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U.S. Drops Call for E. Jerusalem Settlement Freeze

Realizes Bibi can’t announce halt

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Advantage, Netanyahu. Haaretz reports today that George Mitchell, President Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, has dropped the administration’s insistence on a permanent settlement freeze in East Jerusalem, recognizing that it is unfeasible. Although Mitchell said he won’t endorse settlement building in that area, the part of the capital considered Palestinian territory, he also said he won’t continue to demand a public announcement from Netanyahu that such building will be halted (the Israeli prime minister has offered as a compromise a nine-month freeze in construction).

This news comes just after Palestinian sources said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would meet, albeit informally, with Netanyahu at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly, and P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s announcement that the West Bank would become a “de facto state” by 2011, based on its progress on development and security.

U.S. Drops Demand for Israel Building Freeze in East Jerusalem [Haaretz]

Tablet Today

Lotion crusaders, tunes, and Teddy

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Sarah Wildman remembers how the late Ted Kennedy “took the mantle of philo-Semitism.” Liel Leibovitz reports on a women’s anti-war group that has taken on an Israeli cosmetics company that operates out of a West Bank settlement. Alexander Gelfand shares some new musical finds inspired by Passover. And we’ll keep rolling out the good stuff, here on The Scroll.

Birthright Alumni to Be Israel Advocates

In new ‘Diplomatic Fellowship’ program

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Birthright has unveiled a new initiative for alumni of the tour program who want to do advocacy work for Israel, Haaretz reports. The Israel Diplomatic Fellowship is being cosponsored by the Israeli consulate in New York. “the Foreign Ministry’s fingerprints are visible in the program’s stated goals of providing participants with ‘access to high-level Israeli officials and connecting them to young Israelis working as ambassadors for Israel,” the paper says. Birthright hasn’t previously employed participants directly in advocacy work, and indeed, one fellow in the new program told the paper that “Israel advocacy at Birthright did not work. We got images of the waving Israeli flag and 1980s music. It was hilariously bad.” Still, that didn’t stop him—or the other 90 alumni in the program—from signing up for the initiative, which offered them another freea subsidized trip to the Holy Land.

New Initiative Takes Taglit Grads to Next Advocacy Stage [Haaretz]

Daybreak: Kennedy Saved Refusenik Baby

Memories of Lodz, a blind date peace plan, and more in the news

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• A woman recalls how, when she was a desperately ill infant in the Soviet Union, Ted Kennedy saved her life by personally appealing to Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev to allow her family to emigrate to the United States. [CNN]
• The only synagogue in Latvian capital Riga will reopen this week after two years of construction. [FJC]
• Yesterday in Poland, Holocaust survivors and their families marked the 65th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto with “low key ceremonies.” [AFP]
• Later today, Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu will talk politics with German Chancellor Angela Merkel; he’s also visited sites significant to the Holocaust, as “a visit by an Israeli leader to Germany is never limited to current events.” [AP]
• As Israeli and Palestinian leaders inch closer to resuming peace talks, President Obama plans to bring them together in person at next month’s U.N. Assembly. [Times of London]
• Also, the United States has dropped East Jerusalem from its demand for a freeze on construction in Israeli settlements. [Haaretz]

Sundown: Digging for Trouble

Gray areas, the Golden Gate, and parodic justice

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• Perhaps angling for another round of Orthodox protests, the Israeli Antiquities Authority plans to excavate a grave that may contain the remains of a revered third-century rabbi. [JPost]
• An Orthodox rabbi who won’t perform gay marriages but who opposes California’s Proposition 8 was moved by the film Milk to “Thank God we have a tradition in which we can—and do—live with tensions that we cannot resolve.” [Jewish Journal]
• If you’re heading to San Francisco tourist trap Fisherman’s Wharf as penance for your sins, the local Hyatt is offering a special High Holiday package, with discounted rooms, apples, honey, and cake. [LAT]
• The New York Times Freakonomics blog points out that a Swedish paper’s claim that IDF soldiers harvest Palestinian organs is unlikely to be true for logistical reasons; more important, it links to an Israeli “investigative” piece on Swedish use of toe jam in making smoked salmon. [Ynet via NYT]

Remembering Teddy

Campaign aide-turned-AIPAC chief Thomas Dine remembers the 1980 presidential run

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(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

When Ted Kennedy decided in 1979 to seek the Democratic nomination for president, he recruited Thomas Dine, then a staffer on the Senate Budget Committee, to be his defense and foreign policy adviser. Kennedy lost to Jimmy Carter, of course, and Dine joined AIPAC as its executive director, a job he held until 1993. He spoke to Tablet Magazine today.

The first thing I did on the job, which I remember vividly, was to compile his record on Israel. He’d been in the Senate 19 years at that point, and it was quite a prolific record of matters concerning Israel’s standing in the region. Well, he himself didn’t realize how thick his record was, and when I showed him the document—it was Xerox paper I’d typed on and stapled together—and said, “Senator, this is what you have done,” he just sat down on the couch in his office, and held it in his hands. I can’t tell you what he said, to be honest—that’s not Kennedy, he just mumbled a few things—but it was a lovely moment, because he himself hadn’t recognized all that he’d done.

The first major speech he gave to a Jewish group as “Sen. Kennedy, candidate for the Democratic nomination,” was to the Conference of Presidents [of Major American Jewish Organizations], on January 28, 1980. We flew up on the Eastern Airlines shuttle, and we got into the cars, and I’m with him on the back seat. We crossed the Triborough Bridge, and we’re on the FDR, and the driver got very close to the curb and went over a tin can, or something, and it made a big noise. And he went off the back seat and almost hit his head on the ceiling—he thought it was a shot. And you just say to yourself, “Oh, my, it’s not easy to be a Kennedy.” But he was cool; we went to the speech, and I don’t remember what he said, but it was damn good.

He won the Massachusetts primary, and it was very cute—he called me into his office to thank me, because the Jews in Massachusetts had gone four-to-one for him. I said, “Excuse me, your name is Kennedy, you have this fabulous record, they’ve been voting for you all these years—you should have won it five- or six-to-one!”

Then Carter took his stand at the United Nations [with a vote, later disavowed, in favor of a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories]. We went to New York, and the senator went to Brooklyn and said, “Hey, I’m a friend of Israel, I can prove it.” And there’s a photo of him, at an event with all these bearded guys in black hats—he was cool. This is the Sunday before the Tuesday primary in New York, and that night we went to a synagogue on the Upper West Side. There must have been 500 people in the room. Kennedy was tired—he’d been in the car, and he was getting grumpy because his back hurt. So he got out there and gave a short speech, and then he got all kinds of questions about domestic issues, because that crowd was already convinced they were going to vote for him. The question I remember was, “Who are your heroes?” He took his time, and then he said, “The teachers in the public schools.” Particularly in rough neighborhoods, he said they were his heroes. And you can imagine how many teachers there were in that audience, or how many people related to teachers, and so he was talking about community, about local needs, education, civil rights, all in one answer.

Related: Primary Time: Of Kennedy, Carter, Jews and the Money Gap [NYM/Google Books]

Dead Sea Could Be a New Wonder

Except that humans are destroying it

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The Dead Sea, photographed from the space shuttle Endeavour last month.(NASA via Getty Images)

Officials at Israel’s Ministry of Tourism are wasting no time now that the Dead Sea has been chosen as a finalist in an online contest to name seven new wonders of the natural world, to be announced in 2011. “We are very happy,” said Gura Berger, the ministry’s coordinator of efforts on behalf of the Dead Sea. “But there are still two years ahead of us and we need to encourage one billion people around the world to vote for us.” That seems doable. According to the Jerusalem Post, the contest asks for “sites of extraordinary beauty and ecological significance, which have not been created or significantly altered by humans.” That last bit is what might prove challenging for Dead Sea champions; the body of water is losing more than three feet of depth a year—not because of nature but because of human diversion of Jordan River waters, which feed the Sea, for irrigation purposes in Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories, and by the extraction of minerals by companies, like Ahava, along its shores.

Berger concedes the Dead Sea is in peril, but thinks winning the contest would ultimately be a boon for tourism. Though right now replenishment, not people, is what would constitute the best kind of life support.

Dead Sea on Seven Wonders Shortlist [JPost]
Is the Dead Sea Dying? [Science Daily]

Is Jerusalem Online University a Scam?

Blogger charges it’s tricking secular students into Orthodoxy

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Orthodox watchdog blog Failed Messiah dug through registration records for the new website of Jerusalem Online University, a small, semi-accredited institution that appears to be unaffiliated with any particular Jewish religious movement, and found ties to a site run by ultra-Orthodox organization Aish HaTorah. On the university’s homepage, secular-seeming boys and girls huddle together around a laptop, and courses cover nothing more theologically sophisticated than “Jewish history, the Bible, interpersonal relationships, and even Kaballah.” Shmarya Rosenberg, who runs Failed Messiah, also notes that, although the Jerusalem Online University site doesn’t mention it, Rabbi Raphael Shore, the university’s director, formerly ran Aish HaTorah’s Aish Cafe, a now-defunct online educational program. Aish Cafe offered some of the same classes Jerusalem Online University now does, and its web address now forwards browsers to Jerusalem Online University’s. What does Rosenberg conclude from all this? That Jerusalem Online University is a secular front that “hides its relationship to Aish HaTorah and to Orthodoxy in order to lure unsuspecting college students to Orthodoxy.”

Shore, for his part, told Tablet Magazine that he’s not trying to hide anything. When the “About Us” section of Jerusalem Online University’s website is completed, he said, it will explain the former affiliation with Aish Cafe. He also said that he raised funds for both Aish Cafe and Jerusalem Online University independent of Aish HaTorah. “One of the reasons we separated was we were very interested in broadening the spectrum of presenters that are in the course and broadening the potential to reach people, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox,” he said.

Exclusive: Aish HaTorah Masks Involvement Of Online Jewish “University” Meant To Lure Unwitting Students To Orthodoxy [Failed Messiah]

Wieseltier Hates Idea of Self-Hatred

Even if he once made same charge himself

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In his latest New Republic column, Leon Wieseltier goes to great lengths to discredit the idea that Jews who criticize Israel are “self-hating,” an accusation that has recently been hurled at Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod. He takes issue with this notion of “race treason,” (a phrase he lifts disdainfully from the Nextbook Press book The Wicked Son by David Mamet), dismissing it summarily as political semantics—“The defenders of Greater Israel have values, but the critics of Greater Israel have motives”—and comparing it mockingly to the preposterous “birther” movement on the American right: “I mean, any man who opposes Jewish settlement in the West Bank must have a foreskin.”

But while Wieseltier, who admits to having once denounced Henry Kissinger on the same grounds of betrayal he now finds noxious, describes himself as a “recovering Jewish fascist,” he still maintains his essential prickliness. He says of President Obama’s Israel policies, which, he asserts, have taken the love out of “tough love”: “I am not one of those Jews who are maddened by American ‘pressure’ on Israel, but I do not take kindly to it when it is accompanied by a bow to the Saudi king.”

Suspicions [TNR]

Abbas Willing to Talk to Netanyahu

At U.N. next month, albeit informally

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Abbas addressing a Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah today.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is willing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations next month, according to unnamed Palestinian officials quoted in The Jerusalem Post. Although Abbas refuses to agree to even preliminary negotiating sessions with the current Israeli government until it ends all construction in settlements in the West Bank, the willingness to speak informally is still a big step for the Fatah leader to take, and it makes perfect sense given other statements and gestures emanating from Bethlehem. Yesterday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced plans to establish a “de facto” Palestinian state by 2011, founded on dramatically improved infrastructure, security, and economic development. This would proceed apace with Netanyahu’s so far consistent efforts to scale back the occupational presence in the West Bank by “radically reducing” the number of IDF soldiers stationed there, dismantling outposts, checkpoints and roadblocks, and weakening trade restrictions in the West Bank. Even an informal conference between the two leaders may prove fruitful: sort of a backstage negotiation over material progress, if not peace.

Palestinian Officials: ‘Abbas Willing to Meet With Netanyahu’ [JPost]
Earlier: Palestinian State by 2011, Fayyad Says

Suit Dismissed Against Ortho L.I. School Board

Secular parents said board was running district to benefit yeshiva students

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A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by secular parents in Lawrence, New York, one of Long Island’s Five Towns, which claimed that their Orthodox-dominated school board had decided to close the district’s nicest elementary school in hopes of selling or leasing it to a yeshiva. (Six of the seven elected school board members send their own children to yeshivas, not public school.) U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert ruled it would be unconstitutional to overturn the decision of a duly elected board, however unintuitive the logic of having people who don’t use public schools govern them: “To deny Orthodox Jews these rights simply because, as plaintiffs allege, Orthodox Jews have different opinions from Lawrence’s other residents would be to discriminate against Orthodox Jews because they are Orthodox Jews.” But fear not, the feud’s not over: Plaintiff Andrew Levey told Newsday that he and his fellow litigants are “exploring our options.”

Judge Dismisses Lawrence Parents’ School Lawsuit [Newsday]
Earlier: Secular L.I. Parents Sue Orthodox-Run School Board

Today on Tablet

Looking at Human Rights Watch, an Israeli ‘food activist,’ foreskins

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Allison Hoffman digs into speculation that Human Rights Watch has an anti-Israel bias. Joshua Cohen examines the life and work of writer Benjamin De Casseres. Leah Koenig tells of “food activists” in Israel who bring specialty farmer’s market produce across the border to the Palestinian territories. Marissa Brostoff talks to Melvin Konner about the origins of circumcision. And much more, here on The Scroll.

Bob Dylan, New GPS Voice

One problem: No directions home

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Dylan performing for a Michael Douglas tribute TV special in June.(Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI)

After frolicking in a Victoria’s Secret commercial in 2004, Bob Dylan has announced yet another unexpected commercial collaboration, telling listeners of his weekly radio show that he was in negotiations with several car companies to become the voice of their GPS systems. “Left at the next street,” the raspy-voiced Dylan continued, imagining his new gig. “No, right. You know what? Just go straight. I probably shouldn’t do it because whichever way I go, I always end up at one place—on Lonely Avenue.”

Or on Highway 61. Or on Desolation Row.

Need Direction Home? Ask Bob Dylan [NYT]

Daybreak: Shalom, Chaver

Netanyahu optimistic, the Car Czar’s pedigree, and more from the news

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• Sen. Ted Kennedy died yesterday at 77; Israeli officials mourn the loss of a “friend.” [Haaretz]
• The original blueprints for Auschwitz, discovered last year, will be given to Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu when he visits Berlin this week and then donated to Yad Vashem. [AFP]
• In advance of today’s meeting with U.S. envoy George Mitchell, Netanyahu says his nation is getting closer to finding a “bridging formula” for the settlement issue, and that he would like to resume peace talks with the Palestinians “shortly.” [AP]
• JTA digs for relevance in the discovery that “Car Czar” Ron Bloom grew up going to Labor Zionist summer camp. [JTA]

Sundown: Maidel-on-Maidel Action

Online Yiddish, comedic justice, and evangelical fervor

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• A new film to be directed by Darren Aronofsky features Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis engaging in “ecstasy-induced hungry aggressive angry sex.” But, of course, the real question is: “Does the story that surrounds the sex”—a psychologically probing tale of a Russian ballerina and her doppelganger—“disappoint or excel?” [ScriptShadow]
The Nation’s blog speaks up for Israeli professor Neve Gordon’s recent—and much maligned—op-ed supporting a boycott against his own country, which he believes is practicing apartheid. [Nation]
Google Translate has added Yiddish to its list of available languages. According to the commenters on Vos iz Neias?—who would know—the service is faulty, so you might want to cross-reference before you try to impress your grandparents. [VIN]
• Sunda Croonquist, a half-black, half-Swedish comedian who converted to Judaism, is being sued by her mother-in-law for jokes like this one about what the older woman said in advance of the birth of her granddaughter: “I want to know what you’re naming that little tchotchke. Now we don’t want a name that’s difficult to pronounce like Shaniqua. We’re thinking a name short but delicious. Like Hadassah or Goldie.” [AP]
• An open letter to Mike Huckabee asserts that the former governor’s “hopes for an eventual violent apocalypse in Israel” have blinded him to the Zionism of “Jewish Americans who would dare to see the grandkids of their Israeli cousins living in peace with their Palestinian neighbors.” [True/Slant]

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