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Hugo Chávez’s Uses for Anti-Semitism

Remorse for temple vandalism is exception to rule

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez(Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday, Spain’s and Venezuela’s foreign ministers made an official visit to Caracas’s Tiferet Israel Synagogue to condemn the anti-Semitic attack perpetrated on it in January. That incident featured violence against two guards, burglary, desecration of a Torah, and graffiti. It was the Venezuelan minister’s second visit since the attack; the politicians also met with leaders of the country’s Sephardic community. “They sent a strong message repudiating anti-Semitism,” said the Latin American Jewish Congress’s director.

Here’s the problem. As this illuminating article in the latest Boston Review makes clear, President Hugo Chávez’s regime only holds such an enlightened attitude toward Venezuela’s roughly 12,000 Jews when it knows the world is watching. The Tiferet Israel attack came soon after Venezuela severed diplomatic ties with Israel in response to January’s Gaza incursion. According to the Review article, Chávez’s first instinct was to hypothesize that his regime’s opposition was responsible for the attack; only international pressure prompted an about-face and a series of arrests. Chávez has in the past claimed that Israel did “something similar to what Hitler did, possibly worse.” Jewish sites in Venezuela, including the Israeli Embassy, have previously been targets of vandalism.

Moreover, the article contends, such incidents and words are not aberrations, but rather are inextricably linked to Chávez’s populist appeal and the climate he deliberately cultivates: “Anti-Semitism is close to the intellectual heart of Chavismo,” it asserts. For example, the regime regularly utilizes anti-Semitism to discredit its opponents, as when a prominent anchor on a state television channel accused the owners of a Venezuela mall chain, the Cohens, of “financing all that is happening” in reference to the anti-Chávez student movement that gained momentum in late 2007. In other words, such pious displays as we saw yesterday are the exception to the rule. “In recent years,” notes the article, “the Jewish community in Venezuela has shrunk some 20 percent.”

Spanish, Venezuelan Foreign Ministers Visit Synagogue [JTA]
United By Hate [Boston Review]

Today on Tablet

Israel’s mob (with photos!), a daughter draws her dad

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On the fourth day of the week, Tablet Magazine brings you the fourth part of Douglas Century’s five-part investigation into the current state of Israeli organized crime (here are parts 1; 2; and 3). Accompanying Century throughout his reporting was photographer Antonin Kratochvil, and accompanying Century’s article today is a slideshow of Kratochvil’s photographs of Israel’s underworld. Sara Ivry spotlights The Impostor’s Daughter, a new graphic memoir about the author/artist’s struggle to understand her congenitally dishonest father. But on The Scroll, we always strive to tell the truth.

Daybreak: Settlers Defy Obama

The N.J. case in Israel, the Madoff case, and more

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• Over the last several days, radical settlers built 11 unauthorized West Bank outposts to commemorate a similar defiance of the British in 1946 and to rebuke the Obama administration. [NYT]
• Though Israeli institutions, notably banks, and even some Israelis allegedly played important roles in the New Jersey money-laundering case, Israel has yet to launch its own investigation. [Forward]
• The trustee representing Bernard Madoff’s investors sued his wife, Ruth, for nearly $45 million. She has already forfeited almost $80 million in assets. [NYT]
• Chabad-Lubavitch filed a motion against Russia in Washington, D.C. federal court in a case involving sacred books. Russia had withdrawn from the case in a different jurisdiction; because the allegations involve international law, though, a federal appellate court ruled that Chabad-Lubavitch could pursue its claims stateside. [JTA]
• Finally, a remotely Jewish angle to the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. brouhaha! It turns out that James Crowley, the Cambridge, Mass. policeman who arrested the Harvard professor last week, in 2007 attended a program for poice officers on racial profiling at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in L.A., where he thoroughly impressed his teachers. [WSJ]

Sundown: Holocaust Museum Shooter May Get Death

Canada’s Israel boycott, Morocco’s Shoah recognition

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• The Holocaust Museum shooter, James von Brunn, was indicted for first-degree murder, and is therefore eligible for the death penalty. [Washington Post]
• Canada’s largest Protestant sect, the United Church of Canada, plans to call for a “comprehensive boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions.” Canadian Jewish groups have called this an “obscene gesture.” [JTA]
• The King of Morocco formally acknowledged the Holocaust, and said it was “tragic”. One prominent activist called it the first instance of an Arab head of state taking “such a clear stand on the Shoah.” [Capital J]
• CBS News Anchor Katie Couric revealed that in 2000 Michael Jackson used the prominent author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach as a conduit to ask Couric out on a date. [Gawker]
• Novelist Michael Chabon, who most recently re-imagined a post-WWII Jewish state in Sitka, Alaska in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, refers to the “fundamental brutality” of circumcision in his forthcoming memoir. (His two sons were circumcised, but with anesthetic, he says.) [Page Six]

Figure in AIPAC Case Changes Story

Now says he was spying ON AIPAC for the FBI

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Hold on for a second, and pay close attention: we have here a brand-new twist to an already labyrinthine spy tale. In 2005, Larry Franklin, the Pentagon’s former Iran desk officer, pleaded guilty to disclosing secret information on the U.S.’s Iran and Iraq policy without authorization to two members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and one official at the Israeli Embassy. However, Franklin now claims that he had in reality been spying on AIPAC on behalf of the FBI, before his FBI handlers turned on him and told him he would face espionage charges, which were later downgraded to the unauthorized disclosure charges. Specifically, Franklin asserts, after the FBI began investigating him in 2004 for allegedly leaking information to CBS News about prominent Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi’s Iranian ties, the Bureau asked him to go undercover to try to learn more about alleged Israeli spying, and to help it build a criminal case against the two AIPAC officials, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. (These men were eventually indicted, but then saw all charges against them dropped this spring.) Tensions between Franklin and the U.S. government first arose when he dissented from Pentagon thinking that Iran could prove a help in the then-impending invasion and occupation of its neighbor, Iraq; Franklin believed Iran would refuse to help the U.S., and first established a relationship with the AIPAC and Israeli officials in an effort to influence U.S. policy in a manner aligned with his views on the matter.

This stuff is straight out of John le Carré. We hope to have more on it in the coming days.

EXCLUSIVE: Defense Analyst in Spy Case Was FBI Double Agent [Washington Times]

Israel Gets a Disney Channel

Why? Because…why not!

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They’re saying ‘Shalom!’(Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

A couple years ago, a lovable giant rodent with a curious resemblance to a more famous lovable giant rodent joyously instructed Palestinian children to resist the Zionists on a Hamas TV program—or he did, until someone introduced the program’s producers to the concept of copyright infringement. But in September, your favorite pal Mickey Mouse will be speaking Hebrew, along with Minnie, Pluto, and the rest, as the Disney Channel launches an Israeli station. The Mouse House will be dubbing its regular programming, including live-action series such as Hannah Montana, and featuring original shows with Israeli actors as well. We can’t wait to hear what Donald Duck’s voice does with all those hard chs. So get psyched!

Disney Channel Goes Hebrew [Forward]

Israel and America ‘In The Loop’

What a new movie can teach us

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top from the Times; bottom from In The Loop(Alessandro Gottardo/In The Loop)

An op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times made a splash for accusing President Barack Obama of not speaking directly to the Israeli people. The article’s accompanying drawing—pictured, on top—cleverly depicted the alleged communication breakdown between the U.S. and Israel. It was also reminiscent of the second image, which comes from the poster of the new British film In The Loop. In addition to being really, really, really funny (seriously, you should go see it), the movie is a blistering satire of government bureaucracy, British and American politics, and how the dysfunctions of all those things could pave the way for, say, the invasion of a Middle Eastern country based on cooked-up intelligence (the country is unnamed in the movie).

In The Loop is made up, almost entirely, of talk (you could watch it with your eyes closed). It’s also about talk—about poor word choice, about good word choice that is mangled by spin doctors, about how people say one thing and mean another. But for all the talk, the one audience that is never spoken to in the movie is the public; In The Loop’s tidal wave of words takes place entirely behind closed doors. In In The Loop, all this empty and covert chatter results in farce. It strikes us, though, that unless the U.S. and Israel untangle their communication lines, and unless both of their publics are treated as grown-ups, what follows could be far less funny.

Why Won’t Obama Talk to Israel? [NYT]
Previously: Columnists to Obama: Talk To Us!

Israel Partly Lifts Gaza Blockade

Allows materials for U.N.-approved construction

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Only one day after several United Nations agencies and aid groups banded together to request that Israel at least partially lift its blockade of Gaza, Israel is doing just that. For the first time since its military incursion there in January, Israel’s government approved the transfer of construction materials, including metal pipes and cement (substances about which Israel is touchy, as they can be used to manufacture rockets and bunkers, respectively), into the Hamas-controlled area—but only for use on specific, U.N.-approved projects, including Gaza’s largest flour mill, a sewage treatment plant, and a British cemetery. The government also signed off on the equivalent of over $27 million in monthly transfers to the territory. Neither the money nor the materials are supposed to come under Hamas’s control.

Israel to Allow Cement, Metal Pipes into Gaza [Haaretz]
Israel Approves Money, Cement Transfers to Gaza [Arutz Sheva]

‘Birther’ Leader On Colbert

Woman, born a Soviet Jew, warns of Obama

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Stephen Colbert welcomed Orly Taitz onto his Comedy Central show last night. Taitz is the California woman (whom I profiled yesterday for Tablet Magazine) who has become the de facto head of the so-called “birther” movement—the amorphous group of mostly conservative conspiracy theorists who insist, for various and changing reasons, that Barack Obama is not a “natural born citizen” and therefore ineligible to hold his current job. Taitz appeared excited to press her case to the Colbert Nation, earnestly telling her host, “If in Nazi Germany, the soldiers and the officers would have questioned the orders that came from the commander-in-chief”—Hitler, that is—“maybe 65 million people wouldn’t have died.” She also asserted, “I think we’re getting another Stalin.” That charge is particularly sensitive for her: she is herself a Soviet Jew who came to the U.S. in 1987 after six years in Israel. At this point, she told Colbert, there isn’t anything the president could say that would shake her doubts about his legitimacy. “He is a Chicago crook,” she explained.

It hasn’t been a great week for her cause: on Monday, House Republicans who had once appeared sympathetic to the birthers’ claims voted unanimously for a bill that stipulated that Obama was indeed born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961—which is what his, y’know, birth certificate says. Taitz told Tablet Magazine earlier this week that her real concern is that Obama could be some sort of “Manchurian candidate.” For whom, she wouldn’t say.

You can watch her appearance below.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Womb Raiders – Orly Taitz
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Tasers

Previously: In Doubt’s Shadow

Guss’ Pickles Decamps For Brooklyn

Are there any more decent pickles in Manhattan?

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Guss' Pickles(05 Guss' Pickles by Jason Lam; some rights reserved.)

Manhattan’s Lower East Side has already lost most vestiges of its history as the teeming neighborhood whose tenements housed many of our ancestors. Yet there is still something depressing about Orchard Street landmark Guss’ Pickles decision to move across the East River to Brooklyn’s heavily ultra-Orthodox Boro Park. The pickle emporium, which opened on nearby Essex Street in 1910 and which still closes on Saturdays, reportedly needed more room and couldn’t afford a bigger rent in the neighborhood. So here we have another ravage to chalk up to gentrification, which has either destroyed what remained of “the old neighborhood” or turned it into an object of commemoration. Still, gentrification also undoubtedly increased the neighborhood’s Jewish population—albeit with Jews of the more secularized, yuppiefied variety—and it’s a shame they can no longer walk down the street and pick up a fresh, sour, briney pickle.

Guss’ Pickles Packing Up for Brooklyn [Bowery Boogie]

Today in Tablet

“Vagina” in Yiddish and a guide to Tisha B’Av

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In Tablet Magazine today, Elissa Strauss celebrates the rich Yiddish lexicon for describing female genitalia. We present part 3 of Douglas Century’s epic report on the current state of Israeli organized crime (part 1; part 2). Apropos Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s attempts to argue that the Palestinian Grand Mufti’s alliance with Hitler during World War II argues against a settlement freeze, columnist Seth Lipsky details that alliance. In honor of Tisha B’Av (which starts tonight at sundown) we tell you all you need to know about the holiday. And we’ll tell you even more things you need to know throughout the day on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Madoff Speaks

Plus, tension at the Lebanon border

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• In his first prison interview, Bernard Madoff said he was surprised how long regulators let him continue his Ponzi scheme. He also apparently looks healthy and “seems to be working out.” [ABC News]
• The simmering back-and-forth continues with reports that Lebanon has placed its army on high alert following the movement of Israeli tanks toward a border crossing. [JTA]
• Out of 25 countries polled, only Israel had lowered rather than raised its view of the United States since President Obama assumed office. The U.S.’s Israeli approval rating of 71% is still higher than most of the others’. [Haaretz]
• One of the 44 people arrested last week in connection with charges of money-laundering among New Jersey’s Syrian Jewish community, a political consultant named Jack M. Shaw, was found dead in a suspected suicide. [NYT]

Sundown: Bibi Predicts Hamas’s Defeat

Plus, Obama in a yarmulke

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• Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predicted in a speech to National Security Academy graduates, “If the Palestinians could, they would overthrow Hamas, and believe me, one day they will.” [ynet]
• Al Jazeera’s director general rebuffed the suggestion, reportedly made privately by President Obama himself, that the Arabic-language network frequently broadcasts a picture of Obama wearing a yarmulke at the Western Wall. [Foreign Policy]
• Several United Nations and aid group officials issued a statement urging Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza, or at least make exceptions for construction materials. The United States and European countries have lodged similar requests in the past. [Haaretz]
• The man identified in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Brüno as the head of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade has come forward to say he is not affiliated with the Palestinian terrorist group and plans to sue. [ArtsBeat]
• And if you chanced to eat any whitefish from Haifa Smoked Fish Inc. in the past several months, then you may want to spit it out. [Food and Drug Administration]

Columnists to Obama: Talk To Us!

‘Haaretz’ writers tag-team the president

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Today, two writers for the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz each published op-ed pieces making the same argument: President Barack Obama must speak directly to the Israeli people—as he has to those in the Muslim world—or else his credibility will vanish as he tries to persuade the Israeli government to halt settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The newspaper’s editor-at-large, Aluf Benn, argued in The New York Times that Obama’s failure to talk to the Israeli people has made Israelis “increasingly suspicious” and created “a virtual domestic consensus over [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's] rejection of the settlement freeze.” Columnist Bradley Burston, publishing from his usual Haaretz perch, appealed, “Speak to these people, my friends out here in the heat, the people who, ultimately, will make the decision to opt for a future peace.”

Senior Obama administration officials bristled at Benn’s suggestion that “The Arabs got the Cairo speech; we got silence,” reports Atlantic blogger (and Tablet Magazine contributing editor) Jeffrey Goldberg. They noted that in Cairo Obama rebuked Arab leaders’ exploitation of the Palestinian issue and unequivocally condemned Palestinian terrorism. The officials’ defense of Obama may be accurate; it may even be that Benn and Burston are demanding an unfair amount of the new president. (Benn all but admits as much, writing, “In the 16 rosy years of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Israelis became spoiled by unfettered presidential attention.”) But perceptions, fair or unfair, sometimes matter most, and Benn’s and Burston’s reading of the Israeli people’s perception carries a great deal of weight. Besides, if Obama is not embarrassed about what he is asking the Israeli people—and we see no reason why he ought to be embarrassed—then he should have no problem asking them to their faces.

Why Won’t Obama Talk to Israel? [NYT]
Mr. Obama, Have a Talk With These Israelis, And Soon [Haaretz]
The White House Reacts to Aluf Benn’s Arguments [The Atlantic]

Funny Jewish People

New film is Jewish, in a non-Borscht Belt way

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Judd Apatow’s ‘Funny People’(Courtesy Universal Pictures)

Filmmaker Judd Apatow’s new movie, Funny People, is primarily about, well, funny people, but as New Yorker film blogger Richard Brody puts it, “a subtitle might be ‘And They’re Mostly Jewish.’” What’s more, Brody—who, like New Yorker film critic David Denby, considers the film a “masterpiece”—perceives the Judaism of the film’s characters as well as its auteur (Apatow wrote and directed it) to be integral to its success. The movie follows a prominent Jewish comedian, played by prominent Jewish comedian Adam Sandler, as he is diagnosed with leukemia, and then beats it. Sandler, Brody writes, “gives his character’s garlic-infused, worldly wisdom a particular Old World flavor and helps the movie to play like Jewish soul music.” Brody’s sense that the movie wields its Jewishness lightly but significantly jibes well with what Apatow himself told Jewish Journal in an interview published last week: “It’s just a sensibility that’s almost an unspoken, unconscious thing,” he said of his background. “I’m not a religious person, but I couldn’t be more Jewish.”

Funny People opens this Friday. You can watch the full-length trailer here.

Busting a Kishka [The Front Row]
What Makes Funny People Tick [Jewish Journal]

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