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Daybreak: Israel’s Obama Housing Bubble

Settlements, U.S. Gen. Schwartz, and more in the news

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• Some are crediting President Obama’s call for a settlement freeze for the recent boom in housing prices in the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim. [Arutz Sheva]
• Did you know that the commander of the U.S. Air Force is Jewish? And guess in which Middle East ally Gen. Norton A. Schwartz is holding talks this week. [JPost]
• The mayor of Constanta, Romania—the guy who dressed up like a Nazi and goose-stepped in a fashion show—apologized. “I do not share the Nazi ideology,” he said. “On the contrary I appreciate those who wanted to assassinate the mad dictator.” He added he’s been to Israel three times (no word on whether he has many Jewish friends). [ynet]
• And: we’re No. 1! In an overtime thriller, the U.S. basketball squad defeated Israel to snatch first place in the Maccabiah Games. [Haaretz]

Sundown: Soros on Settlers

Lobbying for lobbying, hot dogs, and more

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• George Soros’s International Crisis Group published a report on Israel’s religious right, acknowledging its “deep roots” but calling for the settlements it backs to be “reined in”. (The report notes that the 10 percent of Israelis, but 20 percent of Israeli first graders, are ultra-Orthodox.) [Arutz Sheva]
• Israeli rabbis, including the Chief Sephardic Rabbi, asked prominent American rabbis and Jewish leaders to “make use of your political power to lobby the American authorities” to support settlements. [Haaretz]
• Israel’s new ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, talks Zionism and the Diaspora with Jeffrey Goldberg. [The Atlantic]
• Quentin Tarantino will visit Israel in September to promote the release of his Inglorious Basterds. The movie is about Jewish-American soldiers who kill lots and lots and lots and lots of Nazis, and don’t even clean up afterward. [Haaretz]
• A vegan advocacy group called Cancer Project is suing Nathan’s Famous and Hebrew National, among other hot-dog makers, to get them to slap a cancer warning on their product. Given what we already do know about hot dogs, would that even dent sales? [AP]

Military Org. Loves Rep. Klein!

Boca congressman gets event rescheduled

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Klein campaign for his Congressional seat with Bill Clinton.(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

It looks like the White House Commission on Remembrance, when planning 2009’s National Weekend of Remembrance, forgot to remember the High Holy Days. The annual weekend for military families to commemorate lost loved ones was scheduled for September 18-20 … and September 19th is Rosh Hashanah. Ooops. Fortunately, a statement we got from Families United For Our Troops and Their Mission, which represents military families (of all religions!), says a schedule change is forthcoming, for which, it adds, we can thank Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fl.), who represents the good people of Boca Raton and who calmly and nicely made his displeasure over the scheduling snafu known. Certainly Families United is thankful! The group is now “making every effort to accommodate every Gold Star family, from every faith”—see, not just Jews!—including “working with airlines and travel partners to ensure that families are not forced to pay a penalty for this oversight.” And all this, “in spite of” the fact that the event date “was in place long before Families United ever became involved.” Yes sirree, Ron Klein just made himself a new best friend in Families United!

Congressman Ron Klein: War remembrance conflicts with Rosh Hashanah [South Florida Sun Sentinel]
Lawmakers seek date change for remembrance weekend [JTA]

Israel TV Ad Fight Continues, with Tear Gas!

Latest response to cell-phone ad mocks IDF

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First came the controversial Cellcom ad featuring happy IDF soldiers gamely kicking around a soccer ball with unseen Palestinians on the far side of the West Bank wall. Then some Israeli filmmakers popped up, pointing out that they’d made a very similar short film a few years earlier, except with volleyball instead of soccer (and, well, designed to criticize the wall, not make light of it to sell mobile minutes). Now there’s a third video, posted to YouTube. Titled “A response to Israeli Cellcom advert,” it shows multiple real-life instances of Palestinians kicking a soccer ball over the fence—to which Israeli soldiers respond not with a return punt, as in the Cellcom ad, but with tear-gas canisters. The new video’s authenticity is unconfirmed, and it doesn’t entirely present the soldiers as the bad guys: it is understandable that these young people on the front lines would not mess around when the other side is launching objects at them, even apparent soccer balls. But as for Cellcom, it’s probably time to admit a mistake.

Soccer game or tear gas? Palestinians put controversial ad to test [Haaretz]
Previously: Bridge the Security Fence
Controversial Israeli TV Ad Now More Controversial

The ‘Nakba’ Catastrophe

Israel bans an Arab word, unwisely

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Israel’s Education Ministry decided today to ban the word “nakba” from school textbooks. Arabic for “catastrophe,” this controversial term, used by most Arabs to describe the eviction or flight of Palestinians in 1948, has been judged “propaganda” by the Netanyahu government and, as such, a threat to national security. “It is inconceivable that in Israel we would talk about the establishment of the state as a catastrophe,” explained Yisrael Twito, an Education Ministry spokesman, according to Reuters. Well, sure. But couldn’t it also make sense, even from a conservative-patriotic point of view, to instruct children on how others view the establishment of the state? Banning speech is always illiberal, but in this case, it’s also self-defeating for Israel’s right-wing. It’ll make it that much harder for Western defenders to contrast the virtues of a Middle Eastern democracy against so many despotic Arab regimes.

Israel Bans ‘Catastrophe’ Term From Arab Schools [Reuters]

Haim Saban Sued for Millions

By imprisoned, impassioned tax lawyer

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Haim Saban in 2005.(Jan Pitman/Getty Images)

If you’re going to sue one of the richest, most politically connected men in Hollywood, it’s probably a pretty good idea to do it as flamboyantly as possible, so that you get as much attention as you can before the mogul’s machine is inevitably mobilized to crush you and your wild claims. So far, the plan is working for beleaguered tax attorney Matthew Krane, who is currently sitting in a jail cell in Los Angeles awaiting trial on identity-theft and passport-fraud charges. He filed a complaint yesterday in Los Angeles Superior Court against entertainment mogul Haim Saban, and his wife, Cheryl, asserting his right to $36 million sitting in an Austrian bank account that the couple either paid him as a fee or a kickback, depending on who you’re asking. (Krane, who was indicted last month in a Seattle tax evasion case based on his work devising offshore shelters for the $1.5 billion Saban made from the 2001 sale of Fox Family Worldwide, asserts the $36 million was just compensation; the Sabans have sued in Austria to get the money back, since the shelter was ultimately declared illegal.) This new suit accuses Saban—an Egyptian-born Israeli who is friendly with Shimon Peres and is the Democratic Party’s biggest individual donor, and who was recently caught up in a small scandale over Rep. Jane Harman’s alleged offer to lobby on behalf of AIPAC in exchange for Saban’s help getting her a committee chairmanship—of, basically, being a sharp-witted, politically connected, tax-avoiding billionaire who uses his power to his advantage. And it does so in lovely prose. It opens with:

Most Americans pay their income taxes as fair consideration for the privileges citizenship confers. Defendant Haim Saban is not one of them. Despite being one of the richest men in the world, Haim Saban, believing he is above the law, has spent decades trying to avoid paying taxes on the many billions of dollars in income he has received.

The moves on to:

Just as Saban hates paying taxes (while using his political donations to demand special treatment and personal favors), Saban likes to steal even more…. Defendants’ attorneys also bragged about special influence over and collusion with prosecuting attorneys for the Western District of Washington in facilitating the prosecutorial charging, arrest and bail decisions of the federal prosecutors concerning criminal charges brought against Krane, all in the hope of depriving Plaintiffs of the fee deservedly earned for Krane’s instrumental role in putting together the Plan.

This theft of another person’s labor conforms to a lifelong pattern of Saban’s. Plaintiffs are informed and believe and based thereon allege that Saban has made hundreds of millions of dollars stealing from recording artists, illicitly claiming authorship of songs to which he likely can’t even read the music, and built his multi-billion dollar fortune through forgery, perjury and fraud. Now, to protect himself and hide his secrets, including secrets that implicate major foreign policy in this country and prominent foreign public officials, Saban seeks to scapegoat Krane.

Through a spokesperson, Saban—who claimed Krane duped him, and wound up paying $250 million in back taxes after a 2006 Senate investigation—dismissed the claims as “frivolous,” and “a transparent attempt to distract from Mr. Saban’s right to recover the money stolen from him by Mr. Krane.” Probably so. But still fun!

Haim Saban is Sued Over Tax Shelter [NYT]
Indicted Lawyer Slaps Haim Saban With Sensational Civil Suit [American Lawyer]
Related:
Morphed: Cheryl Saban’s journey from beach bunny to philanthropist [Tablet]
Krane v. Saban [PDF]

A Rabbi, a Priest, and an Imam

Protest usury in London

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A payday-loan business in Los Angeles.(Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

A British group called London Citizens has started a campaign to persuade Britain and the United States to outlaw usury—the group wants a law that prohibits interest rates over 8 percent. And to launch it, they have organized a priest, an imam, and, yes, a rabbi to deliver copies of the New Testament, the Koran, and the Torah to the Royal Bank of Scotland’s chairman today. Why all three? “Any anti-usury campaign that does not involve Jews risks becoming an anti-Semitic campaign,” explains London Citizens activist Maurice Glasman. (Because levying interest was for centuries forbidden to Christians, money-lenders were invariably Jews, and condemning usury has long been a coded way of condemning Jews.) Guardian economics columnist Jonathan Freedland does a nice job of explaining how “extortionate, exploitative borrowing”—U.S. consumer debt has risen 733 percent since 1980, when outgoing President Jimmy Carter signed a repeal of an anti-usury law—is a social ill that financial institutions will not phase out without being forced to. But he also notes that “[i]t’s refreshing for Jews and Muslims, in particular, to be working together … and for these communities to be engaged in interfaith action rather than another round of earnest tea-sipping in the name of ‘dialogue.’” We find it cheering, too. It’s oddly reassuring that no matter what history, politics, and religion may say, money will always find a way to talk more loudly.

Heard The One About a Rabbi, an Imam, and a Priest, Who Walk Into a Bank? [Guardian]

Today on Tablet

Jews in porn, imams on Ellis Island, and more

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On Tablet Magazine today, Wayne Hoffman points out that Men of Israel, the first gay pornographic film to feature an all-Israeli cast, is also the first gay porn with openly Jewish men. Allison Hoffman braves the rain to chronicle a group of European rabbis and imams as it receives a private tour of Ellis Island. Columnist Seth Lipsky reflects on President Obama’s recent meeting with Jewish American community leaders and the conversation’s “unstated assumption … that the settlements were, in the main, not a good thing and were even part of the problem.” And Alexa Bryn profiles Ma’aleh, an Orthodox film school in Jerusalem whose student body is 70% female. Plus, The Scroll will be around all day.

Whither Wandered the Jews

Scientists at work major Jewish gene-mapping project

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A team of scientist is undertaking an ambitious project, tracing Jewish genes in order to map the travels of Jews around the world throughout history, the Jerusalem Post reports. They’re doing it in part by collecting DNA samples from volunteers whose parents and grandparents all share the same ethnic background. Eventually, it will yield profiles of what the standard genome looks like for one group of Jews (say, Yemenite) versus another (say, Georgian). That data can help scientists determine the similarities and difference between those different groups—and with the gentile popularions in their areas. “This is our last chance to do this project,” Dr. Eitan Friedman, who specializes in oncogenetics at the Sheba Medial Center in Israel, tells the paper, explaining that intermarriage of Jews from different regions is making it harder to discern distinct demographic shifts.

Sheba, NYU Researchers to Draw Genetic Map of Wandering Jew [JPost]

Daybreak: Permanent Fence

Bibi’s plans, Hillary’s umbrella, and more in the morning news

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• Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will keep the West Bank fence up no matter what, as it is “a critical component of Israel’s security,” he says. [Haaretz]
• Israeli minister Dan Meridor says he is troubled by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pledge that America will defend Israel under its “nuclear umbrella” should Iran develop a bomb, because it could indicate “they have already reconciled with this possibility.” [Haaretz]
• Several different American Jewish groups have sought President Obama as a speaker, but he hasn’t said yes to any, yet. [JTA via Forward]
• A blast seriously injured four at the Gaza wedding of the nephew of prominent Palestinian Authority figure Muhammad Dahlan. Hamas has denied responsibility. [JPost]
• And several prominent Israeli intellectuals, including novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman, have called for an external investigation into the military’s February Gaza incursion. [Ynet]

Sundown: The West Bank Boom

Huckabee in Jerusalem, wonders of the world, and more

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• A new study found that West Bank settlements receive a disproportionately high amount of government subsidies, and that their population grows at three times the rate of Israel proper’s. [Reuters]
• Former Arkansas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee will reportedly broadcast his weekly Fox News show Huckabee with Mike Huckabee from an Israeli construction site in Palestinian East Jerusalem. Huckabee will be there in “solidarity”; the U.S. opposes the building. [Haaretz]
• The U.S. State Department is requesting the extradition of 11 Israelis accused of running one of those Nigerian email scams. It is also requesting $10,000 cash wired to an account, in exchange for which it will receive US$50,000,000. [Ynet]
• Jordan revoked the citizenship of thousands of Palestinians living there, with a minister explaining, “Our goal is to prevent Israel from emptying the Palestinian territories of their original inhabitants.” [JTA]
• Don’t forget to vote the Dead Sea as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. Its 27 formidable competitors include the Amazon, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the Black Forest. [Arutz Sheva]

Cantor’s ‘Judeo-Christian’ Stance on Israel

Jewish GOPer speaks to Evangelical Zionists

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(Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Eric Cantor—the Virginia representative and House minority whip who is likely the most powerful Jewish Republican politician in the country—addressed over 4,000 members of Christians United for Israel at the evangelical Zionist group’s fourth annual convention in Washington today. The ten-minute speech emphasized Israel’s status as “America’s steady ally—our only reliable ally—and one true friend in the Middle East” and catalogued the threats Israel faces from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. Cantor argued that the “real stumbling block to peace” is not the settlement or refugee questions but rather “those who vehemently deny the Nation of Israel’s historical right to the land of Zion.” Most notably, Cantor declared: “Reaching out to the Muslim world can help aid in creating an environment for peace in the Middle East. But we must insist, as Americans, that our policies be grounded in the beliefs of the Judeo-Christian traditions.” Though President Barack Obama was not mentioned in the speech, it is very likely that Cantor intended the lines to stand in subtle contrast to Obama’s Cairo speech in June. Tomorrow, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the conference via satellite. Among the other speakers will be Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, and Pastor John Hagee, the group’s national chairman.

Cantor: Set Mideast policies in ‘Judeo-Christian’ tradition [JTA]
Related: Previously Love Thy Neighbor [Tablet]

Israeli Diplomat’s Settlements Interview

Has something to please and worry everyone

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Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Sallai Meridor, made two noteworthy statements in a radio interview today. First, Israeli settlement expansion was part of the Bush-era “roadmap” peace plan, he said, agreed to by both Tel Aviv and Washington, and that the Obama administration was in violating it by pressuring the Netanyahu government to call a halt to construction. And, second, he said that of course Israel is committed to Haaretz’s reported “lightning” evacuation of 23 illegal settlements in the West Bank—that was also part of the deal with Bush. News of this impending IDF clearance of settlements had right-wing pols in Israel either skeptical (Netanyahu wouldn’t pull a Sharon) or alarmed (or would he?). “News of this kind could push the settlers to extreme actions,” said Aryeh Eldad, a Knesset member from the National Union party, told Army Radio. “The members of the coalition will also have to open up a front against the prime minister.” Meanwhile, the IDF denied the Haaretz claim, saying it had received no orders to remove settlers, and had not been conducting preparatory exercises to do so. According to reporters Yuval Azoulay and Yoel Marcus, however, the IDF will likely keep their plans under wraps for fear of prompting a more coordinated settler rebuff. Like, you know, the one Eldad is implicitly threatening.

Ex-Envoy To U.S.: Israel ‘Totally Committed’ To Razing Outposts [Haaretz]

Today I Am a Word Processor!

Ridiculous press release promotes virtual b’nai mitzvah

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Dimdim is a free Web video-conferencing service, clearly aimed at the business world–an easy way to exchange PowerPoints and the like. But according to a press release that arrived in our in-boxes this morning, Dimdim’s service may be good for something else: the virtual b’nai mitzvah! “As long as all Dimdim invited guests have a laptop with webcam, you can set up the invitations for free and record portions of the bar mitzvah,” the company boasts. “Everyone can view each other as clearly as if you’re in the same room. How lovely would it be that long distance relatives can even join at one person’s home and all watch the bar mitzvah together—celebrating the mitzvah in a unique way.” Kind of like a destination bar mitzvah, except, you know, the exact, total reverse.

Lest you think this is just one of those things that only works “in theory,” Dimdim informs us that “Steve Chazin, Marketing Director of Dimdim, decided to change this spending cyclone at his son’s bar mitzvah” and invited certain out-of-town guests via the service; doing so saved him “a small fortune.” Hopefully Chazin’s desire to tighten his own belt doesn’t mean that Dimdim faces a dimdim financial outlook—although that would explain the company’s foray into the haftarah industry.

Anyway, maybe there’s some more room to run with this! Perhaps those in the synagogue can place a laptop upon the central podium and allow a distant relative to say a prayer (admittedly, this would probably only work at reform congregations—very reform congregations). If you are invited via Dimdim, why not reciprocate the cost-saving favor that your “hosts” did for you by virtually sending your gift, also via Dimdim? That way, you can keep the gift! And how about a Dimdim hora: five or ten people, dancing in a circle in a living room, hoisting a laptop atop a chair. You can even supplement the music coming through Dimdim with your own recording on iTunes.

And after it’s all over, and you’ve attended your second-cousin-once-removed’s bat mitzvah from the comfort of your own living room, you’ll be able to look forward to your old college friend’s nephew’s Dimdim bris, just a few months away.

Frank McCourt on Irish Jews

In a 1971 Village Voice article

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McCourt at a reading in Dubai in February.(Haider Shah/AFP/Getty Images)

Frank McCourt, who died Sunday at 78, wrote of the Jews he knew as a child in Brooklyn in his 1996 debut, Angela’s Ashes and its follow-up, ’Tis. But long before that, when McCourt was still in the midst of his James Joyce phase, he took a Bloomesque wander through Limerick, Ireland, where he was raised, searching for the grave of a Jewish princess he’d heard about from an old man in a pub. He wrote about it in the Village Voice. “On the Trail of a Jewish Princess,” published in the September 2, 1971, issue of the paper, opens with a quote from Ulysses, the line about Ireland never having persecuted Jews because she’d never let them in. McCourt goes on to give a complete history of anti-Semitism on “Erin’s Isle,” boiled down to a few self-conscious columns.

Limerick was the only town to have seen full-blown rioting against the Jews, in 1904—a fact McCourt writes he first learned at the New York Public Library. When his mother was a girl, he writes, the children used to press their noses against the window of the Jewish-owned sweet shop until “the oul’ woman would come out and scream at us ‘Vot ye vont?’ and we’d yell back ‘We vont noddings’ and run off laughin’ over the woman’s Yiddish accent.

By the time McCourt returns to Limerick, the same year the city’s mayor said the Jews deserved what they got in the riots, there was only one Jewish family left. The man in the pub tells him the princess was Polish, and that the Jews are clean, “a very clean class of people altogether, forever washing themselves dead or alive.” At the cemetery McCourt imagines the princess’ body being gently swabbed for burial. He trips and scrapes himself, “blood of a goy on a Jewish grave,” he writes, and takes it as a sign he should go. But first the thought strikes that “the cows here eat grass sprung from Jewish graves, Jewish flesh, and the people of Limerick consume the body and blood of the Chosen.”

Back in town, his English boots covered in Irish cow dung from a Jewish graveyard, he hears the princess may have been Russian, or Rumanian, or German. He wonders in any event why in the name of God the Jews chose Limerick after wandering for thousands of years and millions of miles. “Perhaps they felt at ease with a people whose sufferings were as intense though not as prolonged as their own, or was it the knowledge beyond words, an instinct, that told them the Irish are indeed one of the Lost Tribes of Israel?” McCourt writes. “But the fact shatters the myth sometimes, and I preferred the myth.”

Read the full Village Voice article here [PDF]

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