thescroll_header

Money Laundering Goes Global

Another scheme foiled, this one in Israel

Email
Criminal mastermind and sloppy dresser Marvin Berkowitz arriving in a Tel Aviv courtroom yesterday.(Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

There’s money laundering in New Jersey, there’s money laundering in Los Angeles, and, court documents filed yesterday reveal, there’s another alleged money-laundering scheme that stretches from Chicago to Tel Aviv and defrauded U.S. tax authorities of more than $35 million. The cabal’s ringleader, 62-year-old Marvin Berkowitz, fled the United States for Israel in 2003 and settled in Jerusalem. Together with his sons and other American accomplices, he is suspected of stealing the identities of about 3,300 federal prisoners and then fraudulently filing for tax refunds on their behalf. The money would then be laundered through Israeli bank accounts. And they say Israeli-American relations are on the rocks.

New U.S.-Israeli Crime Ring Detailed [NYT]
Related: Holy Land Gangland [Tablet]

More Rabbinical Money Laundering

Guilty pleas in L.A.; meeting with Jewish leaders in N.J.

Email

Last month, when federal agents arrested five rabbis from the Syrian Jewish community, including Chief Rabbi Saul Kassin, on charges that they used religious charities to launder money for their congregants, some were reminded of a similar 2007 case involving the Spinka sect. Yesterday, the Grand Rabbi of Spinka, Naftali Tzi Weisz, entered his guilty plea in a Los Angeles federal court to one count of conspiracy to evade the IRS and illicitly launder $8.4 million through Spinka charitable organizations, in exchange for a $744,000 cut for the community’s benefit. Weisz, who is based in Brooklyn, gave a surprise apology last week at a community forum, demanding that the community promise to stop engaging in tax evasion—perhaps an effort at softening up the judge, who may give the rabbi up to a five-year prison sentence in November.

Meanwhile, New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie—who as the U.S. Attorney in Newark oversaw the two-year investigation of the Syrian Jewish community—met yesterday with Orthodox leaders from around the state in an apparent effort to head off any political fallout from the case. Polls show Christie, a Republican, holding a 14-point lead over Democratic incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine—but Corzine last week added self-described “feisty Jewish grandmother” Loretta Weinberg to his ticket. According to a press release from the Orthodox Union, which brokered the meeting, Christie reminded the assembled rabbis of his anti-terrorism and security prosecutions—and, not incidentally, promised to support tax credits for Orthodox families in the cities of Elizabeth, Lakewood, and Passaic. As they say in the drug wars: legalization is one way to cut crime.

Rabbi Fraud Case in Los Angeles Echoes N.J. Scandal [Bloomberg]
N.J. Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Meets With Orthodox Jewish Leadership [VoxIsNeias]
Related: Crisis of Faith [Tablet]

Today on Tablet

A wake-up for Tel Aviv, a writer’s new path, a lame book, and an unoffensive fairy tale

Email

Evan Goldstein talks to Israeli writer Gadi Taub about his turn from journalism to fiction via a novel about a seedy Tel Aviv bar. Adam Kirsch slams Rich Cohen’s book Israel is Real for its factual errors, among other things. Nicole Taylor mourns the loss of the secure, free-wheeling scene in Tel Aviv brought on by the shooting at a gay community center. Marjorie Ingall presents the uber-PC tale of a gluten-free cupcake-loving dragon. And, as ever, lots more here on The Scroll all day.

Diary of a Self-Hating Jew

A day in the imagined life of David Axelrod

Email
Axelrod on Capitol Hill last week.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Did Benjamin Netanyahu call David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel “self-hating Jews” (as was reported) or not (as his aides insist)? Tablet Magazine got hold of the Obama senior adviser’s private diary from one day last week, and it suggests Bibi was (or wasn’t, maybe) right.

Woke up at 5:30. Total of three hours of sleep. Finished health care strategy memo around 2 and then spent a half hour reading Mondoweiss on the separation wall. Good stuff. Examined face through bloodshot eyes. That beak! It’s not getting any smaller. Thought the mustache would maybe minimize it, but all it does is make me look more hairy. Caught glimpse of Washington Monument out the window. Kind of reminds me of the mezuzah that hung on the door of grandma’s Lower East Side tenement. What a horror show that place was. Reeked of cabbage and B.O.

Stumbled over to WH. Oh, do I love the look of all the lissome shiksas as they head down to the Metro. Sure, they’re all scrubbed and focused now, with their iPods and their briefcases, but who knows what mischief they were up to just a few hours ago. Happy to see they finally got my nameplate on my office door. It’s only been a half-year. Probably should have changed the name when I had the chance. Back in Chicago, it worked. They like their ethnics there. Here, it’s just a liability. Even that great Jew Netanyahu de-Judaized his name back when he was fresh out of MIT. Ben Nitay. Who was he trying to kid? What if I’d been Dave Axel? Could have been anything. Could have been the front man in a rock band. Could have been a man in my own right instead of pulling the strings from the sidelines. Meeting with Conference of Presidents today. Lord help me. Hope they don’t make a big stink over the food options again. I guess under W they would ship a whole smorgasbord down from Brooklyn whenever the Jew crew came to call. I think all they’ll have in the Roosevelt room is mixed nuts. Good. Let ’em starve. Maybe I’ll just sit it out. Obama can handle them without me. Seeing the vein in my neck bulge as they go on and on about the “special relationship” might just throw him off his game. Better get that Hebrew “Obama for President” sign out of the closet. And definitely get rid of this map of greater Palestine. Health care strategy session at my place tonight. Should probably order some pizza. Have Melanie call Bella Napoli. Should probably get an assortment of pies. Obama’s so picky. You know what, screw it. Let’s just get three pepperoni.

Daybreak: Fatah Conference

And Mike Bloomberg in hot water, in the morning news

Email

• The Palestinian group Fatah begins its conference today in Bethlehem, where it’s set to elect new leadership for the movement. [Ynet]
• Of course, it will also take time to reiterate its rejection of Israel. [AFP]
• But Hamas is preventing Fatah delegates from Gaza from attending the conference. [BBC]
• And three Arab members of the Israeli parliament will be at the conference. [Arutz Sheva]
• Back in the United States, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is under investigation for making illegal donations to Jewish charities with his office’s discretionary money. [NYT]

Sundown: Sometimes English Just Ain’t Enough

Yinglish, anti-Israel Zionism, and a badge of dishonor

Email
Anthony Weiner at a Congressional committee meeting last week.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

• Congressman Anthony Weiner was jokingly chastised for using the Yiddish word “bupkis” in a committee meeting; a commenter on Orthodox site Vos Iz Neias thinks Weiner’s “trying to prove he’s Jewish,” and has a suggestion: “How about marrying a Jewish woman? Then you won’t have to bore Congress with Yiddish words.” [VIN]
• Matisyahu released an exclusive track to Entertainment Weekly. [EW]
• Beliefnet columnist Brad Hirschfeld takes what is essentially a joke—that the violent rioting by ultra-Orthodox groups against secular policies in Israel is “actually quite Zionist”—a bit too far: “I can not help but wonder if it isn’t also a positive sign, however slow and manifestly ugly, of the increasing integration of the Haredi community into the fabric of Israeli society.” [Beliefnet]
• Imprisoned pop music puppet-master Lou Pearlman was once honored as a “20th Century Republican Leader” by party leaders including the also at least somewhat disgraced Trent Lott; Nathan Rabin has the certificate to prove it. [AV Club]
• The NYPD has arrested a 30-year-old Bronx woman in last week’s murder of 90-year-old Holocaust survivor. [NYPost]

Death Penalty

Crises face the newly departed

Email

The latest casualties of Jews’ oft-bemoaned failure to transmit the importance of “looking after our own” from one generation to the next: the dead. Once, according to The New York Times, American Jews, particularly in the Northeast, organized societies to oversee the care and burial of the deceased. Now the dissolution of many such groups—due, in most cases, to aging members—has led to such near-disasters as what befell Florence Marmor, who found that her Queens, New York, plot, alongside her late husband’s, had been sold out from under her (pardon the pun), by a now-deceased administrator. The responsibility for maintaining records and righting wrongs often falls to obscure government agencies, such as the Office of Miscellaneous Estates in New York. Will this problem inspire more Jews to take up the cause of ensuring the eternal security of the people, or to be glad they haven’t put their future remains in the hands of groups that may not pass the test of time?

In other crisis-of-the-dead news, Israel is running out of space for the dearly departed, leading officials to consider “high-density burials” in which bodies are “laid to rest on top of each other in underground crypts.” Perhaps they got the idea from Mrs. Marmor.

With Demise of Jewish Burial Societies, Resting Places Are in Turmoil [NYT]
Israel Faces Grave Outlook for Burial Space [Reuters]

Court Orders Palestinians Evicted

From East Jerusalem homes

Email
A Palestinian women being evicted from her Jerusalem home on Sunday.(NYTimes.com)

Another long-running legal issue was decided in Israel on Sunday: two Palestinian families were evicted from their homes in East Jerusalem after losing a court battle over the ownership of a plot of land in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, near the Old City—a territory that’s been in dispute since the close of Six Day War in 1967. One family, now homeless, had been living in its house for 53 years, and the ruling allowed for the transfer of what eyewitnesses called “Jewish nationalists” into the properties as soon as they were vacated. According to The New York Times, “The police cordoned off the road leading to the disputed houses, stopping journalists from reaching them. Orthodox Jews were allowed through to visit a nearby site believed by Jews to be the ancient tomb of Shimon Hatzadik, or Simeon the Just, a Jewish high priest.” There’s a long and convoluted history involving the United Nations, Jordan, rent payments, forged deeds, and the Ottoman Empire; but, still, so much for settlement freezes, eh?

Israel Evicts Palestinians From Homes [NYT]

A Guss by Any Other Name

Lower East Side picklery to lose name, too

Email

Last week brought the news that Guss’ Pickles, the stalwart Lower East side vinegared-cucumber emporium, would soon be relocating to Brooklyn. Which was bad enough. But now it gets even worse: As New York’s Daily News reported Friday, a 2007 legal settlement between Pat Fairhurst, who owns the Orchard Street store, and the father-son duo of Steve and Andrew Leibowitz, Bronx picklemakers who had purchased the rights to the name, allows Fairhurst to peddle pickles as Guss’s only at the Orchard Street location. Which means that when Guss’ Pickles moves to Brooklyn, it’ll no longer be Guss’ Pickles. “We have a following, they don’t,” Fairhurst told the News. And yet somehow Fairhurst Pickles of Flatbush doesn’t have quite the same ring.

Lawsuit Forces Famed Pickle Dealer Guss’ Pickles to Change Its Name [NYDN via Eater]
Previously: Guss’ Pickles Decamps for Brooklyn

No Arrests in Tel Aviv Gay Center Attack

Was it homophobia?

Email

Two days after the deadly attack at a Tel Aviv gay and lesbian center, in which a gunman killed two young people and wounded several more, police haven’t made any arrests, but Haaretz reports that they have a lead that suggests a personal feud, rather than anti-gay animus, was behind the violence. Still, an editorial in that newspaper argues that this is not an isolated incident: “incitement” against gays, particularly from ultra-Orthodox individuals, spikes every year around June’s gay pride parades. Haaretz also reports that the center where the shooting took place is frequented largely by Russian-speaking teenagers from families hostile to their sexuality; at least one of those wounded in the attack wasn’t out to his family until he was rushed to the hospital. Meanwhile, About.com blogger Pierre Tristam notes that Israeli officials were quick to reassure the public that the attack was not an act of terror—what he calls a “perverse” attempt to downgrade the status of violence perpetrated by Israelis and against gays. “What, precisely, is the difference between terrorism and a hate crime?” he asks. But, according to the Los Angeles Times, some Israelis did draw a connection between the shooting and terrorist attacks. “Just like we do not stop riding the bus after a suicide bombing,” the center’s director told the paper, “we will continue meeting and holding our activities.”

Police: We Have Lead in Gay-Lesbian Center Killings [Haaretz]
Threatening Incitement [Haaretz]
Isn’t It Terrorism When Victims Are Gay? [About.com]
Israeli Gays Left Feeling Vulnerable [LAT]

An Indicted Foreign Minister

Would be great news for Bibi

Email
Lieberman speaking at the Knesset today.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Image)

Israel’s National Fraud Squad determined Sunday that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman should be indicted for a host of crimes, including, as Haaretz reports today, “money laundering, accepting bribes, obstruction of justice and harassing a witness.” After an investigation that lasted about a decade, the fraud squad concluded that Lieberman profited to the tune of 10 million shekels, about $260,000, and he now says that he’ll resign his cabinet post if Israel’s attorney general indicts him.

The foreign ministry was characteristically given to moderates under previous Likud prime minister, but this time it went to an ultra-conservative nationalist because of his party Yisrael Beiteinu’s remarkable showing in last year’s elections. According to many observers of his tenuous right-wing coalition, Netanyahu has been hoping that Lieberman’s legal troubles would do him in, thus allowing the prime minister to avoid firing a foreign minister internationally recognized as an embarrassment for Israel. (Even Nicolas Sarkozy, bane of the banlieue “scum” and the Islamic headscarf, publicly called for the ouster of a man.) An indictment, then, would be perhaps the best thing that’s happened to Benjamin Netanyahu so far in his administration.

Lieberman: If I’m Indicted for Corruption I Will Resign [Haaretz]

A Bad Jewish Poetry Contest

And our ode to soup

Email
(WordRidden’s Flickr)

[Ed. note: Tablet Magazine previously noted MyJewishLearning.com’s forthcoming Bad Poetry Day competition, but temporary Scroller Marc Tracy was unaware and composed this ode (sonnet? whatever) to mark the occasion.] In honor of Bad Poetry Day (August 18—what, you didn’t have it on your calendar?), MyJewishLearning.com is sponsoring a bad Jewish poetry competition. You should submit your entries to badpoetry@myjewishlearning.com by August 11. While it just wouldn’t be fair for us to compete—we are professionals, after all—we thought we’d inspire you to brilliant heights of awful Jewish verse with a quick sonnet. Please forgive us if we screw up our iambs.

Shall I compare thee to a matzoh ball?
Thou art more soft and more delicious.
My nose is ever-set to heed your call,
Your olfaction could n’er prove malicious.
Tho’ not the type apt to disintegrate,
Blown to bits by a spoon’s first tender touch,
Thou’rt also not the type who’s strength’s so great
A blowtorch is requir’d—which is a little much.
Thy substance intermingles perfectly
With chicken broth that does thyself surround,
Thy supple taste, it doth pair marv’lously,
With the soup’s celery, just plucked up from the ground.
So long as I can’t eat bread for one week,
So long your respite and pleasure shall I seek.

Bad Poetry Contest [MyJewishLearning]

On Tablet Today

Commentary, classics, and a Grand address

Email

On Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, Vox Tablet, writer Constance Rosenblum talks to Sara Ivry about the Grand Concourse, a 100-year-old Bronx thoroughfare with significance to Jewish life. Books columnist Josh Lambert pages through volumes on the Warsaw Ghetto, Rashi, and teen novels. Plus, stay tuned for much more throughout the day, here on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Anger After Tel Aviv Shooting

Hate, corruption, and history

Email

• A gunman opened fire on a Tel Aviv gay community center on Saturday night, killing two and wounding at least five others; demonstrations against the hate crime have erupted throughout the nation. [JTA]
• Israeli police are pushing for the indictment of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on charges of fraud and corruption. [WPost]
• Lieberman says he will resign if he’s indicted. [Haaretz]
• America’s oldest synagogue, the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island, has opened a visitor center celebrating its over 250 years of history. [AP]

Sundown: Obama Honoree Under Fire

Plus, Hamas shows two faces

Email

• Some, including President George W. Bush’s Jewish Liason, are upset that President Obama is giving Mary Robinson a Presidential Medal of Freedom. A one-time president of Ireland, Robinson has been criticized for permitting the 2001 anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa to be dominated by anti-Semitism. [JTA]
• Hamas’s leader said his group would sit down to negotiations with Israel pending a settlement freeze and the lifting of the Gaza blockade, and that a state based on the 1967 Green Line could be on the table. [Wall Street Journal]
• However, Hamas also threatened to boycott talks with Fatah unless the rival Palestinian faction releases prisoners currently being held in the West Bank. [Haaretz]
• Orthodox rabbinate-certified “kosher” cellphones—which cannot access the Internet, so that children are not privy to inappropriate material—are all the rage in Britain, with even non-Jewish parents wanting them. [Vos Iz Neias]

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.