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Songman Cohen to Donate Concert Sales

He plays Tel Aviv in September

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Leonard Cohen at Coachella.(Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

When Canadian-Jewish singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen plays Ramat Gan Stadium just outside Tel Aviv in September, he and his promoters will donate their takes to an organization that works with Israeli and Palestinian parents who have lost children to the bloodshed but still work for peace. Such a gesture is par for the course for Cohen, who keeps Shabbat (despite also being a practicing Zen Buddhist) and who played for Israeli troops in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War.  Cohen turned down an early suggestion that he also play Ramallah, the Palestinian city in the West Bank, with his manager citing the “noise level” that would attend such a performance and threaten to drown out Cohen’s music in more ways than one. Cohen has also rejected calls from some pro-Palestinian groups to boycott Israel. “Leonard had a very simple thought,” Cohen’s manager told the Jerusalem Post. “He said ‘I’d like to play, but I just can’t take any money out. I want it to stay there.’”

Leonard Cohen To Perform for Peace [JPost]
On the Road, for Reasons Practical and Spiritual [NYT]

Settlement Summer Camp

In the West Bank, not the Berkshires

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Forget bug juice, ball games, and dips in the lake: the new trend in summer camps, in Israel at least, is settlement-building. “Youth for the Land of Israel,” a new non-profit affiliated with the Yesha Council, the leadership organ of the West Bank settlers’ movement, is offering Israeli youth a summery stint at camp on the hills of Judea and Samaria. There, the would-be settlers build new—and questionably legal—outposts, help expand existing ones, and attend lectures by some of the settler movement’s luminaries, like right-wing extremist Daniella Weiss. Shlomit Amitai, a 16-year-old counselor, said she told her campers that they should treat the land of Israel like their own mother. “Just like you would dress your mother’s wounds,” she said, “empty land is a wound we need to dress by settlement.”

Instead of a Summer Camp by the Beach, The Girls Came To Settle [Ha’aretz, in Hebrew]

Terrorists Threaten Sacha Baron Cohen

Over a scene in ‘Brüno’

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Sacha Baron Cohen, center, at the Australian premiere of Brüno(Sergio Dionisio/Getty Images)

A scene in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Brüno has landed the British-Jewish performer in hot water with the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the pro-Palestinian terrorist group. In the scene, the title character—a gay Austrian fashion maven, played by Cohen, who goes around interviewing unwitting interlocutors—asks a man identified as the Brigades’ leader to kidnap him, because “al-Qaeda is so 2001.” Brüno then tells the man, Ayman Abu Aita, “Your king Osama looks like a kind of dirty wizard or homeless Santa.” The Brigades announced in a statement that they were “very upset,” and that, er, “We reserve the right to respond in the way we find suitable against this man.” (Cohen has beefed up his personal security detail in response.) For our own part, we can’t understand why the Brigades are acting so un-fabulously. Also, didn’t they see Cohen’s previous movie, Borat? If they had, they would have known better than to trust Cohen—who is, after all, a Jew—in the first place.

To watch the scene, fast-forward to the 1:50 mark:

Terrorist Threat to Sacha Baron Cohen over Brüno Ridicule [Times]
Previously: Of Hamas and Hummus

Today in Tablet

Israeli gangsters, Jewish birthers, and Einstein

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This morning, Tablet Magazine publishes the second part of Douglas Century’s look at Israel’s organized crime scene (here’s part one). Allison Hoffman profiles the rising star of the “birther” movement, a Soviet Jew named Orly Taitz who argues that Barack Obama is ineligible to be president. Book critic Adam Kirsch reviews an anthology of Albert Einstein’s writings on Zionism and concludes that Einstein possessed an “unquestionable commitment” to the Jewish state. And The Scroll is coming at you all day.

Daybreak: War Is Not Israel’s Answer (For Now)

Even if al-Qaeda wants it, plus more in the news

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• Despite the recent revelation that Hezbollah was maintaining an arms cache in southern Lebanon, as well as a bunch of tough talk from both sides, Israel’s top general said that war is not imminent. [JPost]
• Also on the northern border, responsibility for a January rocket attack from Lebanon that hit the Israeli town of Nahariya was claimed by an al-Qaeda affiliate. The group said it would continue the fight to “free Palestine.” [Arutz Sheva]
Haaretz’s editor-at-large writes a New York Times op-ed noting that while President Barack Obama has followed through on his pledge to talk to the Muslim world, “he hasn’t bothered to speak directly to Israelis.” [NYT]
• German prosecutors filed hate-incitement charges against a far-right politician from a former East German state for an Ash Wednesday speech in which he called Germany “a Jewish republic” and crudely warned of high Turkish birthrates. Jewish groups have previously called for his party, the National Democrats, to be banned. [JTA]

Sundown: N.J. Informer Disowned By Father

Plus, Israel threatens Hezbollah

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• Rabbi Israel Dwek, who leads Deal, N.J.’s Syrian Jews, proclaimed that he has renounced and will sit Shiva for his (still-living) son, Solomon, who was central to the FBI investigation that netted last week’s 44 arrests. Rabbi Dwek cited the Talmudic Law of Moser, which forbids a Jew from informing on another Jew to a Gentile. [PolitickerNJ]
• Following a United Nations official’s formal finding that Hezbollah has violated the 2006 ceasefire by storing rockets near Israel’s border, Israel reportedly warned U.N. officials that if the international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon does not restrain the group, Israel will be forced to act. [Arutz Sheva]
• Israel’s government formally complained to Holland’s over the Dutch embassy’s having given money to human rights group Breaking The Silence. The organization has collected anonymous accusations of Israeli military abuses in Gaza. [Haaretz]
• The controversial film Rachel, about Rachel Corrie, the American activist killed in Gaza, screened at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival to many a boo and a hiss. [Forward]
• The American Jewish Committee’s Berlin branch requested an official investigation into whether Amazon’s German affiliate has violated German law by selling books that deny the Holocaust. [JPost]

The iPhone’s Synagogue Locator

Where is the closest Temple Beth El?

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We received word of a new iPhone application that seems absolutely essential for a Jew-on-the-go: it uses your location, which the iPhone captures via GPS, to tell you where the closest synagogues are to you, “from a database of almost 5,000 shuls.” The program, which is produced by Lost Tribe Apps, also lists the synagogues by denomination and size, and even contains many rabbis’ names and contact information. Next up, presumably, is an app that tells you which synagogue to leave your current congregation, the one with the rabbi who gets on your nerves and where they don’t even have but barely any Hebrew in their services, for.

A Disturbing, Mostly Nonexistent Trend

Do b’nai mitzvah engage in oral sex?

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Becoming a bar mitzvah is about becoming a man, of course. However, every so often it’s alleged that, these days, part of that man-becoming process involves, well, a different rite of passage: receiving oral sex from female contemporaries. Sometimes the act is presented as a private “present,” but, in some fantastic versions, it is part of a group activity in which a “train” of boys lines up to be serviced by a parallel line of girls. An article in 614, a magazine for Jewish women published by Brandeis University, flags the “trend,” and also mentions the inconvenient, if also completely irrelevant, fact that the most famous and consequential blow job ever given (not that there’s a museum) came courtesy a nice Jewish girl named Monica Lewinsky. A few years ago, an essay in The Atlantic also discussed the alleged fad, debunking it as largely “urban legend” with a glint of truth. Neither that article nor 614‘s came up with anything beyond purely anecdotal and suppositional evidence, so we will do the same. We personally don’t recall such behavior from our own bar mitzvah experience—and we’re pretty sure we’d remember it. But certainly that does not mean it has never happened; actually, the mere fact that it is discussed as something that happens guarantees that it will be. Which is why we find the 614 article’s recommended prescription so confounding: “Talk to the kids,” it suggests. “Find out what sex means to them; find out what is realistic. Find out if they see it as sex; if the girls feel they are degraded. Find out if the boys are pressuring the girls.” We would think the best way to get kids not to participate in such behavior would be for them to know as little as possible about it.

Sex and the Suburbs [614]

The Indifferent Settlers

Ground zero for a West Bank compromise

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Construction in Modiin Illit in 2008(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

In The New York Times today, we learn all about the West Bank settlements of Modiin Illit and Beitar Illit, as well as, potentially, the unique opportunity they offer in potential negotiations. Why are these settlements different from all other settlements? For one thing, they are populated by ultra-Orthodox Jews with no particular religious or ideological attachment to settling the West Bank; they live there because housing is cheap and their community can function outside of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’s more secularized precincts. Additionally, the two communities together account for half of all West Bank settler growth. “If removed from the equation,” the authors write of the settlements’ tens of thousands of residents, “the larger settler challenge takes on more manageable proportions.” Not only that: the settlements are located just on the other side of the Green Line, meaning that their absorption into Israel proper as part of a final deal would present comparatively minor logistical challenges.

Reading the article and watching the accompanying video one is struck by how little these haredim conform to the traditional image of the settler. Strikingly, this distinction is apparent even to the Palestinian villagers of nearby Bilin, where “the settlers over the fence are viewed as different from the Jewish nationalists in, say, Hebron.” That said, these settlers’ ideological flexibility does not lessen “the harm to the villagers caused by the very existence of Modiin Illit and the contest over its land.” (indeed, in the video, we learn that Bilin’s zucchini and cucumber crop is affected by the settlements’ sewage runoff). This truism, that the land is the land no matter the beliefs of those living on it, does somewhat undercut the “hope” alluded to in the article’s headline.

In 2 West Bank Settlements, Sign of Hope for a Deal [NYT]

The Kabbalist and The ‘Birther’

A tale of two crazy Bergs

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Philip S. Berg is the head of the Kabbalah Centre, the organization responsible for turning the ancient strain of Jewish mysticism into a fad among celebrities and the people who emulate them. Philip J. Berg is perhaps the most prominent “birther,” who has been trying to convince the world (and the federal courts) that President Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya, and is therefore Constitutionally ineligible for the presidency. Confused? Our guide to the two Philip Bergs follows.

GIVEN NAME
Kabbalah Berg: Feivel Gruberger
Birther Berg: Philip J. Berg (assuming his birth certificate is not a forgery)

JEWISH?
Kabbalah Berg: Yes, although not all of his co-religionists would say so at this point.
Birther Berg: Yes, according to one interview (he’s also a “life-long member of the NAACP”).

PREVIOUS JOB
Kabbalah Berg: Insurance salesman.
Birther Berg: Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania.

QUESTIONED CREDENTIALS
Kabbalah Berg: He claims to have a Ph.D, but it is not clear in what or from where.
Birther Berg: Was successfully sued for legal malpractice by former clients.

WRITTEN WORKS
Kabbalah Berg: Has published several books, including Kabbalistic Astrology: And The Meaning of Our Lives; Astrology, the Star Connection: The Science of Judaic Astrology; and the presumably more mainstream Kabbalistic Astrology Made Easy.
Birther Berg: Authored a 237-page lawsuit accusing President Bush (actually, both Presidents Bush), Vice President Cheney, and 153 other defendants for playing a role in the 9/11 attacks, in violation of RICO. The case has been dismissed.

FAVORITE ACCESSORY
Kabbalah Berg: A red-string bracelet.
Birther Berg: A copy of Barry Soetoro’s fake birth certificate.

ODD BELIEF
Kabbalah Berg: Believes in reincarnation.
Birther Berg:
Believes that thousands of hungry journalists, millions of opposing Republicans, and 300 million Americans have been fooled by an unusually savvy Kenyan man.

Orthodox Israelis Cry American Anti-Semitism

Fail even to attempt a decent Jersey joke

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For Americans, there was a reflexive impulse following last week’s money-laundering charges against prominent Syrian Jews and New Jersey politicians to mutter worryingly about the greedy and criminal predilections of a certain close-knit, provincial people. We speak, of course, of New Jerseyans (“Why is New Jersey so unshakably corrupt?” the New York Times asks today). But for senior members of Israel’s ultra-religious Shas political party, the arrests raised a different question: why are the FBI and President Barack Obama determined to persecute America’s Orthodox community? “There is a feeling here that the FBI purposely attempted to arrest as many rabbis as possible at once in an attempt to humiliate them,” the editor of the party’s weekly told the Jerusalem Post. He said his publication’s next editorial will specifically accuse Obama of inciting anti-Semitism in America. He added, “Regardless of the details of the case—I am not familiar with the precise charges and the evidence … It is so obvious that the whole thing is motivated by anti-Semitism.” So obvious that familiarity with the precise charges and the evidence is apparently unnecessary.

We think it’s telling that the concerns over anti-Semitism are emanating from non-Americans. A different ultra-Orthodox editor told JPost, “After Madoff, now there is this. I’m frankly concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism in the U.S.” But it’s in the nature of American pluralism that most Americans, who may know that Madoff is Jewish, don’t then implicate other Jews for his actions; and so, too, with these arrests. Besides, Americans know better than to blame all the Jews for something as immutable as Jersey corruption.

‘FBI Sting Was A Case of Anti-Semitism’ [JPost]

Today on Tablet

Israeli mafiosi and a disgraced Syrian rabbi

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Today, Tablet Magazine features the first half of Douglas Century’s multi-part article about Israel’s new and “far more violent, ruthless, and young” generation of organized criminals. For the weekly Vox Tablet podcast, Sara Ivry speaks with Century and Century’s guide through the Tel Aviv neighborhood that headquarters many mafiosi. Allison Hoffman, who covered last week’s arrests of 44 prominent Syrian Jews and New Jersey politicians, profiles Rabbi Saul Kassin, the de facto head of both America’s Syrian Jewish community and, allegedly, a massive money-laundering scheme. And in her weekly parenting column, Marjorie Ingall interviews Paula Span, an author and New York Times blogger, on caring for aging parents. Plus, please click on over to The Scroll throughout the day.

Gates In Jerusalem Today

Defense Secretary to talk Iran with Bibi, Barak

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Gates smiles at Barak during this morning’s press conference.(Jim Watson/Pool/Getty Images)

As part of a trip announced a week ago, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates will meet today with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Jerusalem to discuss how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capability. (Actually, a meeting with Barak has already taken place.) “Both the U.S. and Israel agree it is preferable to solve the Iranian situation peacefully,” David Makovsky, co-author with Dennis Ross of the new Myths, Illusions & Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, told us last week. “The differences are whether there is a Plan B if negotiations do not get off the ground.” The prospect of a potential last-ditch Israeli air strike will no doubt haunt the meetings: at a press conference this morning, Barak announced that “no options should be removed from the table.”

Before President George W. Bush tapped him to lead the Pentagon in late 2006, Gates had been CIA director under the first President Bush, and he is generally seen to share that earlier administration’s realist foreign-policy outlook. In the past, when not confined by the need to follow a particular administration’s line, Gates has advocated negotiating with Iran. In 2004, he co-chaired a task force that recommended that the U.S. “engage selectively,” and concluded that an Israeli bombing strike would be “extremely problematic” practically and “would adversely affect U.S. interests”. These more moderate sentiments, which were mostly out of fashion in the Bush administration (although Bush did oppose Israeli bombing), have largely been adopted by President Barack Obama. On the other hand, as Tablet Senior Editor Michael Weiss noted last week, the events of the past several weeks in Iran have made engagement a temporary non-starter. Moreover, though Gates’s preferred tactical strategy is more moderate than others’, he is nonetheless firm on the importance of resolving the Iranian situation: two weeks ago, he identified Iran’s nuclear ambitions as the biggest threat to global security.

So what happens today? The main goal appears less to be to conduct specific planning and more to achieve a general sense that the U.S. and Israel are on the same general page. According to Makovsky, Gates and Barak—the two countries’ civilian military heads—“hold each other in the highest professional regard.” Hopefully that will count for something even as the two countries disagree on the wisdom of engagement and as Israel continues to raise the specter of military action.

Gates Says U.S. Overture to Iran is ‘Not Open-Ended’ [NYT]

Daybreak: Settlements Deal Close

Plus a nuclear Iran, Tel Aviv threatened, and more in the news

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• Following a meeting yesterday between Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell, a deal in which West Bank settlement construction would be frozen except for several advanced projects is reportedly close. [Haaretz]
• Meanwhile, Barak and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, after a meeting this morning, expressed disagreement over the wisdom of engaging Iran over its nuclear program. [NYT]
• Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbullah, announced that his group would send missiles on Tel Aviv if Israel attacks any part of Lebanon, as he predicted it would by the middle of next year. [Arutz Sheva]
• And Israel is “quietly” resuming the immigration process for 3,000 Ethiopian Falashmura. [Haaretz]

Sundown: From Stewart to Leibowitz?

Plus, Weiner’s Muslim fiancée

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From Stewart back to Leibowitz?(Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

• Columnist Ron Rosenbaum asks Daily Show host Jon Stewart to change his name back to the original: Jon Stuart Leibowitz. [Slate]
• Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.)’s recent engagement to a Muslim woman—a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton named Huma Abedin—has spawned a lot of conversation and perhaps a little controversy. [New York Jewish Week]
• Apropos yesterday’s charges that one Syrian Jewish man attempted to buy and sell a human kidney: what does Jewish law say about illegally trading in organs if it might save a life? [Slate]
• The ostensible congregation of a rabbi arrested yesterday as part of the massive anti-corruption sting appears to be a small residential house in Brooklyn—a house to which there are at least 97 non-profits registered. [TJC Newsdesk]
• Can Israel re-brand itself to potential American tourists as a hip, charming destination not necessarily freighted by history and religion? [The Faster Times]

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