On Tablet Today

Wacky plays, reverent books, and mistaken identity


Christopher Bonanos contemplates the fact that everyone assumes he is Jewish, although he isn’t. Adam Kirsch discusses a new book detailing the time the thinkers associated with the Institute for Social Research, or Frankfurt School, spent in exile. Jonathan Rosen talks to Sam Magavern, author of a new book on Primo Levi. Marissa Brostoff surveys the Jewish theater landscape at the Fringe Festival. And updates continue on this blog, The Scroll.

Daybreak: Diplomacy

Specter’s travails, Huckabee makes waves again, and more in the news


• Israeli President Shimon Peres is visiting Russia and will meet with President Dmitry Medvedev to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and other mutual concerns. [AFP]
• President Obama sees the current visit by Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak as a chance to bring him back on board with the peace process in Israel. [AP]
• In hopes of pleasing the United States, Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu has not issued any permits for new construction in the West Bank settlements during his term, although work continues on previously approved projects there. [Reuters]
• Mike Huckabee continues to oppose Obama’s policies on Israel, saying that a two-state solution would be “unrealistic.” [AP]
The Washington Post details the health-care struggles of Sen. Arlen Specter, saying that the “electricity” between him and his constituents in Pennsylvania on health care reform “may define the fight for the history books.” [WP]

Sundown: The Politics of Toilets

Baby bust, high-minded photography, and a video gaffe


• Ralph Jaffe, a gubernatorial hopeful in Maryland, is suing the state beause a security guard would not let Jaffe use the restroom in a state office building, suggesting he go to a neighboring McDonalds, which Jaffe, who is Jewish, worried might “give people the impression that I’m going over there to order a hamburger.” [Baltimore Sun]
• A photographer whose work represents Albanians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust hopes his exhibit at the El Paso Holocaust Museum “will help chip away at ethnic and religious stereotypes”—prehaps starting with those at the El Paso Times, which says, “Muslims rescuing Jews seems improbable in today’s world.” [EPT]
• Rabbi Menachem Burstein, head of a Jewish fertility organization in Israel, has changed his stance and determined that single women should not be allowed to have children, as, he stated speciously, “it has been proven that a child born to a single woman from in vitro insemination suffers greatly.” [Ynet]
• The home of Australian politician Eric Roozendaal, who has spoken out against fringe right-wing organizations, was vandalized with neo-Nazi graffiti. [Sydney Morning Herald]
• On the advice of trusted Jewish friends, the head of the website Y’all Politics has removed a video criticizing Mississippi Rep. Travis Childers for visiting Israel during the fracas over health care reform at home. [JTA]

Significant Stars of David

On plate for sale


With the High Holidays fast approaching, why not adorn your holiday table with the Star of David plate, brought to you by the folks at Significant Objects? The brains behind the project, journalists Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, enlist writers, filmmakers, and others to invent narratives behind, well, objects, which Walker and Glenn then sell on eBay. Adam Harrison Levy, a documentary director and producer, takes a crack at it today, offering a fictional provenance for a plate decorated with Stars of David. In his yarn, he describes taking the bus to meet the late screenwriter Budd Schulberg on Long Island to research a film.

While there, he “spied the plate—which contained some loose change and three paperclips—on the credenza. Something about the simplicity and modernity of its shape reminded me of an Eero Saarinen Tulip Table. The artfully incoherent placement of the stars was like a Dada backdrop. The plate was clearly mass produced. It called out to me. When Schulberg doddered off to take a leak, I slipped the plate—change, paperclips, and all—into my bag.”

Bidding opens at two dollars.

Star of David Plate [Significant Objects]

Hebrew School for Everyone

At New York’s newest charter school.


Here’s a brain teaser: is a school that teaches secular subjects in Hebrew inherently religious? The people behind the Hebrew Language Academy, New York’s first publicly funded Hebrew-language charter school, think not; they insist that, like an Arabic school that opened two years ago in Brooklyn, the new school can stay safely in secular terrain while teaching in a language widely associated with religion. Skeptics aren’t convinced; they see the school’s overwhelmingly Russian Jewish enrollment as evidence that the funders, investor and Birthright Israel founder Michael Steinhardt and Oklahoma philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, want to co-opt public funds to promote Jewish identity.

To reassure critics, they’ve hired Maureen Campbell, the Vassar- and Oxford-educated daughter of Jamaican immigrants, to oversee the inaugural year; Campbell, who grew up in Harlem, isn’t Jewish and doesn’t speak Hebrew herself but said she’s learning fast. (Lucky, since she’ll need it to chat to her students and teachers during breakfast and lunch breaks, when Hebrew will be strictly enforced.) In an interview with The Forward, Campbell was insistent that “you can teach a culture and a language without encouraging the observance of religion.” But, she added, Israeli colors will be integrated into the school’s decor; which means, in other words, it’ll basically be just like a school in Tel Aviv.

Charter School’s New Chief Touts Church-State Separation [The Forward]

Did IDF Kill 12 Surrendering Palestinians?

Report says yes, though author has anti-Israel background


A month after Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg got Human Rights Watch’s executive director, Ken Roth, to admit that, yes, the organization does use its ostentatious antagonism of Israel and Israel’s defenders in the United States to raise money in Saudi Arabia, comes more scandalizing background about the organization’s behind-the-scenes biases. Joe Stork, the deputy director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa programs, has lately accused the IDF of murdering 12 Palestinians while they waved white flags during the Gaza War. Noah Pollak, a Commentary blogger, today points us to a Hebrew-language article in Ma’ariv, which notes that Stork’s appraisal of war crimes might be colored by his own radical politics. While a student in the 1970s, Stork was an ultra-left-wing activist, in favor of the elimination of the “imperialist entity” Israel and no stranger to Zionism-equals-racism confabs organized by Saddam Hussein. He also referred to the Black September massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics as an action that “cannot create or substitute for a mass revolutionary movement” but at least “provided an important boost in morale among Palestinians in the camps.”

According to the HRW report, titled “White Flag Deaths,” IDF soldiers fired on a convoy of unarmed civilians waving white flags. “All available evidence,” the report’s introduction reads, “indicates that Israeli forces had control of the areas in question, no fighting was taking place there at the time, and Palestinian fighters were not hiding among the civilians who were shot.” HRW has called upon the Israeli government to investigate these allegations; in response, the IDF has said that its soldiers are ordered not to fire on anyone waving white flags, but that Hamas militants often used civilians draped in them as subterfuge. While HRW does seem to have a penchant for hiring people with feverish ideological backgrounds, the charges are serious enough to warrant investigation.

Who Is Human Rights Watch’s Joe Stork? [Commentary translation of Ma’ariv article]
Previously: Human Rights Watch Goes to Saudi Arabia
White Flag Deaths [Human Rights Watch]

Fatah Elects a Jew

Uri Davis calls himself ‘a Palestinian, Hebrew, of Jewish origin, anti-Zionist’

Davis, left, greets another Fatah member yesterday.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

Fatah, the Palestinian political party that governs the West Bank, elected its first Jewish-born government official last week. Uri Davis, who’s now a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, was born in mandate Palestine and inherited British citizenship from his father, but describes himself as “a Palestinian, Hebrew, of Jewish origin, anti-Zionist, a citizen of an apartheid state called the State of Israel and citizen of an alleged constitutional monarchy that goes by the name the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland,” the Guardian reports. Davis, a professor at the Palestinian university Al-Quds, is married to a Palestinian woman and is registered with the Israeli government as a Muslim. According to Haaretz, he was recruited into Fatah by a PLO leader in the 1980s. “I wasn’t convinced that the Israeli left-wing parties were satisfactory because all of them are Zionist parties,” he told the paper. Davis ran for his Revolutionary Council position by promising to help strengthen the party’s international ties.

Fatah Congress Elects First Jewish-Born Member [The Guardian]
Report: Jewish Fatah Member Nominated for Party’s Revolutionary Council [Haaretz]
Israeli Wins Fatah Top Body Seat [BBC]

Mexico Is Like Gaza

Says Texas governor, in Israel


You may have learned over the weekend that Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now locked in a primary battle to run for reelection against the state’s senior senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, represents the ideological, hard-right conservative side in the ongoing battle for the Republican Party’s soul. (Apparently it has one.) What you may not know is that Perry—who has recently, among other things, mused about Texas’s secession from the union, over the stimulus bill—was in Israel last week, where he compared Mexico to the Gaza Strip and suggested that Texas could learn from Israel how to better manage its border. Indeed, after visiting the southern Israel town of Sderot, which has been hit by more than 6,000 Gaza-launched rockets since 2000, Perry argued that Texas’s situation might even be worse. “Kassam rockets have killed 28 Israelis over the last eight years,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “Well, 1,000 people have been killed in Juarez since the beginning of the year [in drug-related violence.”

Texas Gov. Compares Gaza to Mexico [JPost]
Governor’s Race Exposes Republican Rift in Texas [NYT]

Today on Tablet

Books, gender, and the thrills of grandma’s


Marjorie Ingall diagrams the reasons why grandma’s house is superior to her own when it comes to kiddie fun. Josh Lambert reviews books on depression, goats, Woodstock, and more. Vox Tablet, our weekly podcast, features the story of a professor who transitioned from male to female. And much more news and commentary to come here on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Egypt Won’t Make First Move

Huckabee likes settlements, firefighters squabble, and more in the news


• An Egyptian diplomat says President Hosni Mubarak, who is visiting the United States, will tell the White House that Israel needs to make the first “tangible” move toward peace before other Arab countries will begin to normalize relations. [NYT]
• Mike Huckabee has come out in support of the Israeli settlements, saying he disagrees with President Obama and his supporters “who would want to tell Israel that it cannot allow people to live in their own country, wherever they want.” [AP]
• A Jewish group accused the prince of Lichtenstein of attempting “to use the Holocaust as a defence for the prince’s political failures” by telling a local paper that his country’s secret banking policies, now under attack, helped save Jews. [Reuters]
• In a confusing move, the British firefighters’ union wants a boycott of relations with the Israeli fire department, after the two recently joined to form the International Fire Fighter Unions Alliance. [JPost]
• The 250-odd remaining Jews in Yemen have had it with persecution and are preparing to flee to the United States and Israel. [JPost]

Sundown: Here’s Egg on Your Face

Life and death, prison grub, and an exemplary Jewess


• Believe it or not, there is a world record for the world’s biggest custard pie fight. And, even more surprisingly, it’s just been beaten by a group called the Jewish Lads’ and Girls’ Brigade in the village of East Mersea in England. [Daily Gazette]
• The Forward’s Sarah Seltzer wants “Jewess” Rachel Menken back as a character on Mad Men, describing her as “a tribute to the attractiveness of independent-minded Jewish women” and “a commentary on the place of Jews in the American myth.” Even for a show that inspires such bold assessments, Seltzer may be taking it a bit far. [Forward]
• A Jewish prison inmate in Michigan has had his kosher meals suspended after being caught buying non-kosher treats from a vending machine, supposedly for someone else. [AP]
• In reaction to the paranoid talk of President Obama’s supposed “death panels,” the New Jersey Jewish Standard offers Jewish guidance on end-of-life issues. [NJJS]
• The newly-revealed affair between Bernard Madoff and ex-CFO of Hadassah Sheryl Weinstein has raised questions about the legitimacy of some of the women’s organization’s investments with the conman. [NYT]

God’s Army?

Is the IDF getting too Jewish?

(Michael Gottschalk/AFP/Getty Images)

Day-to-day operations in the Israel Defense Force often expose soldiers to a host of ideological conflicts: between settlers and Palestinians, right- and left-wing perspectives on a two-state solution, and of course, as has been in the news a lot lately, between secular and religious Jews. The IDF itself mandates a “code of ethics and ideological agnosticism,” soldiers told the Christian Science Monitor. However, reports the paper, recently there have been signs of encroaching religious ideas; chief military rabbi Avichai Rontzki and his representatives have been spotted trolling military bases for soldiers interested in chatting about how “the ‘holiness of the people of Israel’ would keep them safe,” passing out pamphlets offering biblical justification for merciless treatment of Palestinians, and insisting on monthly Torah discussions. And while when it comes to war, says one expert, “meaning must be given” for the destruction and force necessary, what Rontzki has been implementing “is way beyond the limits.” Between the fact that, as the CSM reports, “nationalist religious conscripts have replaced soldiers from secular farming kibbutzim, and have risen to be mid-level officers,” and the recent call from Religious Zionist rabbi Shlomo Aviner to exclude non-Jews from service (as per Maimonides, he claims), the army may have to watch out before it loses its tenuous commitment to neutrality.

In Israeli Army, Rabbis Deepen Religious Tone. Is that Kosher? [CSM]

Palestinians Are Jewish

Claims eccentric Israeli entrepreneur


Since the establishment of the state of Israel, groups of self-identifying Jews have emerged—often seeking to make aliyah under the Law of Return—from Ethiopia to Colombia. But, Israeli computer entrepreneur Tzvi Misinai told the newspaper Arutz Sheva last week, “In our search for the lost Ten Tribes in India and Afghanistan, we seem to have forgotten to look for their descendants in our very own backyard.”

Crypto-Jewish Palestinians! It may sound like something Michael Chabon dreamed up, but Misinai has spent half a million shekels so far on a quest “to search out the roots of Israel’s Arab enemies—and to inform them of their Judaic roots.” His arguments, though perhaps a bit geopolitically naïve, actually contain some important insights, as Paul Kujawsky at points out: not only does DNA and historical evidence suggest that many present-day Palestinians are the descendants of Jews who converted to Islam over the course of the past millennium, but Misinai has also collected fascinating testimony from Palestinians who say their mothers lit Shabbat candles or who own a menorah that’s been passed down through the generations.

Kujawsky’s deadpan conclusion: Israel might not be too thrilled if “after years of rejecting a Palestinian ‘right of return’” the Palestinians “come in under Israel’s Law of Return anyway”—but then again, “If the Palestinians renounced Islam and sincerely adopted Judaism en masse, the ‘two-state solution’ versus ‘one-state solution’ argument would become moot. The Palestinian war against the Jews would end with the Palestinians joining and enriching the eternal quarrels of the Jews among themselves.”

Arabs of Jewish Descent in Israel [Arutz Sheva]
Are Palestinian Arabs Actually Jewish? []

J Street Brings Jews, Muslims Together

As donors


It’s not uncommon for The New York Times and other media outlets to carry stories, usually heartwarming, about Jews and Arabs (or, more specifically, Israelis and Palestinians) working together, peacefully, on things like cultural initiatives or hospitals and education programs. Today, the Jerusalem Post has a story reporting that the same thing is happening in politics, specifically at J Street’s political action committee, which the paper reports has received about $111,000 in donations this year, including from a handful of people associated with various pro-Palestinian causes. Naturally, some are keen to cast the donations in a nefarious light; AIPAC’s Lenny Ben-David told the paper “once you introduce a large group and a large amount of money from people who are suspect in their pro-Israel credentials, J Street loses some of its credibility in claiming it is pro-Israel and representing the Jewish community.” But we’d argue that it’s actually probably just more evidence that, as Congressional Quarterly’s Jonathan Broder wrote earlier this week, J Street has managed to distinguish itself, in its short life, by being brilliant at manipulating the Washington money game to promote its interests. After all, as one unnamed Jewish leader told the Post, “Arab-American organizations or Palestinian American organizations have minuscule impact in Washington.” So, he went on, “if you’re looking for impact, for bang for your political buck, you’d give to J Street.”

Muslims, Arabs Among J Street Donors [JPost]

Standing Up To Goliath [CQ Weekly, subscription only]

A New Fight Over Durban

In ‘Harper’s,’ Naomi Klein highlights Jewish-black rivalry


The new issue of Harper’s, not yet available online, carries a piece by Naomi Klein challenging the “fairy tale Americans have been telling one another of late—the one about having entered a ‘post-racial’ era, with their dashing president cast in the lead.” She accomplishes this, rather deftly, by looking at the U.S. boycott in April of the United Nations Durban Review Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance—aka “Durban II.” The official reason for the boycott was that Durban II affirmed the principles of Durban I, the World Conference on Racism, which took place in the summer of 2001 in South Africa. Klein argues that the first conference, which was all set to focus on Africa and the socio-economic legacies of slavery, was the wildly unfortunate victim of a pre-conference sabotage by Islamic states that wanted to introduce language into the conference’s documents asserting that Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians are a form of apartheid and genocide. That got the p.r. guns of pro-Israel groups blazing in a campaign to discredit the entire conference.

The to-do turned public attention to the Middle East, a focus that remained uninterrupted in the following months, as Durban I concluded two days before September 11. A retrospective narrative took hold, Klein argues, in which the hatemongering at events surrounding Durban I and the World Trade Center attacks became of a piece—completely obscuring the Africa/reparation centerpiece that so many Durban I attendees were hoping to advance. By the time of Durban II, the anti-Israel patina surrounding Durban I was simply the excuse President Barack Obama needed for a boycott. What he was really avoiding, Klein says, was dealing with Africa and hard questions of racism, as has been his pattern, notwithstanding his speech about Rev. Jeremiah Wright—a denouncement she labels merely a strategic move to keep Obama in the contest. Obama, she says, “has studiously avoided anything that could be considered a black issue, from mass incarceration to the abandonment of New Orleans,” and supporting a conference about racism, and reparations, challenges the pull-your-self-up by your bootstraps, no-more-excuses position that Obama embraces.

But beyond Africa or Israel, the story of Durban, Klein argues provocatively, is the story of “Jews vs. blacks, a struggle between America’s two most powerful minority groups. The rivalry long predates the conference, of course. Reparations activists frequently point out that there is a Holocaust Museum in Washington but not a single major monument to the slaves who helped build the White House, or that many schools have far more detailed curricula about the Jewish genocide than they do about the transatlantic slave Trade…. For many civil rights leaders at the conference, it seemed that Jews—more than any sector of society—should have been their natural allies in the reparations call. Instead, it was large Jewish organizations and the state of Israel—itself a form of reparations, as Roger Wareham [an attorney who attended] pointed out—that successfully undermined the one international forum in which reparations for slavery were on the agenda.”

Which will no doubt keep the conversation about all this flowing. [Homepage]

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