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On Tablet Today

Power, corruption, and personal discovery

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Samuel G. Freedman traces the evolution of Neil Simon’s trilogy of autobiographical plays: Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, and Broadway Bound. Adam Kirsch explores Daniel Goldhagen’s new “passionate, informed, and often frustrating book” Worse than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity. Margot Lurie looks back on the story of how her Burmese father became the first Sephardic student at Yeshiva University. Allison Hoffman reports from the J Street conference in Washington on Jim Gerstein, a liberal pollster with a special relationship to the lobbying group. And much more, here on The Scroll.

U.S.-Israel Military Exercise Counters Iran

Biennial drill will test both countries’ missile-defense systems

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The Juniper Cobra exercise in 2003.(Quique Kierszenbaum/Getty Images)

As U.S. diplomats urged their Iranian counterparts to accept an initial bargain on the Iran’s nuclear program last week in Vienna, the U.S. and Israeli military forces were starting a three-week joint air-defense exercise that will test their coordinated responses to potential missile attacks on Israel. The tests, known as Juniper Cobra, are part of a running series of biannual war games within Israel that began in 2001, but despite U.S. and Israeli assurances that the exercises bear no relation to current events, the political implications of Juniper Cobra seem inescapable. The presence of more than 1,000 US troops across Israel, backed by at least 15 U.S. warships in Israeli waters, would seem to signal American willingness to assist Israel in the event of a conflict with Iran. (Also, the 2005 and 2007 exercises took place in March, not October.)

But the new exercise also fits with President Barack Obama’s overhaul of the U.S. missile-defense strategy, which included last months’ scrapping President George W. Bush’s plan for a missile-defense shield based in Eastern Europe, and which the Defense Department says is designed to better meet the Iranian threat. According to Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog, U.S. forces during this exercise will test an array of new missile technologies, a step toward seeing how well Obama’s new missile-defense strategy will work. Meanwhile, Danger Room also reports that Israel will attempt its first demonstration of Iron Dome, a system meant to defend against short-range rocket attacks from Hamas or Hezbollah. If true, the test of Iron Dome represents a significant step toward Israel’s stated goal of constructing a near-comprehensive missile defense shield, capable of repelling everything from short-range Hamas Qassams to long-range Iranian Shahabs.

U.S., Israel Start Defense Drill [WSJ]
In Israel, a Key Test of Obama’s Retooled Missile Shield [Wired/Danger Room]

Daybreak: Tit for Tat on Nukes

Says Iran, plus a new charge against Israel and more in the news

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• According to a “semi-official Iranian news agency,” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that he won’t give up nukes until the “illegal regime” in Israel does the same. [Haaretz]
• A report from a Israeli news program said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told President Barack Obama that he’s sick of trying to work with Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu and will not seek reelection in January. [JTA]
• Amnesty International reports that Israel is withholding water from Palestinians; an Israeli spokesperson calls the idea “completely ludicrous.” [AP]
• Researchers have discovered that Jews living in Israel who survived World War II in Europe have a much higher risk of developing cancer. [Reuters]

Sundown: Delusions Down Under

Plus nukes for all, an ambivalent Egypt, and more

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• Some high school students in New South Wales, Australia, use a textbook that says, among other things, that “polygamy is ‘commonly practiced’ in Israel” and that Jews “’choose sophisticated professions such as law, medicine and scholarship’ because of a focus on ‘family togetherness.’” [Australian Jewish News]
• Perhaps they’d be better off watching the Australian TV show Race Relations, in which the host sneaks his sperm into a Palestinian sperm bank to create a “Jewlestinian” and uses an allegedly traditional process to ask his dead mother whether he should marry a fellow Jew: “you dig a hole next to the grave, lie in it, say kabbalah prayers and then the spirit comes inside of you.” [JTA]
• Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi says that if Israel can have nuclear weapons (which is widely believed to be the case), then “the Palestinians should have the same.” [AFP]
• As Egypt’s relationship with Israel cools, some there are ambivalent about restoration of the many Jewish sites in the country, although, says the Associated Press, they are “more than monuments just to the Jews, they are reminders of a more cosmopolitan Middle East, when Cairo and other Arab cities housed a jumble of ethnic minorities in the midst of Muslim majorities.” [AP]

J Street Day 1: Boos for Reform Leader

Rabbi Eric Yoffie still says J Street is wrong on Gaza war; Embassy observer watches from the back

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Whatever can or can’t be said about the Jewish community as a whole, the 1,500 progressive activists gathered in Washington for this week’s J Street conference really, really agree with each other. The only division we’ve seen on display, in fact, came this afternoon, when Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Union for Reform Judaism, that movement’s organizing body, showed up for a “town hall” discussion with J Street’s founder, Jeremy Ben Ami. Yoffie, an early supporter of J Street, publicly broke with the left-leaninglobby group during last winter’s Gaza war, when he wrote an op-ed for the Forward accusing the organization of being “appallingly naive” for equivocating between Hamas rocket fire into southern Israel and the IDF’s retaliation. (The flame war continued with a statement from J Street accusing Yoffie of misreading the outrage among American Jews at the scope of the destruction in Gaza.) Now, 10 months later, Yoffie drew boos from the crowd for suggesting that Gazans invited their current circumstances by voting for Hamas after Israel withdrew from the territory in 2006, and for defending Israel against accusations, particularly in a recent U.N. report by Richard Goldstone, that it may have committed war crimes in Gaza. “Israel is not in violation of international law in terms of the way they’re dealing with the Gaza question,” Yoffie said. “Oh, come on!” several people catcalled. (They all clapped at the end, though.)

At the very back of the ballroom, where the press was penned at long banquet tables, Benjamin Sack, a public-affairs officer for the Israeli embassy, watched the proceedings with his arms crossed over his chest. Sack, whose nametag did not include his affiliation, showed up as the token observer, in place of Israel’s ambassador, Michael Oren, who very publicly declined last week to take his turn in front of the crowd. What did he make of it? “I’ll tell you what I’m telling everyone—it’s exactly what I expected,” he said, raising an eyebrow. Would there be any surprise guests from the embassy? “No.” Did he think Oren, or other embassy staff, would make use of J Street’s live-streaming to tune in? “We’ve got other things going on today, you know.”

Rabbi Yoffie’s Remarks to J Street Convention
[URJ.org]

Netanyahu Wants to Change Laws of War

An admission they were broken, or needed update for age of terrorism?

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Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting last week.(Baz Ratner-Pool/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week came up with a new gambit to bolster Israel’s reputation in the wake of the controversial Goldstone report, which charges that both the IDF and Hamas may have committed war crimes during last winter’s Gaza war. Netanyahu wants to change the rules of war. At a meeting of his security cabinet, he instructed government ministries to look into an “international initiative to change the laws of war in keeping with the spread of terrorism.” Goldstone doesn’t think much of the idea. “I think it’s sad,” he said in an interview with Al Jazeera, as reported in the Jerusalem Post. “Israel is clutching at straws. International law can’t be changed just because one side doesn’t like the laws of war.” And the paper quoted another expert on the rules of war, William Schabas of the Irish Centre for Human Rights said, “the fact that Netanyahu says he wants to change the laws of war is almost an admission that Israel violated them.”

But Victor Hansen, a professor at New England Law School and co-author of recently published The War on Terror and the Laws of War points out that there is in fact a mainstream but minority view that argues laws of war do need updating. “If a democracy decides they want to fight a war, they have to recognize that there are some limitations to the use of that law, and that there would probably need to be some changes and international agreements,” he told Tablet Magazine. “Terrorism has presented a different dynamic and recognition that maybe law of war as written doesn’t get to these issues,” Hansen maintains. For example, he said, many agree that the use of civilians in warfare, both as literal shields and as implicit supporters of terrorism, has not been effectively covered by the Geneva Convention and other existing laws. “But that hasn’t yet led to a groundswell of opinion that says we need to change laws of war.”

PM: Change of Laws of War to Deal With Terrorism [JPost]
Government Looking To Set Int’l Rules for Fighting Terror [Haaretz]
Lieberman Discusses Goldstone With Ban [JPost]
Expert: Plan to Change Laws of War Unrealistic [JPost]

The Other Singer Finds Love on Facebook

I.J. joins I.B. with his own Facebook ‘Appreciation Society’

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Among the dwindling ranks of Yiddishists, Isaac Bashevis Singer is not the superstar your Hebrew School teacher would have had you believe. “I. B. Singer wasn’t half as good a writer as I. J. Singer—I. B.’s older brother, Israel Joshua—who had died in 1944,” the experts kvetch, according to a 2004 New Yorker article by Nextbook Press editor Jonathan Rosen. “In their view, Bashevis—as I. B. Singer was known to his Yiddish readers—wasn’t really a Yiddish writer at all, just an Anglicizing panderer who, through cunning and longevity, had snookered an ignorant American readership into believing that his concocted shtetl stories were the real thing.” The elder Singer, on the other hand, won the favor of Abraham Cahan, founder of the Yiddish Forward, with his journalism and fiction, and there is at least one other place the near-forgotten scribe has found popularity: his Facebook fan page (of course Bashevis has a couple too, but those were probably built into the site’s original software). While some argue that the Holocaust buoyed the reputation of I.B., maybe social networking will be the unlikely catalyst to a revival of I.J.

Israel Joshua Singer Appreciation Society [Facebook]

Jews, Muslims Riot Temple Mount

Dozens injured yesterday, 18 Palestinians arrested

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Tourists return to Temple Mount today.(Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)

Rioting broke out at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount yesterday after both Islamist and right-wing Jewish groups reportedly told their followers to arrive at the disputed site. Israeli police entered area; Palestinians, including some affiliated with a group called the Islamic Movement, threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at the police, who fired back with stun grenades, the police said, according to the New York Times. Dozens of police and Palestinians, as well as an Australian reporter, were wounded, and at least 18 Palestinians were arrested, including a senior Fatah member; some of them had been arrested in previous riots near the Temple Mount around Yom Kippur, Ynet reported. The news source also said that in the wake of the riots, senior ultra-Orthodox rabbis told Jews not to enter the site until things calm down, but countering them, a coalition of religious Zionist groups, led by some Knesset members as well as rabbis, have told followers “to go up to the Temple Mount in holiness and purity.” The Temple Mount reopened to tourists and Muslim worshippers today, with police patrolling the area.

Israeli Police Clash With Palestinians at Sacred Compound in Jerusalem [NYT]
Jerusalem: Temple Mount Riots Resume [Ynet]
Jews Urged to Visit Temple Mount Despite Prohibitions [Ynet]
Calm Returns to Jerusalem’s Old City After Clashes [AP]

Tablet Today

Books bring history to life, and a film brings a book to life

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Tablet Magazine parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall took her kids to see Where the Wild Things Are. Their verdict? Meh. Books columnist Josh Lambert looks at a plethora of books about immigrants’ experiences, as well as two hot new novels and more. And you can count on much more throughout the day, here on The Scroll.

J Street Speakers Talk Generation Gap

At conference’s opening night

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About 1,000 people arrived last night at a Washington, D.C., Hyatt for the opening night of the first national conference hosted by the liberal pro-Israel lobby group J Street. Founder Jeremy Ben-Ami and others emphasized the desire among left-leaning American Jews to see a secure Israel at peace, but a number of speakers—including prominent Reform rabbi Andy Bachman—chose instead to focus on a generational split among American Jews. Bachman was among those who claimed membership in the “pre-1967 generation” of Jews whose relationship to Israel is shaped by having known the country before it became a political occupier, and he expressed a desire to bring his generation’s Zionism to the more jaded post-’67 generation. (Fear of losing younger generations, of course, is central as well to the more traditional Jewish establishment that J Street aims to counteract.)

The audience, too, appeared to have a majority of pre-’67-ers in attendance, many veterans of long-established progressive Zionist groups like Americans for Peace Now. In an interlude during the official remarks, the lights went up and attendees were asked to converse with their tablemates about what brought them there, then tweet or email their thoughts to the folks up on stage. At our table, everyone pounced on the sole college student, asking him about Israel politics at Yale, but the only person who wanted to transmit her thoughts was a gray-haired woman who used a pencil and paper. “Finally!” she wrote.

Whose Israel Is It? [Talking Points Memo]

Daybreak: Brin Gives Back

Plus a way around Goldstone, another poor billionaire, and more in the news

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• Google co-founder Sergey Brin donated $1 million to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helped his family escape the Soviet Union 30 years ago. [NYT]
• Jeffry Picower, a billionaire thought to be the biggest beneficiary of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and a friend of the conman, was found dead at the bottom of his pool in Palm Beach this weekend. [Reuters]
• Rather than following the Goldstone Report’s call for an independent investigation of military actions in the Gaza War, Israel will gather a legal team to review the investigations already undertaken by the IDF. [JPost]
• Lou Jacobi, an actor who started his career in The Diary of Anne Frank, was featured in several Woody Allen films, and made comedy recordings such as “The Yiddish Are Coming! The Yiddish Are Coming!,” died Friday at 95. [NYT]
• Lebanese chefs made the world’s largest plate of hummus, setting the world record and, naturally, making an anti-Israel geopolitical point. [AP/NYT]

Sundown: Iran Balks on Nuclear Deal

Plus hate on parade, wholesome pinups, and more

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• Iran has backed away from a deal to ship its uranium abroad for enrichment, instead proposing that the country buy its nuclear fuel for a medically designated reactor; “Iran has often used counterproposals as a way to draw out nuclear negotiations with the West,” notes the Associated Press. [AP]
• In his Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at Stanford University, Sen. Joseph Lieberman spoke against Islamic extremism: “Ending the war on terror does not require that we succeed in creating heaven on earth. Rather, this war will end when a critical mass of people recognize that the ideology of our enemy is capable of creating nothing but hell on earth.” [Commentary]
• The hate-mongers from Westboro Baptist Church will be taking their anti-Semitic, anti-gay show to a JCC and Anti-Defamation League office in New Jersey next week. [NYT]
• An American man, born in the United States to Jewish parents but adopted by a Catholic family with neo-Nazi ties, has been granted the right of return to Israel after an emergency hearing by the nation’s Supreme Court. [JPost]
• Forget JDate, 12 wholesome bachelors are showing their stuff as pinups in next year’s Nice Jewish Guys Calendar. [Forward]

Neurosis Can Cause Asthma, Study Says

Another thing to worry about

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Is it possible that the Woody Allen stereotype of the neurotic, asthmatic, nebbishy Jewish guy actually has some basis in truth? (Don’t all stereotypes?) Reuters is reporting on a recent academic study (conducted in Germany, stereotypically) that finds a link between neurosis and respiratory trouble. “People who are neurotic—they tend to worry a lot and to have emotional ups and downs—seem to be at increased risk of developing asthma, a new study hints,” Reuters says. “Animal studies have shown that chronic stress alters hormone levels, which can inflame airways making it difficult to breathe. Researchers believe that neurotic character traits may exert similar effects. If so, then helping neurotic people to calm down or ‘chill out’ could, theoretically, reduce their risk of asthma.” Call us neurotic, but that “theoretically” seems like a pretty big hedge.

Neurotic? It Could Lead to Asthman [Reuters]

Obama Will Be First Prez to Attend UJC

Insiders wonder if it’s just a way to tell Feinberg ‘thanks’

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Amid all the excitement from the United Jewish Communities this morning over their announcement that President Obama will address its upcoming General Assembly meeting, we wondered when was the last time a president appeared at the annual event, which draws together the senior leadership of local Jewish federations throughout the country. And guess what? After a look through the archives, a UJC publicist confirmed that the answer, somewhat surprisingly, is never. The only other president to come close was Bill Clinton, who delivered remarks by satellite to the 4,000-person gathering in Indianapolis back in 1997. (George H.W. Bush also addressed the group, when he was still Ronald Reagan’s vice-president, as did Al Gore.)

So the next question, of course, is why now? There are all kinds of political benefits, of course—Obama, whose Middle East policies have been heavily criticized in some quarters of the Jewish community, can take his case for peace directly to people who can communicate it back to their local communities. And he’s apparently been able to draw Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, into making the trip from Jerusalem, which means another opportunity for them to talk in person. But the insider scuttlebutt we’ve heard notes a perfectly good reason much closer to home: the event is being chaired by UJC executive committee member Dede Feinberg and her husband, Kenneth—the Treasury’s special master for compensation who has, of course, just finished putting in place an extremely contentious Administration plan for cutting pay to the top dogs at bailed-out Wall Street banks. In other words, it may just be the president’s way of saying thanks.

Earlier: Obama to Address UJC Assembly

Does BBC Think All Jews Are Hasids?

Photo choice suggests yes

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(TheJC.com)

It’s not an easy task to represent Jews with one image. Should it be an average Joe with an unobtrusive yarmulke? A curly-haired girl lighting candles? A bearded rabbinical type? Seth Rogen? In a feature on how different religions handle grief, the BBC website opted to represent the tribe with a picture of an ultra-Orthodox man with payes, a black hat, a tallis, a raised eyebrow, and his hand held in a gesture reminiscent of an Italian curse. The Jewish Chronicle asked why BBC chose the image—and the broadcaster’s response was to switch the image for a picture of a candle.

In our opinion, what makes this image inappropriate has less to do with the figure’s portrayed religiosity than his jokey fakeness. But the British Jewish Board of Deputies is fed up with what it sees as a recurrent problem; its chief wrote a letter to BBC citing two other examples of ultra-Orthodox Jews used to illustrate unrelated Jewish stories, saying: “They in no way illustrate the subject matter of the stories in question or, indeed, mainstream Jewish life in the UK or anywhere in the world.”

A BBC spokesman replied, “We always try to use an appropriate and relevant image and are more than happy to discuss this issue with the Board of Deputies to ensure we reflect the breadth of the Jewish community.” Not a bad idea. Maybe next time they should use this guy.

BBC Uses Charedi Picture to Illustrate Jews
[JC]

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