through the wilderness. Winnipeg native Ezra Glinter chronicles the Manitoba capital’s vibrant Jewish community. And The Scroll will chronicle this Friday throughout the day.

Daybreak: Hamas’s ‘Culture of Resistance’

More on N.J. scandal, plus Reform leader on settlements

Email

• Since February’s Gaza incursion, Hamas has shifted its focus from actual armed struggle toward a public-relations and educational campaign aimed at cultivating a “culture of resistance.” [NYT]
• While acknowledging “real strategic issues at stake,” Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, claimed the “vast majority” of American Jews favor of a settlement freeze. [Haaretz]
• Israeli police for the West Bank’s Shai District have established a special unit for large-scale evacuations. [JTA]
• “It’s going to just reinforce the stereotype of New Jersey politics and corruption,” says one professor in a rundown of yesterday’s 44 arrests for corruption stemming from a Syrian Jewish community on the Jersey Shore. [NYT]
• Relatedly, Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum—the one arrested for trying to flip black-market kidneys—explains his $150,000 asking price for the human organ: “One of the reasons it’s so expensive is because you have to shmear everyone.” [Daily Intel]

Sundown: Religious Israeli Sues H&M

Plus, ‘Funny’ Jews

Email

• An Israeli woman is suing international clothing-store chain H&M for allegedly refusing to hire her for a sales position in Israel because she was too religious. [ynet]
• Comedic writer/director Judd Apatow discusses the Jewish aspects of his forthcoming movie, Funny People, and says, “I’m not a religious person, but I couldn’t be more Jewish.” [Jewish Journal]
• The Guardian’s Sounds Jewish podcast this month examines, among other things, Tablet’s podcast about the leading Jewish ladies of Bollywood. [Guardian]
• If you want, go visit the National Museum of Jewish American History’s website and vote for the 18 Jews from six fields that you think should be featured at the museum, which is set to open next year in Philadelphia. [Arutz Sheva]

Insider Led Agents to Rabbis, Pols

All it took was one man, officials say

Email
Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr., and Weysan Dun, FBI special agent in charge in Newark, at today’s news conference.(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

FBI agents this morning raided 54 homes and offices in New Jersey and New York and arrested a total of 44 people, including five Syrian Jewish rabbis, three mayors, a state assemblyman, and an array of other political officials and people from the Syrian and ultra-Orthodox communities on an array of charges ranging from extortion and bribery of public officials to money laundering and, in one grisly instance, conspiracy to traffic in human organs—specifically, a kidney.

The arrests, which the FBI characterized as part of a decade-long investigation into political corruption in New Jersey, grew out of what appears to be intense cooperation between investigators and one man: Solomon Dwek, a real-estate developer and scion of a prominent Syrian Jewish family in Monmouth County who was arrested in May 2006 on suspicion of trying to swindle $50 million from PNC Bank in a check-kiting scheme.

Dwek—referred to in court documents as a “cooperating witness”—first led investigators to members of his own community, including Saul Kassin, the 87-year-old head of the tight-knit Syrian community and chief rabbi of Shaare Zion, the largest Syrian congregation, and Eliahu Ben Haim, the principal rabbi of Congregation Ohel Yaacob, in Deal, New Jersey, before moving on to political figures. (A message left with an Ohel Yaacob administrator was not returned; a woman who answered at the Deal Yeshiva, which was also raided, told this reporter “never to call again.”)

According to a criminal complaint, Dwek, working with undercover agents, laundered $3 million through various synagogue-affiliated charities with help from the rabbis, who would accept checks and then would arrange for “clean checks” or cash to be made available, sometimes via wire transfers from Israel, sometimes via a Swiss bank, for cuts of five or 10 percent. At the same time, Dwek led investigators to a source in Brooklyn who allegedly agreed to broker a deal for a kidney from an Israeli, for $160,000.

At that point, with Dwek having proven so useful to investigators targeting the Syrian Jewish community, the FBI and IRS apparently decided to go for broke: rather than stopping with the money laundering claims, they co-opted Dwek into a decade-long probe against New Jersey’s legendarily corrupt political swamp. An official, speaking at today’s press conference, praised Dwek’s efficiency: “One person was able to deal with these people throughout New Jersey and Brooklyn, New York.”

Rabbis Charged with Illegally Laundering $3M [Asbury Park Press]

9 Complaints Alleging Money Laundering Released
[Asbury Park Press]
Mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus, Several Rabbis Arrested [Bloomberg]
Previously: Rabbis Arrested in N.J. Corruption Probe

Romanian Compares Israeli MDs to Nazis

Doctors bought human eggs from minors

Email

First, the mayor of Constanta, Romania’s largest port city, dressed up in a Nazi uniform and goose-stepped in a fashion show (he apologized yesterday). Later this week, a more complicated train of events also gave rise to concerns of anti-Semitism in this Eastern European country. On Monday, Romanian police raided a Bucharest fertility clinic and arrested 30 Israeli-born employees, including the father-and-son owners; allegedly, the clinic paid women, including some minors, to donate eggs. (The owners deny the charges.) On Tuesday, the head of Romania’s Medical Council likened the doctors, who, he said, “bought body parts from poor, vulnerable people,” to the infamous medical experimenters of Auschwitz. This in turn prompted a rebuke from the World Medical Association’s president—who happens to be Israeli—for the inapt and impolitic comparison. While the reductio ad Hitlerum is no doubt a bit much, Haaretz reports that anti-Semitism is likely not at work—actually, there remain several Israeli-run fertility clinics that harvest ova in Bucharest. The president of Romania’s Jewish community explained that the father-and-son owners were conspicuous consumers: “This and other signs of richness create envy and people react negatively.” Not that Dr. Mengele is notorious for his great wealth. Still—call us crazy—we are finding it difficult to get all that agitated in defense of people who allegedly harvested eggs from underage girls.

Fertility Clinic Suspects’ Homes Raided [JPost]
Is Romania Human Egg Scandal A Case of Anti-Semitism? [Haaretz]

Writer’s Heirs Duke It Out

Ferenc Molnar was a Hungarian Jewish novelist

Email

Ferenc Molnar, a Hungarian Jew, was one of his country’s “great literary figures through the first half of the 20th century,” according to today’s New York Times, and in the 1920s he and his actress-wife partied with the Gershwins and Vanderbilts on a trip. Yet the fog that descended over Eastern European Jews in the 1930s—when Molnar and his wife fled Hungary for the United States—did a number on his legacy here, where his work survives in large part only through the musical Carousel, which was adapted from one of his novels. That fog has blurred his familial legacy, too, leading to a battle between two of his alleged heirs over almost a quarter of a million dollars in Holocaust restitution money.

First reported a few weeks ago by the Forward, the battle pits a woman claiming to be the great-granddaughter of Molnar’s half-brother (got all that?), who has actually received the money, some $225,000, against Molnar’s great-grandson, an official heir who receives royalty checks from Molnar’s estate each year. He had never heard of her; she claims, pricelessly, that her side of the family cut ties with Molnar’s after her grandparents were received by Molnar’s wife in her dressing-room in the nude. (Quelle horreur!)

But forget the he said/she said. The real service Molnar’s heirs will have done for their ancestor, and for the rest of us, will be if the publicity their squabbling attracts prompts a rediscovery of this great, lost artist.

A Posthumous Dispute Over a Writer’s Legacy [NYT]
Franz Molnar’s Heirs Fight Over His Bank Account, And Their Identity [Forward]

Specter Tied in Senate Poll

For this he changed parties?

Email
Specter questioning Sonia Sotomayor last week.(Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

Senator Arlen Specter stopped being the only Jewish Republican in the U.S. Senate earlier this year, and instead become the umpteenth Jewish Democrat in the U.S. Senate, in a somewhat desperate bid to hold on to his Pennsylvania seat. (He was pretty sure to lose a Republican primary challenge from the right.) Well, it doesn’t look like the gambit is working. In early may, the 79-year-old incumbent held as 53-33 lead over that conservative challenger, Rep. Pat Toomey. According to a Quinnipiac poll yesterday, that lead is down to 45-44.

Today on Tablet

Boris Pasternak, funky sweaters, Jewish-Cuban fusion

Email

On Tablet Magazine today, literature-in-translation columnist Joshua Cohen discusses Russian author Boris Pasternak and his recently republished autobiography, Safe Conduct. Hadara Graubart spotlights Lisa Anne Auerbach, a California-based artist who knits sweaters that display provocative messages. (There’s even a slideshow.) “Havana Negila”, this week’s offering from music columnist Alex Gelfand, celebrates Jewish-Cuban fusion, including the albums Timba Talmud and Oy Vey! Ole!. From Latvia to Brooklyn to riches: Jeannie Rosenfeld relates the life of Joseph Hirshhorn, the art mogul who gave his name to the Smithsonian Institute’s contemporary art museum. Finally, don’t forget to check The Scroll all day.

Rabbis Arrested in N.J. Corruption Probe

UPDATED: Jersey Shore synagogue, yeshiva searched

Email
FBI agents seize documents at a Deal yeshiva.(NJ.com)

FBI agents arrested several rabbis this morning in New Jersey and New York as part of an investigation into what the U.S. Attorney’s office in Newark, N.J., described as a “high-volume, international” money-laundering conspiracy. The mayors of Hoboken and Secaucus, N.J., a state assemblyman, and the deputy mayor of Jersey City were also arrested as a result of a public-corruption probe. The Newark Star-Ledger is reporting the rabbis came from Syrian Jewish communities in Deal, N.J., a shore town popular with wealthy Syrian Jews, and Brooklyn. At least one synagogue and one yeshiva, both in Deal, were searched this morning by FBI agents. An FBI spokesman tells Tablet the 30 people arrested, including the rabbis, are expected to appear in a Newark federal court this afternoon.

The New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s office was headed until last winter by Christopher Christie, a Republican known for aggressive investigations of public corruption who is currently running for governor against the incumbent Democrat, Jon Corzine. A poll released yesterday puts Christie ahead by 15 percentage points.

UPDATE, 12:45 p.m.: The Newark Star-Ledger is reporting that this morning’s sweep began with an investigation into money transfers by members of the Syrian Jewish community in New York and New Jersey to public officials in connection with real-estate transactions.

According to a criminal complaint filed this morning, a cooperating witness helped FBI investigators capture Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano offering to help ease zoning restrictions in exchange for campaign cash. The Asbury Park Press identifies the witness as Solomon Dwek, a once-prominent member of the Syrian community in Deal, New Jersey, who was arrested in 2006 after bouncing a $25 million check. A message left seeking comment from Dwek’s attorney, Christopher Porrino, was not immediately returned.

A separate complaint filed in the case of Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, a Republican, alleges the lawmaker offered a cooperating witness assistance securing coastal development permits in exchange for money, and mentioned a prospective congressional run. It is not clear whether that witness is the same person mentioned in the Cammarano complaint.

The Asbury Park Press and the Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources, are also reporting that the case also involves allegations of trafficking in human body parts and that one of those arrested is an organ dealer.

This morning’s sweep included arrests in the Williamsburg, Flatbush, and Borough Park neighborhoods of Brooklyn. The Yeshiva World News is reporting that there will be a public gathering in Brooklyn’s Gravesend neighborhood to recite prayers on behalf of all those arrested; Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn, told Tablet that anyone picked up in New York will be taken to New Jersey, where the case is being prosecuted.

N.J. corruption arrests ensnare Assemblyman, mayors, rabbis [Star-Ledger]
FBI: Van Pelt Took $10,000 Bribe for Waretown Development [Asbury Park Press]
Dozens Arrested in New Jersey Corruption Probe [WSJ]

Daybreak: Israel’s Obama Housing Bubble

Settlements, U.S. Gen. Schwartz, and more in the news

Email

• Some are crediting President Obama’s call for a settlement freeze for the recent boom in housing prices in the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim. [Arutz Sheva]
• Did you know that the commander of the U.S. Air Force is Jewish? And guess in which Middle East ally Gen. Norton A. Schwartz is holding talks this week. [JPost]
• The mayor of Constanta, Romania—the guy who dressed up like a Nazi and goose-stepped in a fashion show—apologized. “I do not share the Nazi ideology,” he said. “On the contrary I appreciate those who wanted to assassinate the mad dictator.” He added he’s been to Israel three times (no word on whether he has many Jewish friends). [ynet]
• And: we’re No. 1! In an overtime thriller, the U.S. basketball squad defeated Israel to snatch first place in the Maccabiah Games. [Haaretz]

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.