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]

Abbas Is Happy to Wait

As P.M. Fayyad interview with ‘Haaretz’ confirms

Abbas meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office in May.(Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

When I interviewed Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea for my article on Benjamin Netanyahu’s relative good fortune as prime minister, Barnea told me that the real “lucky” one in Mideast politics is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Although perceived as weak and ineffectual by both the United States and Israel, Abbas is, as Barnea put it, “quite happy with the status quo. The West Bank standard of living is improving, law and order is improving. He’s a head of state with none of the responsibilities of a head of state.” Indeed, Abbas told The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl in May that Fatah is basically waiting for a U.S.-brokered peace deal to arrive before taking any initiative of his own toward one: “I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” Abbas said. “Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality.… The people are living a normal life.”

Although Fatah’s sixth general assembly, which concluded last week in Bethlehem, produced little more than conspiracy theories about how Yasser Arafat died (guess who killed him?), pro forma denunciations of Israel, and a refusal to recognize the country as a “Jewish state” (something Netanyahu demands before moving forward on a peace deal himself), there is yet another indication that Abbas and company are content to inhabit a wait-and-see mode. The reason is that, fundamentally, they agree with Netayanhu’s “economic peace” plan, whereby Israel lessens strictures on enterprise and investment in the Palestinian territory, while not committing itself to any political rapprochement with Palestinians. Consider this interview Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad gave to Haaretz for today’s edition, in which he sounds almost conciliatory on the Jewish identity question: “The character of Israel, as the total character that Israel would like to have, is Israel’s own choice. It characterizes itself in the way that it wishes to characterize itself. Why raise it now?” He also sounds like a second for Netanyahu when he says: “I realized that security was the glue between a thriving economy and proper government and achieving liberty for the Palestinian people.”

So Abbas has it both ways: he gets to watch with delight as the Obama administration puts the screws to Israel while Israel continues to facilitate the development of Abbas’s home turf. Who wouldn’t like that status quo?

Palestinian PM to Haaretz: It’s not our business whether Israel is Jewish [Haaretz]
The Lucky Likudnik [Tablet]

Today on Tablet

Shark attacks, Bibi’s luck, and Sontag’s screen secret


Michael Weiss counts the ways that Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure as Prime Minister of Israel has been charmed since its problematic beginning. Marc Tracy examines Sunsan Sontag’s semi-forgotten documentary film about Israel. Liel Leibovitz draws a parallel between the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week and this week’s Torah portion. And much more, here on The Scroll.

‘Homeless’ Hebrew U. Donor, Not So Much

Not a Holocaust survivor, either

Fischer, with some dude the News doesn’t identify, in the late 1980s.(

Perhaps moved to investigate further by the skeptical comments when the story first ran, New York’s Daily News has uncovered the “mystery” of the homeless Holocaust survivor who willed more than $100,000 to Hebrew University, quite possibly against the dead woman’s wishes. Now, instead of the portrait of a desperate bag lady painted by the press over the last week, we have an actual photograph of Ida Fischer, who, according to the new article, didn’t survive the Holocaust but rather fled Vienna with her family beforehand, was a religious Jew, very popular with men, and lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. And, according to her will, which the Daily News also took the liberty of publishing, the money she left to Hebrew University was specifically designated to go toward research on blindness and heart disease. One part of the original story still seems to be true: Fischer did move neighbors’ cars for money, and then left a quarter of her estate to one of them. A friend said he “wasn’t surprised Fischer had a gentleman friend to help her,” but if she kept him from getting parking tickets in New York, and then willed him a chunk of change, it seems like the other way around. Don’t worry, though, the Daily News’s online commenters have still seen fit to kvetch, now about why Fischer left her money to Hebrew University instead of any number of their own pet charities. The University has apologized for spreading the false information.

‘Eccentric Hippie’ Who Donated Fortune, Ida Fischer, Had Megabucks to Match a Huge Heart [NYDN]

Daybreak: Palestinian P.M.’s Low Standards

A new website, Anne Frank abused again, and more in the news


• In an interview, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad says, “Israel’s character is Israel’s business and nobody else’s,” and shares his modest goal: “to prove to the world that the Palestinians can run a state no worse than anyone else.” [Haaretz]
• Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of “waging a propaganda war” against the group’s findings of abuses during the Gaza War. [Ynet]
• The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has launched a new website, [JTA]
• A group of “yutzes” are using Anne Frank’s image, with a blue cross instead of a yellow star, to illustrate their “profoundly baffling misimpression” that President Obama is creating an “enemies list” of people who complain about his health care reform. [JTA]
• After a tip that an Israeli soldier had been kidnapped, a search by the IDF ruled out the possibility. [NYT]

Sundown: No More Mezuzah Makeouts

Charms, gripes, and the language of racism


• Like the fabled restaurant mints, it turns out mezuzahs, hung in doorways and traditionally kissed for luck, are covered in gross bacteria from so many pious hands and mouths. In order to prevent the spread of swine flu, one doctor recommends becoming more religious—about hygiene—and sticking with air kisses for the time being. [Ynet]
• But not to worry, we haven’t completely abandoned superstition as a way to curb the disease: Israeli rabbis are calling for an anti-swine flu fast day next Wednesday. [Arutz Sheva]
• The Republican Jewish Coalition has become the first Jewish group to officially come out against President Obama’s health care reform, saying “the consequences of Obamacare will include massive taxes, massive new spending and massive new debt.” [JTA]
• A German appeals court has ruled that displaying Nazi slogans is only illegal if they’re written in German. After all, in English, “Blood and Honour” could just be referring to a post-soccer game pub crawl, rather than a Hitler Youth motto. [AP]
• But some offenses are still clear as day: As if their hair wasn’t reprehensible enough, two of the jackasses from reality TV show NYC Prep have been photographed taping swastikas onto a car and dressing up as Hitler for a giggle. [Perez Hilton]

Good Reviews for Shiva Book

Jonathan Tropper’s ‘This Is Where I Leave You’


In This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper’s new novel, members of a dysfunctional family gather to sit shiva for their atheist father who nevertheless took the kids to synagogue on holidays because, as he told them, “I’ve been wrong before.” It gets good reviews today. Narrated by Judd Foxman, whose wife has recently left him, the story is “bracing and refreshing,” says Donna Freydkin in USA Today; she sees shades of Nick Hornby in the prose. Janet Maslin digs it too, but compares its “wry domestic tone” more to Tom Perrotta (who, incidentally, provided one of the mere 22 blurbs on the book’s dust jacket).Having only read an excerpt, we are left to wonder more about Tropper’s physical likenesses. Anyone else see hints of Tim Roth and Jacob Weisberg?

In Tropper’s ‘This is Where I Leave You,’ It’s a Man’s World [USA Today]
Eyes May Be Moist, but the Jokes Are Dry [NYT]

Sex, Kabbalah, and the Academy at Fringe

NYC theater festival starts this week


The New York International Fringe Festival, that annual summer smorgasbord of off-off-off-Broadway theater, will include a handful of Jewish-themed plays this year among its 200-odd offerings when it opens tomorrow. For one, there’s Sex and the Holy Land, which began as the undergraduate thesis project of playwright Melanie Zoey Weinstein, now 23. Inspired by organized trips to Israel Weinstein went on in high school and college, it has a “girls just want to have fun, sex in the Holy Land vibe, but it’s about so much more,” she told the New Jersey Jewish News. Then there’s The Secret of Our Souls: A Kabbalistic Love Story, in which “the Baal Shem Tov (John Lopez) and his wife, Chana (Alexis Fishman) battle false messiah Jacob Frank (Adam Reich) over the Jewish blood libel,” according to the Jewish Week. The musical, by Sesame Street songwriting veterans Ben Goldstein and Philip Namanworth, won’t play on Shabbat and will be performed Orthodox-style one night, with no women singing, according the Jerusalem Post. And Peace Warriors, by Israeli-American historian Doron Ben-Atar, lampoons a group of philandering anti-Zionist professors; when it played in Washington, D.C. last month, The New Republic called it a “savagely witty satire of elite American academics, and their attitudes toward the Middle East.” We’ll have reviews early next week.

Showing Off Their Fringe [Jerusalem Post]
Love in a Warm Climate [New Jersey Jewish News]
Sex On The Fringe: Ironic Twist on Tzitzit [Jewish Week]
Peace Warriors [TNR]

Out of the Outpost

Israel evacuates an illegal settlement, steps up efforts to placate U.S.


Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled today that residents of the Bnei Adam outpost in the West Bank had to go. The evacuation, which is being carried out voluntarily and carefully overseen by the Defense Ministry, is part of a coordinated effort by the Netanyahu government to appease the U.S., which has called for a settlement freeze. The Israel Defense Forces’ Civil Administration has recently upped by 50% the number of settlement inspectors monitoring construction in so-called Area C of the West Bank, the territory designated by the government as Palestinian land.

Settlers agree to evacuate West Bank outpost Bnei Adam [Haaretz]

Madoff Had Affair With Hadassah CFO

She testified against him

(Hiroko Masuike/Getty Images)

Former Hadassah CFO Sheryl Weinstein was one of nine Bernie Madoff victims to give withering testimony at the conman’s June sentencing. “He walks, dresses like us—but underneath he is a beast,” she said then. “Keep him in a cage behind bars.” It all takes on a different cast, doesn’t it, now that she’s revealed she had had an affair with the man who defrauded her? Weinstein has written a soon-to-be-released memoir called Madoff’s Other Secret: Love, Money, Bernie, and Me; and Barnes and Noble are selling advance copies without revealing the identity of the author, but a spokesman for St. Martin’s Press confirmed that it’s Weinstein, Bloomberg News reports.

Weinstein met Madoff 21 years ago when she hired him to manage a $7 million donation to Hadassah, according to Bloomberg. The Jewish women’s organization later invested another $33 million with him, and Weinstein invested with him personally. At the sentencing, she said that she and her husband of 37 years have had to sell their home after losing “everything” to Madoff’s scam. “Our son Eric worked for him one summer in college. A few months before this, [Eric] called to thank him,” she said in her testimony. “My family and I are not anonymous people to him.” Apparently not.

Madoff Had Affair With Ex-Hadassah Finance Chief, Her Book Says [Bloomberg]
Related: A View from the Courtroom [Tablet]

Rabbi, Mystic, Miracle of Nature

Tells fortunes in Brooklyn, right or wrong


According to The Forward’s Michael Casper, one Rabbi Chaim Yosef Sharabi, scion of a family of Yemeni mystics, has set up shop at the back of an optician’s store in Borough Park, Brooklyn, where he tells fortunes and dispenses paper amulets for $180 a pop. Casper reports that the rabbi’s predictions aren’t very good—the reporter’s cousin was told months ago that she would meet her future husband within eight months, and she hasn’t—but that doesn’t stop people from waiting as long as six hours to hear what Sharabi portends for them. Sharabi’s wife, who translates for him from Hebrew, insists that what he does isn’t really fortune-telling, but rather communing with God; Sharabi, for his part, said he has indeed fulfilled his relatives’ predictions that he would become a great mystic. How did they know? Easy, he said: “I was born circumcised on Yom Kippur.” A miracle!

A Jewish Mystic Offers Amulets and Predictions, for $180 a Pop [Forward]

David Mamet and Anne Frank

Coming to a theater near you


Disney has acquired pic rights to a new rendition of The Diary of Anne Frank,” to be written and helmed by David Mamet.Variety, yesterday

What we imagine to be the trailer:


The thing is…


It’s that…


It’s that I still believe…


I still believe, in spite of everything…

There’s a lot of shit out there.

There is. But I still believe.

I know, you believe.

No, what I’m saying is…

What the hell are you saying?

I’m saying that I still believe, in spite of everything…


That people are truly good at heart.

Oh yeah?


Fucking fool.

Mamet Takes on ‘Anne Frank’ [Variety]
Related: Anne Frank’s Diary, As Interpreted by David Mamet [Vulture]

Tablet Today

A mama’s boy, Democratic Jews, revamped rites, and a journalist remembered


Victor Navasky pays tribute to iconoclastic journalist Sidney Zion. Jordana Horn susses out the phenomenon of bar mitzvahs held at havdalah, the ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath. Allison Hoffman discusses the challenges of managing the National Jewish Democratic Council in today’s political landscape, and talks to Antonio Sabato Jr. about his decision to search for love, with his mother’s help, on a new reality show. And this very blog, The Scroll, will enlighten you with updates all day.

Daybreak: Surrender or Surprise Attack?

A secret hideout, a baller, and more from the news


• Human Rights Watch says Palestinian families carrying white flags were killed by Israeli troops during the Gaza war; the IDF says Hamas uses flags illegally, making it impossible to distinguish between civilians and combatants. [Reuters]
• The Central Conference of American Rabbis, the group of Reform rabbis, has issued a statement advocating equal citizenship and rights for Arabs in Israel. [JPost]
It’s done: President Obama presented the Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson. [JTA]
• Hezbollah may have a base in Venezuela, from which to collect intelligence and plan remote attacks. [Ynet]
• American teenager Jeremy Tyler left high school to play for Israeli basketball team Maccabi Haifa, hoping to prove himself before returning to the States in time for the 2011 NBA draft. [Haaretz]

Sundown: Forget the Loch Ness Monster

Jews should return to Iraq, and other unconventional wisdom


• The Israeli town of Kirvat Yam is offering over $1 million for photographic proof of a mermaid some claim to have seen off its shore. No word on how much the town is offering for that even more elusive mythical entity, a workable peace plan. [Daily Mail]
• That is, if we still need one: A new magazine in Iraq implores Jews to return to the country, turning the tables on the idea of “right of return” by suggesting that if Arab countries welcome back their native Jews, all could be rainbows and lollipops in the holy land. [AFP]
• As some Jewish groups squabble over who should take the blame for allowing comparisons between President Obama’s health care plan and the Holocaust, a Florida rabbi OKs the analogy in hopes that “the shock value may keep lawmakers away from what he views to be threatening policies.” [WP]
• As if that isn’t enough heresy, in the Boston Globe, a rabbi says that Jewish identity is about more than just Israel! [BG]
• Big-shot Zionist rabbi Shlomo Aviner declares that non-Jews should not serve in the Israeli military—his hands are tied folks, it was Maimonedes’ idea. [Ynet]
• The largest-ever Hillel conference is happening now, which, says the organization’s president, “clearly places engagement at the center of the Hillel world.” (Let’s hope attendees won’t have to sit through much of that kind of non-speak.) [JTA]

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