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Sundown: A Different Kind of Death Sentence

Rockin’ to Peres, belated womanhood, and fear in Pittsburgh

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• Apparently the morbid speculations about Bernie Madoff’s life expectancy before his sentencing were beside the point—word has it the conman is dying of pancreatic cancer in prison, where, strangely, some fellow inmates are “trying to kiss his butt.” [NY Post]
• Giving new meaning to “coming of age,” six women aged 79-100 recently had Bat Mitzvahs in North Carolina. [WCNC]
• Israeli President Shimon Peres’s poetry has been set to music on a new album to benefit charities worldwide; the sounds run an unlikely gamut from Celine Dion-esque melodrama to top-40 country to Euro-dance pop beats. [PRI]
• Architect Daniel Libeskind has squandered his opportunity to design a mezuzah for the Berlin Jewish Museum, creating a “glorified tchotchke.” [Architect’s Newspaper]
• In what may be either a heartening example of economic symbiosis or a sad commentary on the dependency of the occupied on their oppressors, Palestinian women have a flourishing cottage industry making yarmulkes for their Jewish neighbors. [Reuters]
• Authorities in Pittsburgh are throwing down in concern over possible violence during the G-20 summit there, which coincides with the Jewish high holidays: “If protesters show up at synagogues, they will encounter not just worshipers but uniformed police officers too.” [Pittsburgh Channel]

Henry Waxman Noshes With ‘New Yorker’

Hits 2nd Avenue Deli, makes dumb joke

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Waxman chairing a House Energy and Commerce Committee meeting in April.(Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Having recently fainted on the job, Rep. Henry Waxman, abstained from a dish called the “instant heart attack” (thick latkes substitute for bread in a sandwich with a meat filling of your choice) on a recent trip to the 2nd Avenue Deli with The New Yorker’s Ben McGrath. In town to promote his book The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works, the kosher-observant California Democrat indulged instead in a pastrami omelette (hold the fries),and some one-of-a-kind yuks. After a publicist suggested the meeting was a “borscht summit,” Waxman, who’s been in government for 35 years, chimed in, “a borscht summit to talk about abortion.” Then he corrected himself: “bad pun.” Yes.

Mustache of Justice [NYer]

This Week in Obstacles to Mideast Peace

No treaty soon with Lebanon; more Jewish building in East Jerusalem?

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Lebanon will be the last Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, or so says Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, reiterating his government’s stance that Israel should withdraw from the territory it has occupied since the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War. He also denied claims by Israeli President Shimon Peres that Hezbollah has stockpiled 80,000 rockets. “I don’t know how he counted these rockets,” Salloukh told The Daily Star of Lebanon. “Let them [Israel] give us a list showing who the source is and how they identify these rockets. [Peres] imagines too much.”

Meanwhile, East Jerusalem is the source for further real-estate controversy as the city is denying claims by a pro-settler group that it approved the construction of 104 new houses in Ras al-Amud , a predominantly Arab neighborhood. The Ir Amim association, which opposes the construction, said that the plan is build a bridge to connect Ras al-Amud to the Jewish neighborhood of Ma’aleh Hazeitim, a claim that the city denies. The controversy has fractured the Jerusalem City Council—in favor of more conservative, pro-settler elements—with some members, such as Meir Margalit, a Meretz Party councilman, wishing the United States would bring greater pressure to bear on the Netanyahu government to squash such expansionism.

Salloukh Denies Peres’ Claim Hizbullah Has 80,000 Missiles [Daily Star]
Group Says Left ‘Distorting’ East Jerusalem Construction Plan [Ynet]

Israel’s Migrant-Labor Problems

Won’t go away, because Israelis won’t hire Arabs

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The latest and longest in a stream of articles about Israel’s plan to deport a wave of illegal migrant laborers comes from Counterpunch magazine, which claims that Israeli finance minister Yuval Steinitz wants to expel 100,000 of those workers in the largest sweep since 2003. Yonatan Preminger, who’s described as being “active in the field of worker’s rights,” argues in the Counterpunch essay that these mass deportations will recur every few years until Israel stops importing cheap labor, mostly from Southeast Asia, instead of employing the Palestinian workforce in and outside of the Green Line. Even before the establishment of the Jewish state, Preminger contends, Jews in what’s now Israel have been trying to find a way around using Arab labor, whether to keep menial jobs for Jewish immigrants, as a security measure, or simply in order to “reduce the Arab presence on this piece of land.” That goal wasn’t fully realized, though, until the past couple of decades, as Israel’s economy has liberalized and become global, and legal and illegal migrant laborers from Thailand and the Philippines arrived in droves. (There are currently about 250,000 migrants in the country.)

Preminger’s essay ends on a bleak note: “Despite the economic crisis and associated rising unemployment, it is unlikely that Israel will wean its employers off cheap ‘foreign workers’ in favor of opening more employment opportunities to the Arab sector or Palestinians from the Occupied Territories: migrant labor has enabled Israel to open its borders to the globalized economy without endangering its Jewish identity, while bolstering the myth that Israel can be a country for Jews alone.”

The Strategy Behind Israel’s Migrant Labor Policies [Counterpunch]

Nazis Die, Germans Cheer

Teutonic love for Tarantino’s ‘Inglorious Basterds’

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We’ve been told that Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which depicts a group of Jewish-Americans sent to kill as many German soldiers as they can, provides the greatest vicarious thrill to contemporary Jewish viewers, who get to watch some of their own tell the Nazis just where they can stick that Holocaust of theirs. But according to reports, the people who most enjoy watching Germans get brutally brained with a baseball bat are actually other Germans. “It felt so good to finally say, ‘Kill! Kill all the Nazis!’” a Berlin movie-goer was quoted saying. “Catharsis! Oxygen! A wonderful retro-futuristic frenzy of fantasy!” raved one German critic with a particularly continental prose style.

In fairness, there are other reasons for Germans to particularly like the movie: most notably, as anyone who saw the film over the weekend (and, according to box office numbers, quite a few did) can attest, nominal star Brad Pitt watches helplessly as the film is utterly stolen from him by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who plays a delightfully evil SS colonel. Still, the positive German reaction brings home an often-overlooked, and seemingly counterintuitive, point: Germans today have special cause to loathe the Nazis, since they carried out untold atrocities in the name of a people and culture that contemporary Germany rightly holds dear. You could even argue that modern-day Germans have the biggest beef with the Nazis of any group.

Well, perhaps the second-biggest beef.

Tarantino’s ‘Kosher Porno’ Thrills Germany [The Local]
Previously: You Basterds!

Israel vs. Sweden on Organ Harvesting

A newspaper story becomes a diplomatic spat

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Last week, the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet published a story alleging that Israeli troops harvest organs from dead Palestinians, under the headline “Our Sons Are Plundered for Their Organs.” The writer, Daniel Bostrom, based the piece not so much on, you know, evidence as on unsubstantiated claims from Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza, who told him they’d seen a man’s body returned to his family with stitches along the length of his torso.

Israel immediately accused the newspaper of blood libel and demanded Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, condemn it; Bildt responded in a blog post that he would not, because he stood by the freedom of the press. Now the affair has metastasized into a fullblown diplomatic mess. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is apparently saying, behind closed doors, that he won’t rest until Aftonbladet apologizes. (“We asked the Swedish government to express moral outrage and they don’t have the moral fortitude to do it,” Netanyahu’s chief spokesman, Daniel Seaman, told Tablet this morning, drawing a link to Sweden’s neutral stance during World War II.) To show everyone Israel means business, Israelis are being urged to boycott Swedish furniture superstore Ikea.

Meanwhile, Swedish Jews are blaming Israel for mishandling the response. Lena Posner, president of the Official Council of Jewish Communities in Sweden, told Haaretz that now the debate is all about whether Israel has the right to control the Swedish press, not about the irresponsibility of the reporter in the first place. “By making the preposterous demand for a government condemnation, the debate has changed from anti-Semitism to freedom of speech in Sweden,” Posner said.

Accusation of Organ Theft Stokes Ire in Israel [NYT]
Israelis Urged to Boycott Ikea [YNet]Swedish Jews: Israel Gave Organ Harvesting Claims Center Stage [Haaretz]

On Tablet Today

East Village tikkun olum, the annotated child, the end of the Mandate, and more

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This morning on Tablet Magazine, Senior Writer Allison Hoffman talks to Michael Rosen and Leslie Gruss of Manhattan’s East Village, who effectively adopted five neighborhood kids in their own stab at tikkun olam. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall annotates the experience of watching TV with her girls. On Vox Tablet, podcast host Sara Ivry discusses Major Farran’s Hat: The Untold Story of the Struggle to Establish the Jewish State, about the waning days of the British Mandate in Palestine, with its author, David Cesarani. And books columnist Josh Lambert surveys the week in Jewish publishing in his weekly “Reading Around” roundup. Plus, as always, there will be more throughout the day, including regular updates to The Scroll.

Real-Life Revenge Fantasy, German Style

‘Baader Meinhof Complex’ shows things still end badly for the Jews

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Audiences across the country this weekend were watching Quentin Tarantino’s (nominally) Jewish-American Basterds joyfully hunt for Nazi scalps. But a relative handful of filmgoers in New York opted instead for The Baader Meinhof Complex, in which a group of actual Germans—the violent Red Army Faction, led by Andreas Baader and the erstwhile journalist Ulrike Meinhof—combat the perceived resurgence of fascism in the 1960s with fire-bombings, kidnappings, and, eventually, plane hijackings. The group started out, in 1967, opposing America’s war in Vietnam—to them, a latter-day proxy for Nazi Fascism—but eventually branched out into supporting Arab resistance movements like the PLO, which were, incidentally, also useful sources for weapons and guerilla training. This is the complex the film, by Last Exit to Brooklyn director Uli Edel, sought to describe; the Red Army Faction’s intended target may have been the “good German” mindset that enabled Hitler’s rise to power in their parents’ generation, but what they ended up setting in motion was the horror of the Black September massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Eleven Israeli athletes were killed, and Germany was blamed for indifference to the fate of its Jewish guests; nothing was achieved but more death and recrimination. In February, Edel told an Oscar symposium that he made the film to exorcise his own memories of the period, when he was himself in his early 20s; the trouble with real-life revenge fantasies, as Edel might have told Tarantino, is that the consequences are, inevitably, impossible to predict, or control.

The Baader Meinhof Complex [Official site]
The Journalist Who Exchanged Her Typewriter for a Gun [NYT]

Daybreak: Talks in September?

Germans like ‘Basterds,’ circumcision for all, and more in the morning news

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• As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads to London for a meeting with U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell today, his spokesperson articulated both his desire to renew talks next month and his unwillingness to negotiate on Jerusalem’s status. [JPost]
• Speaking of talks, Lebanon won’t be talking peace for the forseeable future, according to its foreign minister. [Haaretz]
• Speaking of Lebanon, Israeli President Shimon Peres told a Kuwaiti newspaper that Hezbollah has 80,000 rockets—twice the number previously estimated. [Arutz Sheva]
• Quentin Tarantino’s Holocaust revenge-fantasy flick Inglourious Basterds was released to rave reviews and popular plaudits… in Germany. [Haaretz]
• The U.S. government may begin to officially promote circumcising all baby boys in an effort to reduce the spread of H.I.V. [NYT]

Bubbe and Zayde Turning On Obama?

Health-care tsuris in Florida

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(Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

Barack Obama won Florida last November with help from Jewish retirees in places like Sunrise Lakes, where three out of four people voted for him over John McCain. People, for example, like 73-year-old Ronald Clifford, who insisted that whatever Obama does is “the emes.” “You know what that is?” Clifford asked New York Times reporter Kevin Sack for an article in today’s paper. “That’s Yiddish for the truth.” Well, here’s a sadder truth: polls show support for the president slipping in the Sunshine State, and it appears that even some Sunrise Lakes residents are among those turning against the president over health-care reform: “I voted for President Obama, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m sorry now because I don’t trust what he’s saying,” 71-year-old Elaine Carl told the Times.

Now, it seems to us that if Obama wants to win over the dubious bubbes and zaydes who don’t share Clifford’s view, he should think about calling in his secret weapon: their grandchildren. Last year, a small army of them, responding to a video request from comedienne Sarah Silverman, schlepped on down to Florida (or at least made nice phone calls) on behalf of Obama’s presidential campaign last year. Maybe Silverman is interested in an encore performance?

Where Elderly Back Obama, Health Bill Anxiety [NYT]

Sundown: Israel vs. Sweden

Organ harvesting, Lady Gaga, and an Orthodox woman cop

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• Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman is furious at Sweden’s foreign ministry for declining to denounce a recent Swedish newspaper article claiming that the IDF harvests organs from Palestinians it kills. [CNN]
• A British tabloid says Madonna got good-luck bracelets from her boyfriend Jesus Luz from his native Brazil for her birthday, but says she won’t wear them “because they clashed with her Kabbalah bracelets.” [Daily Mirror]
• In a similar show of respect for traditional Jewish fashion, Lady Gaga toned down her apparel when she visited Israel earlier this week. [Celebrity Café]
• And the first ultra-Orthodox cop in an upstate New York town is suing the police department she works for, claiming she’s been harassed and discriminated against by fellow officers. During an interview for the job, she says, she was asked “if she could arrest a rabbi, handle a hostage situation at a yeshiva or work on the Sabbath.” [LoHud.com]

Israelis Turn Beatboxer Pro

Even if Hebrew-language skills still elude him

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South African native King Cano Huricane Kwa-Zulu spent 15 years traveling the world and beatboxing for handouts. Once he got to Israel, where he’s now settled, the reactions of fans convinced him to go pro. “People loved it,” he tells Haaretz. “They said chaval al ha’zman, chaval al ha’zman. I don’t even remember how they say it—it’s just a word that means super amazing, great.” Well, no. It’s actually three words that mean “too bad about the time,” or, more colloquially, “time’s a wasting.” But the point’s the same: get on with your career! Which he did, thanks to supportive Israelis. And, anway, it’s the beats that are his majesty’s forte—listen to them yourself at around minute two of this video.

Inspired by Israel, South African Globetrotter Launches Music Career [Haaretz]

Critics Fascinated, Repulsed, and a Little Bored

By ‘Inglourious Basterds’

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Quentin Tarantino’s version of the World War II epic opened today, and critics seem to find the film more interesting to discuss than to watch. It’s “unforgivably leisurely, almost glacial, a film that loses its way in the thickets of alternative history,” writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times; Manohla Dargis of The New York Times agrees: “rarely has one of [Tarantino’s] movies felt as interminable as this one,” she writes. The New Yorker’s David Denby says “it’s too silly to be enjoyed, even as a joke,” and even J. Hoberman at the Village Voice, who wrote one of the film’s more positive reviews, found it “a tad long at two and a half hours and a little too pleased with itself.”

The same critics, though, have engaged deeply with what the film means, comparing it (often negatively) with movies by Ernst Lubitsch, Charlie Chaplin, Mel Brooks, and Steven Spielberg. “Here is an alternate World War II, in which Jews terrorize and slaughter Nazis—a just Holocaust,” Hoberman writes. “Schindler’s List comforted audiences with similar, albeit less outrageous, reversals.… However devoted to movie magic, however, Spielberg would never be so tasteless as to admit the excitement he experienced in asserting his will over history.” In Slate, Dana Stevens agrees that “Tarantino’s rewriting of the war’s ending is audacious and perversely enthralling,” but asks, “Is the best way to work through the atrocities of the 20th century really to dream up ironically apt punishments for the long-dead torturers?” Denby sums it up: “Tarantino may think he is doing Jews a favor by launching this revenge fantasy…but somehow I doubt that the gesture will be appreciated.”

Don’t Forget Jerry Lewis’s Holocaust Movie

It’s so much worse than ‘Basterds’

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Lewis receiving the Jean Hersholt humanitarian award at this year’s Academy Awards.(Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Even if you hold a low opinion of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which opens today—like, say, Tablet Magazine’s Liel Leibovitz—you can perhaps take some consolation from the fact that the Holocaust-revenge-fantasy flick is likely not even close to the most vulgar, unseemly movie ever made about the Shoah. That distinction, rather, is said to belong to a never-released 1972 film called The Day the Clown Cried. As reported many years ago in Spy magazine, Clown is “the most notorious cinematic miscue in history.” Oh, and yeah: its director and star was Jerry Lewis.

Lewis plays a German-Jewish clown named Helmut Doork—suffice to say that we’re making absolutely none of this up—who is sent to Auschwitz, where his job is to entertain the children as they are marched to the gas chambers. So picture Jerry, complete with slicked-back hair but dressed as a clown, doing his schtick, while Jewish children—who all look suspiciously Scandinavian; the film was made in Sweden—are joyfully, laughingly walking unwittingly to their brutal slaughter. Life is Completely, Totally Tasteless. At the end, the clown, having led yet another group of kids to the “showers,” decides to enter with them. Fin.

According to The New Yorker, Lewis—who was battling a Percodan addiction during the film’s production—insists the film will never see the light of day (even as he also insists it is a masterpiece). So we have to rely on those unlucky few who have borne witness. “This was a perfect object,” comedian Harry Shearer told Spy. “This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is.” “I was appalled,” concurs journalist Lynn Hirschberg. “I couldn’t understand it. It’s beyond normal computation.” No word on how the French felt about it.

Jerry Lewis Goes To Death Camp [Spy]
Previously: Inglorious Indeed

U.S. Jews Kvetch to U.S. Catholics

Are they trying to convert us?

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(Uriel Sinai/Getty Images))

The AP is reporting today that representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and rabbis from the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements got together to send an aggreived letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They’re complaining that the bishops issued their own letter in June, which seems to suggest that they think the value of Catholic-Jewish dialogue is to give the Catholics a chance to convince the Jews that they should accept Christ as their savior. If so, it’s certainly a clever gambit by the Catholics. (Indeed, were the miter on the other head, one might even call it crafty.) But we’re less than convinced that a kvetchy letter is necessarily the best countermeasure. So we offer this, instead: Let’s just go proselytize them back.

U.S. Jews Protest Catholic Document on Salvation [AP]

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