Daybreak: Israel Forgives, British Jews Don’t

Vandalism, a troublesome comparison, and more from the news


• Israel’s Foreign Ministry has forgiven the European Union, which apologized for criticizing Israel’s settlement policy as economically crippling to Palestinians. [Arutz Sheva]
• Meanwhile, British Jewish groups have scoffed at the apology of Formula One’s Bernie Ecclestone, who last week praised Hitler’s ability to “get things done.” [CNN]
• Four members of the Jewish Defense League in France have allegedly vandalized a pro-Palestinian book store. [Ynet]
• A new Jewish American museum in Philadelphia, set to open next year, is holding a vote on its website to determine 18 people to honor in an exhibit. [Philadelphia Enquirer]
• Andrew Sullivan revives the Sarah Palin-as-Queen Esther analogy. [Atlantic]

Sundown: To the Rescue!

Batwoman for D.C. mayor, Norway compartmentalizes, and praying via Twitter


• Comic book superhero Batwoman is running for mayor of Washington, D.C., where she’d be the first lesbian, and also the first Jew, to hold the job, says her “campaign manager.” [Bilerico Project]
• Some Israelis are miffed that Norway has declared 2009 a year honoring Knut Hamsun, who, in the words of a Norwegian official, “was among our greatest authors and a Nazi sympathizer. Can we reconcile this?” The offending institute has invited Israelis to a debate on the topic—to be held next year, of course. [Haaretz]
• This year’s Avignon theater festival in France, which opened yesterday, will include Amos Gitai’s play based on Flavius Josephus’s “History of the Jewish War Against the Romans.” [Bloomberg]
• If you can keep your prayers concise, God will now be receiving them via tweets to the Kotel. [Tweet Your Prayers]
• Chabad Rabbi Peretz Chain completed the Cape Cod Marathon and was “on cloud 37.” That’s one more than twice chai! [NYT]
The Real Housewives of New York’s Bethenny Frankel plans to marry her boyfriend of eight months, despite having strayed from castmate Ramona’s “Rules for Manhandling.” [NYMag]

Chicken Soup for the Macaca Soul

George Allen’s book of moral lessons

Allen campaigning for Senate in 2006.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Regnery, the conservative publishing house, announced yesterday that former Virginia senator George Allen will be joining its author list with a book, due out next year, called The Triumph of Character: What Washington Can Learn from the World of Sports. Allen, you may recall, was famously swept off the national stage in 2006 after he was captured on camera calling S.R. Sidarth, a University of Virginia student who was volunteering as a roving cameraman for Allen’s Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, “macaca.” As in, “So, welcome, let’s give a welcome to Macaca here. Welcome to America, and the real world of Virginia.” “Macaca,” as the Forward went on to reveal, is Tunisian slang for blacks, which prompted a round of questioning from the press that ultimately forced Allen, after complaining that reporters were “making aspersions,” to reveal that his mother, Henrietta, was the scion of one of Tunis’ most prominent Jewish families—something it was never clear why he went to such lengths to conceal.

According to Regnery’s press release, Allen plans to write from his personal experience as a college football and rugby player at the University of Virginia—probably a smart move, since relying on the lessons he learned from his father, legendary Redskins coach George Allen Sr., would open up questions about when he planned to pen a companion volume on lessons he learned from his mother, who spent her adult life concealing her religious background for the sake of her husband’s and son’s careers.

George Allen’s Road Back? [Politico]
Related: Alleged Slur Casts Spotlight On Senator’s (Jewish?) Roots [Forward]

Novelist Messud Visits Middle East

And Marty Peretz—her husband’s old boss—is not amused


Until recently, British author Claire Messud had only written about Palestine as a vogue political issue that interrupts—but remunerates—the life of quiet contemplation being fitfully led by Murray Thwaite, the liberal newspaper columnist who features prominently in her novel, The Emperor’s Children. Murray blows off a planned speech at a fundraising dinner for a Harlem youth program because it’s on the same night as a dinner given in honor of two Palestinian activists and, to decide between them, “it was as easy as a simple sum.” The Arabs commanded the higher speaking fee.

Now Messud’s attentions have returned to the Middle East, this time with a column in the Boston Globe recounting her recent very unpleasant time in Israel and the West Bank. Messud and a handful of other writers from around the world had traveled to Jerusalem to attend Palestine Festival of Literature, originally scheduled to take place at the Palestine National Theater—that is, until event was relocated, along with its attendees, all bedecked in their evening wear and spilling their cocktails over the rocky terrain, by “machine-gun toting Israeli soldiers in flak jackets.”

Messud offers no reason why IDF soldiers would ask a group of scribblers to take their business elsewhere, except that, as she coyly puts it, “our literary festival had the word ‘Palestine’ in its title.” According to the Palestinians she encountered, many other such cultural events have been shut down or hampered by the Israeli military in a city she notes UNESCO declared the Capital of Arab Culture for 2009. A little investigation might have gone a long way; instead, the rest of her piece is a monument to cant and banality—members of her entourage, she writes, compared the circumstances of a colonial population living under military supervision to “Orwell’s 1984; to Kafka.” It was no doubt Orwellian of Messud to refer to her stifled confab by its popular acronym, “Palfest.” And her background coloration scans like some Fodor’s Guide to Orientalist Cliché:

We scrambled up rocks among terraced olive groves to a stone shepherd’s hut, from which we could see the green and gold hills interlaced to the horizon. We picked our way along a dry riverbed, surprising a patterned tortoise, and on to a small village, where a mangy donkey gazed balefully from its tether and ruddy-faced children demonstrated their tree-climbing prowess.

You know how long it takes for a patterned tortoise to even know you’re there? All that’s missing from this strophe is the call of the muezzin drowned out by machine gun fire, and sand-scorched Western palates thrilling to the wondrous flavors of hummus. But, hey, before you know it, Messud is actually referring to one swarthy denizen of the region as “nut-brown.” And this happens to be Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli who blew the whistle on his country’s nuclear program 25 years ago and served time for almost as long. He is now a nut-brown man without a sky-blue Israeli passport.

Messud’s piece was more than enough to set Marty Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, off on a thousand-word blog tear:

Messud’s ignorance and incuriousness—her piece is an instant classic in the literature of the writer as political tourist—shows in her portraits of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Her Palestinians are innocent victims who wish merely to read and write freely. Nowhere in her plangent prose in there a suggestion that they owe a good deal of their present misery to their own refusal of various offers of statehood. Nowhere is there a hint of actual literary and cultural life under Hamas and under Fatah. Messud seems to think that but for the Israelis and their occupation Palestine is an oasis of freedom and cultivation.

The real question, though, is how Peretz’s former star book critic James Wood, who graduated from TNR to The New Yorker a few years back and is—not incidentally—Messud’s husband, is handling all of this. A high priest at the Temple of Saul Bellow, Wood would no doubt be fielding angry calls from his now-dead hero and the author of To Jerusalem and Back for his wife’s freshman foray into leftist travelogue writing.

Walking Miles in Palestinian Feet [Boston Globe]
Her Truths [TNR]

Palin’s Jewish Successor

Democrat Ethan Berkowitz considers an Alaska run


Sarah Palin’s surprise resignation last week offered a little something for everyone: from supporters eager to once again tar the Alaska governor’s critics as sexist classists to detractors happy to once again parse her syntax and admire her coiffure. Now, the JTA reports, there’s even a Jewish angle. Ethan Berkowitz, a Democrat with a long history in state politics, is “seriously considering a run” for the top slot next year.

Does he have a shot? In considering his prospects, it’s perhaps instructive to look to other Jews who’ve tried their luck in The Land of the Midnight Sun. Take, for instance, Joel Fleischman, the city-slick New York doctor played by Rob Morrow on the ’90s drama Northern Exposure who perennially found himself at odds with the mystically-minded denizens of the fictional Alaska town of Cicely.

A San Francisco native, Berkowitz is also a transplant at odds with the ways of his adopted home. He’s a fighter for renewable energy in a state awash in oil money. Last year, he challenged 17-term incumbent Don Young (often referred to as one of the most corrupt men in Congress) and lost.

When Northern Exposure reached the end of its six-year run, a chastened Joel returns home with his tail between his legs. Here’s to hoping that Ethan Berkowitz enjoys a happier fate.

The Jewish Angle on the Palin Resignation [JTA]

Matisyahu to Play Central Park

And explains new album to Boston website

Matisyahu performing in Baltimore last summer.(Scott Gries/Getty Images)

Hasidic reggae phenom Matisyahu (or, as the Ticketmaster electronic voice calls him, Matis-aya-who), plays New York’s Central Park Summer Stage tomorrow to promote his new album, Light. Matisyahu, who follows in the great tradition of Jews in reggae, told Boston Music Spotlight over the weekend that Light includes “electronic stuff, there’s more organic, singer-songwriter kind of stuff, there’s some more kind of indie rock vibe, some hip hop stuff.” Still, articulate-ness might not be his forte; on the catchy single “One Day” he admits “Sometimes in my tears I drown/and I never let it get me down.” And lyrics like “Stop with the violence/stop with the hate” suggest that coming up with an original message (remember “Imagine”? “Down by the Riverside”?) might be something of a challenge, too.

Matisyahu + Umphrey’s McGee at SummerStage [TONY]
Matisyahu Expands Sound, Vision on Light [Boston Music Spotlight]
One Day [Matisyahu’s MySpace]
Previously: Melody Maker [Tablet]

On Tablet Today

A relevant voice on Sotomayor, a choreographer thinks outside the box, and a measles outbreak


A.J. Goldmann tells of a new abstract dance piece being performed at a unlikely location—Berlin’s Neue Synagogue. Tablet Magazine columnist Seth Lipsky wants to hear what Lani Guinier, President Bill Clinton’s unsuccessful nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, would have to say about Judge Sonia Sotomayor. And Allison Hoffman investigates the role of anti-immunization propaganda in a measles outbreak in one ultra-Orthodox community. Plus, stay tuned for more on The Scroll!

Mahmoud Couldn’t Even Hurt a Fly

Not for want of trying


Here’s yet one more reason President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad really ought to be more receptive to Barack Obama’s offer of bilateral conversation: as it turns out, the Iranian president could really use his U.S. counterpart’s advice on how to successfully swat and a kill interfering insects. Obama, as you’ll recall, displayed another of his superhero skills last month when he suavely and unflinchingly took out a winged irritant interrupting his conversation with a CNBC reporter. The beleaguered Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, was confronted by an enormous bug—an airborne cow, nearly—during a recent speech on Iranian state TV, and he couldn’t effectively get rid of the damned thing. (No doubt Mir Hossein Mousavi would have done better. Or so we’ll keep telling ourselves.)

Check out the Jerusalem Post’s video comparison, chilling titled “Flying Insects vs. World Leaders,” for an object lesson in the insecticidal advantages of democracy over theocracy.

Flying Insects vs. World Leaders [JPost]

Jon Stewart Is a Prophet

Suggests interviewer, despite comic’s demurral

Stewart at the Mark Twain Prize ceremony in November, 2008.(Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Jon Stewart is like a Hebrew prophet, the Reverend Jim Wallis suggests in interviewing the Daily Show star for Sojourners Magazine. Wallis cites Stewart’s combination of humor and truth-telling to make a point (a tactic also used by “Borscht Belt social directors,” Stewart points out), and he likens Stewart’s evisceration of CNBC’s Jim Cramer to the biblical parable of Jesus overturning the tables of the “money changers.” Stewart, of course, rejects the analogy. (Jesus “only had to do one show,” he protests. “We have to do four a week!”)

But might some of Stewart’s other Daily Show antics reflect parables from the Hebrew Bible? Herewith, three examples to boost Wallis’ case.

Eye for an Eye, Tooth for a Tooth
In response to guest Will Ferrel’s spontaneous presenting of his teeth for an extreme closeup, Stewart quickly rises and offers his own chompers for inspection, luckily stopping just short of demonstrating the biblical homily’s lesser known third line, “a testicle for a testicle.”

The Tower of Babel
Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones attends a speech by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without a translator, leading him to conclude incorrectly (one hopes) that the Iranian president was simply stating and restating that he hates Jews.

Jonah and the Whale
And if the signs aren’t clear enough at this point, go back to 2005, when a whale swam up the Delaware River to Trenton, New Jersey, the capital of Stewart’s home state. Jon writes it off as the creature looking for a good time via “champale and condoms,” but we know better: it was waiting for the inevitable moment when Stewart would flee to the ocean, ala Jonah, to avoid his mammoth prophetic responsibilities.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Intro – Party Whale
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Economic Crisis

Daybreak: Is Hillary Losing the Jews?

Debunking myths, subway slander, and more from the news


• A Fox News columnist accuses President Obama of sabotaging his former rival, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, by assigning her to “chastise Israel”: “If she continues as the heavy in this new relationship with Israel, Hillary Clinton can kiss goodbye to any future ambitions that rely on her raising money in the Jewish community—or that is, almost any ambitions at all.” [Fox]
The New York Times finds fault with Dennis Ross and David Makovsky’s new book Myths, Illusions, and Peace, which “attempts to debunk the notion that resolving the Palestinian question could pay dramatic dividends elsewhere.” The paper also has an excerpt. [NYT]
• Obama insists that neither he nor Vice President Joe Biden has given Israel the OK to attack Iran. [CNN]
• The hullabaloo over a woman who allegedly shouted anti-Semitic slurs at a Hasidic NYPD officer at a subway station may get her fired, or it may get the New York Post in trouble for its original story. [Gothamist]
• JTA pays tribute to Gary Tobin, a Jewish demographer who spoke up for Jews of color and converts. Tobin died Monday. [JTA]

Sundown: Foxholes and Kid Lit

Strange places for atheists, the plight of prisoners, and baseball takes a stand


•A game show in Turkey called Penitents Compete pits religious leaders from the world’s major faiths against each other in the battle for the soul of a nonbeliever. The atheists are examined by a panel of theologians to prove their sincerity—presumably based on how well they know their Hitchens. [CNN]
•One atheist who has yet to be won over was relegated to reading All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten at his niece’s bat mitzvah. [Examiner]
•Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak swears that kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is A-OK. [JTA]
•Former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Mordechai Eliyahu has declared it preferable for IDF soldiers to go to jail rather than listen to a woman sing at an army event. Perhaps he has been reading too much American news and has the wrong idea about what prison’s like. [Arutz Sheva]
•A Jewish blogger says that although he’s “about as far from joining the Anti-Defamation League as you will find,” he’s glad the Atlantic Coast Conference has moved its baseball tournament from South Carolina after the state refused to remove a Confederate flag. [East Coast Bias]

Bernie Madoff, Bad for More Jews

Original investors were Ruth’s parents’ friends, says New York

Madoff arriving at court in March.(Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)

Things aren’t easy for Ruth Madoff, according to a profile in this week’s New York magazine. Her friends seem to agree that she didn’t know about her husband’s scam, her kids don’t speak to her, she gets lousy PR advice, she’s shunned by New York society, and the man to whom she’s been devoted since high school will spend the rest of his life behind bars. But, even worse, it turns out Bernie didn’t just fleece Yeshiva University and Elie Wiesel; he fleeced all of Ruth’s mishpucha, too. Ruthie Alpern and Bernie Madoff of Littleton, Queens, married in 1959, writer Sheelah Kolhatkar reports:

From then on, the Alpern and Madoff families, and business interests, became intertwined. Bernie graduated from Hofstra in 1960 and was casting about for moneymaking opportunities. Ruth’s father, a certified public accountant whose firm, Alpern & Heller, had been in business since 1948, provided the umbrella for Bernie to launch his market-making operation, buying and selling securities for other companies. Bernie quietly began an investment fund on the side, and two of Saul Alpern’s employees—the accountants Frank Avellino and Michael Bienes—started to work for him, funneling investors who wanted to get in on what were known even back then as Bernie’s guaranteed returns of 13.5 to 20 percent a year.

His earliest investors were friends of Ruth’s parents, retired teachers, accountants, and lawyers who’d sold their houses in Queens, moved down south, and had some extra money to put away. Many of them spent their summers in the bungalow colonies of the Catskills in upstate New York. “My hotel catered to retired people from Florida, my parents’ friends,” says Cynthia Arenson, a classmate of Ruth’s who ran the Sunny Oaks resort near Woodridge and whose parents were best friends with Ruth’s parents. “Thirty percent of my hotel invested in Bernie Madoff.”

Which probably means, if nothing else, that you can get a good rate at Sunny Hill this summer.

Poor Ruth [New York]

Will Israel Bomb Iran?

All signs point to yes


In this week’s Weekly Standard, Peter Berkowitz attempts to answer an often-unasked question about an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear program: what would such a strike look like? Berkowitz spoke to high-ranking Israeli policy analysts, and he reports that it’s still undecided whether an attack would be carried out by Israeli Air Force bombers or land-based Jericho missiles. But in either case, he says, the targets would almost certainly be Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility, the Esfahan nuclear research center and uranium conversion facility, and the Arak heavy water plant and future plutonium production reactors—what are termed the “three critical nodes in Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.” And in either case there is no guarantee of success.

Berkowitz also sketches possible regional consequences of a preemptive strike. Iran could order Hezbollah to attack Israel. It could encourage independent terrorist groups to go after synagogues or other Jewish sites in Europe. It might disrupt Persian Gulf shipping lines. And it could cause further chaos among Shiites in Iraq. He rejects the notion that the recent Iranian elections and their brutal aftermath might affect Israel’s calculus: Could the recent spectacle of brave Iranian dissidents taking on the Khamenei regime actually embolden an Israeli effort to forestall an atomic theocracy?

It’s been an interesting recent news cycle for these what-ifs. Vice President Joe Biden told ABC’s This Week on Sunday that the United States “cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do,” a comment many interpreted to be a green-light to Israeli preemption. And although today’s Jerusalem Post leads with a story explaining that President Barack Obama in no way supports or condones an attack, that’s a minor footnote compared to what Eli Lake at the Washington Times has uncovered: that Netanyahu hasn’t even asked the president’s permission.

Israel would ideally like Washington’s consent to attack because it would like access to Iraqi airspace, which affords the fastest flight-path to Iran and which the U.S. still controls. But its bombers can also reach their targets via less direct routes, like over Saudi Arabia, which the London Times reported last week has told Israeli officials it wouldn’t object to flyovers. Remember that George W. Bush nixed Ehud Barak’s plan to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites in 2008. If Netanyahu never asks permission, Obama can never say no.

Bibi’s Choices [Weekly Standard]
Israel Declines to Ask U.S. to OK Iran Attack [Washington Times]
Saudis Give Nod to Israeli Raid on Iran [London Times

George Washington’s Mitzvah

When to stand up, according to Washington, Obama, and the Talmud


David Brooks continues his Barack Obama torch-carrying in today’s New York Times, likening the president’s dignified ways with those of George Washington, who strictly followed 101 rules of civility. One of them—“if any one come to speak to you while you are sitting, stand up”—caught our eye, as it’s coincidentally also the subject of assiduous pontification in the Yiddish-news website Vos Iz Neais?.

It turns out there’s a mitzvah derived from Leviticus 19:32 that states that a person should rise when a man—specifically with grey hair—enters a room. Later rabbinical parsing tried to determine at what age a person is considered hoary enough to stand for (60 or 70); whether you rise when an elderly woman approaches (some say only if her husband is a Torah scholar—don’t sweat it for merely a doctor’s wife); and if you’re exempt from standing if so doing runs you the risk of losing money, on a subway, for instance, where someone could swipe your seat if you get out of it for only a second. If that last bit seems a little crass, don’t worry: there are further caveats to that exception (for one, it’d constitute “a chillul Hashem,” or desecration of God). We have no doubt someone as dignified as Barack Obama would execute that double-reverse caveat to the caveat and risk forfeiting the $2.25 to show respect for a kindly grandmother. And when he does, you-know-who will write all about it.

In Search of Dignity [NYT]
At What Age Is The Mitzvah Of ‘Mipnei Saivah Takum’ [Vos Iz Neais?]

Blacks are Cursed, Obama Is Evil

Say Russian-language Israeli media, while denying racism


Russian-language media in Israel has been abuzz with racist chatter about Barack Obama in response to the president’s Russia trip, Haaretz reports today. Though Russian-speaking Israelis tend to be a secular crowd, the community’s media personalities have been quoting a lot of Bible: specifically, the part in Genesis where God punishes Noah’s son Ham by turning his skin black and condemning him and his descendants to slavery, in conjunction with a verse in Proverbs where “a slave who becomes king” heralds evil. “We aren’t racists, we simply hate blacks,” the former editor of Vesty, the Russian paper published by Yediot Ahronot, told Haaretz.

Of course.

Why don’t Russian-speaking Jews trust Obama? [Haaretz]

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