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Israel on Facebook

Yup, there’s an app for that

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(David Silverman/Getty Images)

If you’re checking Facebook—after work, say, because obviously you’d never check Facebook at work—and see that a friend’s latest status update reads, “Israel has over 200 wineries,” then chances are your friend has downloaded the Israpedia application and is letting it brag about Israel on his or her behalf. The program, started by several students at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, issues status updates for its users that highlight fun facts about Israel. (Users can always override individual updates.) So far, according to Haaretz, more than 3,000 users have downloaded it. Next stop for Israpedia’s developers? Twitter. Better get those fun facts down to 140 characters .

New Tool Uses Facebook To Improve Israel’s Image [Haaretz]
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Today on Tablet

Obama on Iran, this week’s parasha, Winnipeg Jewry

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On Tablet Magazine today, Senior Editor Michael Weiss explains how the suppression and unrest that followed Iran’s June presidential elections have pushed President Obama’s policy toward that country to resemble President Bush’s. Pondering this week’s parasha, which depicts Moses and the Israelites at the Promised Land’s gates, Liel Liebovitz to considers whether any of us will ever make it out of our own wandering through the wilderness. Winnipeg native Ezra Glinter chronicles the Manitoba capital’s vibrant Jewish community. And The Scroll will chronicle this Friday throughout the day.

Daybreak: Hamas’s ‘Culture of Resistance’

More on N.J. scandal, plus Reform leader on settlements

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• Since February’s Gaza incursion, Hamas has shifted its focus from actual armed struggle toward a public-relations and educational campaign aimed at cultivating a “culture of resistance.” [NYT]
• While acknowledging “real strategic issues at stake,” Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, claimed the “vast majority” of American Jews favor of a settlement freeze. [Haaretz]
• Israeli police for the West Bank’s Shai District have established a special unit for large-scale evacuations. [JTA]
• “It’s going to just reinforce the stereotype of New Jersey politics and corruption,” says one professor in a rundown of yesterday’s 44 arrests for corruption stemming from a Syrian Jewish community on the Jersey Shore. [NYT]
• Relatedly, Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum—the one arrested for trying to flip black-market kidneys—explains his $150,000 asking price for the human organ: “One of the reasons it’s so expensive is because you have to shmear everyone.” [Daily Intel]

Sundown: Religious Israeli Sues H&M

Plus, ‘Funny’ Jews

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• An Israeli woman is suing international clothing-store chain H&M for allegedly refusing to hire her for a sales position in Israel because she was too religious. [ynet]
• Comedic writer/director Judd Apatow discusses the Jewish aspects of his forthcoming movie, Funny People, and says, “I’m not a religious person, but I couldn’t be more Jewish.” [Jewish Journal]
• The Guardian’s Sounds Jewish podcast this month examines, among other things, Tablet’s podcast about the leading Jewish ladies of Bollywood. [Guardian]
• If you want, go visit the National Museum of Jewish American History’s website and vote for the 18 Jews from six fields that you think should be featured at the museum, which is set to open next year in Philadelphia. [Arutz Sheva]

Insider Led Agents to Rabbis, Pols

All it took was one man, officials say

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Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr., and Weysan Dun, FBI special agent in charge in Newark, at today’s news conference.(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

FBI agents this morning raided 54 homes and offices in New Jersey and New York and arrested a total of 44 people, including five Syrian Jewish rabbis, three mayors, a state assemblyman, and an array of other political officials and people from the Syrian and ultra-Orthodox communities on an array of charges ranging from extortion and bribery of public officials to money laundering and, in one grisly instance, conspiracy to traffic in human organs—specifically, a kidney.

The arrests, which the FBI characterized as part of a decade-long investigation into political corruption in New Jersey, grew out of what appears to be intense cooperation between investigators and one man: Solomon Dwek, a real-estate developer and scion of a prominent Syrian Jewish family in Monmouth County who was arrested in May 2006 on suspicion of trying to swindle $50 million from PNC Bank in a check-kiting scheme.

Dwek—referred to in court documents as a “cooperating witness”—first led investigators to members of his own community, including Saul Kassin, the 87-year-old head of the tight-knit Syrian community and chief rabbi of Shaare Zion, the largest Syrian congregation, and Eliahu Ben Haim, the principal rabbi of Congregation Ohel Yaacob, in Deal, New Jersey, before moving on to political figures. (A message left with an Ohel Yaacob administrator was not returned; a woman who answered at the Deal Yeshiva, which was also raided, told this reporter “never to call again.”)

According to a criminal complaint, Dwek, working with undercover agents, laundered $3 million through various synagogue-affiliated charities with help from the rabbis, who would accept checks and then would arrange for “clean checks” or cash to be made available, sometimes via wire transfers from Israel, sometimes via a Swiss bank, for cuts of five or 10 percent. At the same time, Dwek led investigators to a source in Brooklyn who allegedly agreed to broker a deal for a kidney from an Israeli, for $160,000.

At that point, with Dwek having proven so useful to investigators targeting the Syrian Jewish community, the FBI and IRS apparently decided to go for broke: rather than stopping with the money laundering claims, they co-opted Dwek into a decade-long probe against New Jersey’s legendarily corrupt political swamp. An official, speaking at today’s press conference, praised Dwek’s efficiency: “One person was able to deal with these people throughout New Jersey and Brooklyn, New York.”

Rabbis Charged with Illegally Laundering $3M [Asbury Park Press]

9 Complaints Alleging Money Laundering Released
[Asbury Park Press]
Mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus, Several Rabbis Arrested [Bloomberg]
Previously: Rabbis Arrested in N.J. Corruption Probe

Romanian Compares Israeli MDs to Nazis

Doctors bought human eggs from minors

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First, the mayor of Constanta, Romania’s largest port city, dressed up in a Nazi uniform and goose-stepped in a fashion show (he apologized yesterday). Later this week, a more complicated train of events also gave rise to concerns of anti-Semitism in this Eastern European country. On Monday, Romanian police raided a Bucharest fertility clinic and arrested 30 Israeli-born employees, including the father-and-son owners; allegedly, the clinic paid women, including some minors, to donate eggs. (The owners deny the charges.) On Tuesday, the head of Romania’s Medical Council likened the doctors, who, he said, “bought body parts from poor, vulnerable people,” to the infamous medical experimenters of Auschwitz. This in turn prompted a rebuke from the World Medical Association’s president—who happens to be Israeli—for the inapt and impolitic comparison. While the reductio ad Hitlerum is no doubt a bit much, Haaretz reports that anti-Semitism is likely not at work—actually, there remain several Israeli-run fertility clinics that harvest ova in Bucharest. The president of Romania’s Jewish community explained that the father-and-son owners were conspicuous consumers: “This and other signs of richness create envy and people react negatively.” Not that Dr. Mengele is notorious for his great wealth. Still—call us crazy—we are finding it difficult to get all that agitated in defense of people who allegedly harvested eggs from underage girls.

Fertility Clinic Suspects’ Homes Raided [JPost]
Is Romania Human Egg Scandal A Case of Anti-Semitism? [Haaretz]

Writer’s Heirs Duke It Out

Ferenc Molnar was a Hungarian Jewish novelist

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Ferenc Molnar, a Hungarian Jew, was one of his country’s “great literary figures through the first half of the 20th century,” according to today’s New York Times, and in the 1920s he and his actress-wife partied with the Gershwins and Vanderbilts on a trip. Yet the fog that descended over Eastern European Jews in the 1930s—when Molnar and his wife fled Hungary for the United States—did a number on his legacy here, where his work survives in large part only through the musical Carousel, which was adapted from one of his novels. That fog has blurred his familial legacy, too, leading to a battle between two of his alleged heirs over almost a quarter of a million dollars in Holocaust restitution money.

First reported a few weeks ago by the Forward, the battle pits a woman claiming to be the great-granddaughter of Molnar’s half-brother (got all that?), who has actually received the money, some $225,000, against Molnar’s great-grandson, an official heir who receives royalty checks from Molnar’s estate each year. He had never heard of her; she claims, pricelessly, that her side of the family cut ties with Molnar’s after her grandparents were received by Molnar’s wife in her dressing-room in the nude. (Quelle horreur!)

But forget the he said/she said. The real service Molnar’s heirs will have done for their ancestor, and for the rest of us, will be if the publicity their squabbling attracts prompts a rediscovery of this great, lost artist.

A Posthumous Dispute Over a Writer’s Legacy [NYT]
Franz Molnar’s Heirs Fight Over His Bank Account, And Their Identity [Forward]

Specter Tied in Senate Poll

For this he changed parties?

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Specter questioning Sonia Sotomayor last week.(Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

Senator Arlen Specter stopped being the only Jewish Republican in the U.S. Senate earlier this year, and instead become the umpteenth Jewish Democrat in the U.S. Senate, in a somewhat desperate bid to hold on to his Pennsylvania seat. (He was pretty sure to lose a Republican primary challenge from the right.) Well, it doesn’t look like the gambit is working. In early may, the 79-year-old incumbent held as 53-33 lead over that conservative challenger, Rep. Pat Toomey. According to a Quinnipiac poll yesterday, that lead is down to 45-44.

Today on Tablet

Boris Pasternak, funky sweaters, Jewish-Cuban fusion

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On Tablet Magazine today, literature-in-translation columnist Joshua Cohen discusses Russian author Boris Pasternak and his recently republished autobiography, Safe Conduct. Hadara Graubart spotlights Lisa Anne Auerbach, a California-based artist who knits sweaters that display provocative messages. (There’s even a slideshow.) “Havana Negila”, this week’s offering from music columnist Alex Gelfand, celebrates Jewish-Cuban fusion, including the albums Timba Talmud and Oy Vey! Ole!. From Latvia to Brooklyn to riches: Jeannie Rosenfeld relates the life of Joseph Hirshhorn, the art mogul who gave his name to the Smithsonian Institute’s contemporary art museum. Finally, don’t forget to check The Scroll all day.

Rabbis Arrested in N.J. Corruption Probe

UPDATED: Jersey Shore synagogue, yeshiva searched

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FBI agents seize documents at a Deal yeshiva.(NJ.com)

FBI agents arrested several rabbis this morning in New Jersey and New York as part of an investigation into what the U.S. Attorney’s office in Newark, N.J., described as a “high-volume, international” money-laundering conspiracy. The mayors of Hoboken and Secaucus, N.J., a state assemblyman, and the deputy mayor of Jersey City were also arrested as a result of a public-corruption probe. The Newark Star-Ledger is reporting the rabbis came from Syrian Jewish communities in Deal, N.J., a shore town popular with wealthy Syrian Jews, and Brooklyn. At least one synagogue and one yeshiva, both in Deal, were searched this morning by FBI agents. An FBI spokesman tells Tablet the 30 people arrested, including the rabbis, are expected to appear in a Newark federal court this afternoon.

The New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s office was headed until last winter by Christopher Christie, a Republican known for aggressive investigations of public corruption who is currently running for governor against the incumbent Democrat, Jon Corzine. A poll released yesterday puts Christie ahead by 15 percentage points.

UPDATE, 12:45 p.m.: The Newark Star-Ledger is reporting that this morning’s sweep began with an investigation into money transfers by members of the Syrian Jewish community in New York and New Jersey to public officials in connection with real-estate transactions.

According to a criminal complaint filed this morning, a cooperating witness helped FBI investigators capture Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano offering to help ease zoning restrictions in exchange for campaign cash. The Asbury Park Press identifies the witness as Solomon Dwek, a once-prominent member of the Syrian community in Deal, New Jersey, who was arrested in 2006 after bouncing a $25 million check. A message left seeking comment from Dwek’s attorney, Christopher Porrino, was not immediately returned.

A separate complaint filed in the case of Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, a Republican, alleges the lawmaker offered a cooperating witness assistance securing coastal development permits in exchange for money, and mentioned a prospective congressional run. It is not clear whether that witness is the same person mentioned in the Cammarano complaint.

The Asbury Park Press and the Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources, are also reporting that the case also involves allegations of trafficking in human body parts and that one of those arrested is an organ dealer.

This morning’s sweep included arrests in the Williamsburg, Flatbush, and Borough Park neighborhoods of Brooklyn. The Yeshiva World News is reporting that there will be a public gathering in Brooklyn’s Gravesend neighborhood to recite prayers on behalf of all those arrested; Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn, told Tablet that anyone picked up in New York will be taken to New Jersey, where the case is being prosecuted.

N.J. corruption arrests ensnare Assemblyman, mayors, rabbis [Star-Ledger]
FBI: Van Pelt Took $10,000 Bribe for Waretown Development [Asbury Park Press]
Dozens Arrested in New Jersey Corruption Probe [WSJ]

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]

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