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Bibi Gets Good Economic News

On top of everything else that’s going right

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This is the happiest-looking photo of Netanyahu we could find. It’s from the opening of a new highway interchange last month.(Ariel Schalit-Pool/Getty Images)

The National Insurance Institute of Israel reports today that the Israeli economy is growing slightly, after suffering from the global slump for the past year. According to Haaretz, there’s been a five percent drop in unemployment and a 2.2 percent drop in the number of welfare recipients.
This is clearly good domestic news for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in the past few months has seen his coalition government strengthened for a variety of reasons. First, Israelis have rallied behind him in the face of U.S. pressure to stop settlement growth. Second, the chaos in Iran bolstered his conservative government, which was elected in part because of its commitment to national security. And finally, the impending resignation of Netanyahu’s controversial foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman—should Lieberman face charges for fraud, which seems likely—would give Netanyahu even more of a purchase on power, and this just months after being elected in a tightly contested election and on very tenuous terms. Good economic news is just icing on the cake.

Is Israel Emerging From the Economic Crisis? [Haaretz]

Ahmadinejad Sworn In for New Term

Will we see him in New York this September?

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Ahmadinejad address the U.N. General Assembly last year.(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in this morning for his second term as president of Iran, despite ongoing popular protests and a walkout by reformist legislators. We’re sure there won’t be any shortage of serious discussion about the policies he’ll pursue in his first hundred days, but with our fall social calendars already filling up, here’s what we’d like to know: will Ahmadinejad return to New York in September to hobnob with other world leaders (including Barack Obama) at this year’s United Nations General Assembly?

Ahmadinejad’s last outing to a U.N. powwow was in April, when he traveled to the so-called Durban II anti-racism conference in Geneva; there, hecklers in Bozo wigs pelted him with clown noses as he launched into a diatribe against Israel, prompting a walkout. The Iranian leader is an inveterate showman, and unlikely to resist the opportunity to parade in front of the world’s cameras (or to provoke the politically useful ire of Israeli diplomats). So if he does turn up, we wonder: Given the turmoil of the last month, and the disillusionment of even the most avid fans of engagement, will any prominent universities invite him to campus in the name of free speech? Will any rabbis deign to meet with him in the name of interfaith understanding? Will Sarah Palin be re-invited to protest him? And, most important: Will Fred Armisen be forced to choose between reviving his Ahmadinejad act or perfecting his Obama impression? Stay tuned…


Ahmadinejad Sworn In for 2nd Term as Iran’s President
[NYT]

Online High-Holiday Services

Boon for slackers, shut-ins

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We’ve all been there, haven’t we? All of the sudden, just like that, it’s erev Rosh Hashana, and you realize you forgot to pay the synagogue dues and therefore never got your tickets in the mail. The synagogue office is already closed for the holiday, so you can’t make a last-minute payment and pick up tickets, and so you won’t be able to show up to daven. (Well, of course, you could, because you know from experience you can totally outfox those alter kockers from the Men’s Club who work as ushers and sneak in while they’re not paying attention. But that’s a little tacky, no?) What, oh what, is a good but absent-minded Jew to do? Thank goodness, then, for a press release we’ve just received from OurJewishCommunity.org, apparently “the world’s first progressive online synagogue,” according to the release. They’ll be offering a live Internet stream of High Holiday services from Congregation Beth Adam in Cincinnati. There’ll be an erev Rosh Hashana service, a Rosh Hashana morning service, a Kol Nidre service, a Yom Kippur morning service, and a Yizkor service, all easily viewable from the comfort of your computer desk. It’s free, too—but, as the press release also informs us, they’re very happy to accept your donations. Which you can pay online, as last-minute as you’d like.

OurJewishCommunity.org [Homepage]

Tablet Today

Love, marriage, politics

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To mark Tu B’Av, the so-called “Jewish Valentine’s Day,” Tablet Magazine counts down the ten greatest breakup songs written by Jews. Tova Mirvis takes a look at impediments to matchmaking in the Orthodox community. Allison Hoffman checks out the pair behind the book It’s Never Too Late to Date. Seth Lipsky explores the legacy of Corazon Aquino, former president of the Philippines. And much more, right here on The Scroll.

Daybreak: More Robinson Gripes

Crypto-Jews, the bright side of intermarriage, and more from the news

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• Democratic congressman Eliot Engel joined the ADL in criticizing President Obama’s decision to award Mary Robinson a Medal of Freedom, citing anti-Israel remarks she has made. [JTA]
• But the President is sticking by his choice to honor Ireland’s first female president. [AP]
• Amos Kenan, an Israeli writer and artist instrumental in the development of Israeli culture in the 1940s, has died at 82. [AP]
• At the recent 2009 conference of the Society of Crypto Judaic Studies in Denver, many told stories of melding Jewish practices with Catholicism. [Denver Post]
• The “good news” about increased intermarriage rates? A larger “extended” Jewish community. [Jewish Week]

Sundown: Milk, Honey, and Black Gold

Striking it rich, preparing for battle, and objecting to an award for Mary Robinson

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Mary Robinson at the John Jay Justice Awards in New York in April.(Brad Barket/Getty Images)

• Christians and Jews alike have found a reason to love the Hebrew Bible—not just as a record of God’s laws, but as a treasure map detailing where to drill for oil in Israel. [Examiner]
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen makes an over-simplified, by-the-books argument against the necessity of “hate crime” laws, but ends with a provocative idea on the Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting: “To suggest that the effects of this attack were felt only by the Jewish or the black communities … ghettoizes both its real and purported victims. It’s a consequence that von Brunn himself might applaud.” [WPost]
• The Anti-Defamation League and some other Jewish groups are chagrined that President Obama has chosen to give a Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson; they blame the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights for allowing the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban to be dominated by anti-Israel voices. [ABC]
• Renovations have begun on the oldest synagogue in Beirut, with the approval of Hezbollah: “We respect the Jewish religion.… We have an issue with Israel’s occupation of land.” [LAT]
• On that note, Hezbollah is stockpiling weapons in its capacity as “Iran’s insurance policy” against Israel. [London Times]

A New Street on the Block

Introducing Z Street, a counterpoint to J Street

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J Street, the progressive Zionist lobby group that developed as a counterweight to the hawkish lobbyists at AIPAC, has itself spawned an antagonist: Z Street, a new activist group that has planted itself firmly on the right wing of the American Zionist spectrum. On the conservative web magazine American Thinker, Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus describes the organization’s “ironclad positions,” which include “the right of Jews to live freely anywhere, including inhaling oxygen in areas the world insists are reserved for Arab Palestinians.” She explains that the group developed “in part as a response to organizations whispering into the ear of this US administration that pervert the meaning of ‘pro-Israel,’” and she compares her efforts to those undertaken by American Jews who fought to draw attention to Nazi atrocities during World War II. But how will her group be different from political allies like the Zionist Organization of America and Young Israel? “We intend to be more activist, not so involved with the academic side and the lobbying side,” Marcus told Tablet. “We want to have people’s attention grabbed and then confront them with the facts that have been obscured by the current discussion on the Middle East.” Currently, she’s working to get comedians in on the effort: “Humor is not a tool that’s been used from the staunchly pro-Israel organizational efforts.”

Luckily or unluckily for Marcus, Z Street’s cofounder, Allyson Rowen Taylor, is excellent at grabbing attention. In 2007, shortly after her resignation from the position of assistant regional director for the American Jewish Congress, the blog Muzzewatch accused her of having written an anonymous email to an employee of the American Friends Service Committee that asked, “Why do you hate being a Jew, why are you in favor of murdering Jews?” Taylor later confessed to the Forward.

Z Street [American Thinker]

Jewish Boys in Crisis

JTA offers solutions to a problem that doesn’t seem to exist

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In an article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Amy Klein riffs on a recent spate of secular books tackling the troubled state of modern boyhood, asking, “Are Jewish boys in crisis?” While she initially concludes that, first, that’s too simple a question and, second, the answer would likely be “no,” Klein goes on to address the Jewish boys’ crisis throughout her article, gradually revealing it as that most recognizable and reportedly pervasive of crises: boys are not engaging sufficiently in Jewish life, stirring fears in the community not for their general success and achievement but for Jewish continuity.

Malina Saval, author of The Secret Lives of Boys, discusses one Jewish kid from her book, a 15-year-old Hebrew-school teaching assistant recovering from a drug addiction. Klein asks: “How could this self-reflective, hyper-intellectual, culturally aware, music- and fashion-obsessed nonconformist have gotten into drugs at such a young age?” Maybe things have changed since we were in high school, but that question sort of answers itself. That is, unless Klein’s descriptor—intellectual, aware, etc.—is simply code for “Jewish.” And although Michael Gurian, author of The Purpose of Boys, says of Jewish boys, “I wouldn’t say they’re in crisis in the same way other boys are in crisis,” he has started a program to help them specifically, through his synagogue in Spokane, Washington.

While the books the article jumps off from address problems like drugs, teenage fatherhood, and school dropout rates, the Jewish angle brings it back to boys not wanting to do extra homework for Hebrew school. One solution it suggests: Using the tactics of Christian bible-study programs, a new organization aimed at helping boys with this “crisis” attempts to suck them in by having them do, as one participant’s father puts it, “guys’ guy stuff” with Jews. We can just imagine the pitch: “Hey, nice slam dunk, Josh! Have you thought about whether you’ll circumcise your son?”

Are Jewish Boys in Crisis? [JTA]

Jewish Crime Week Continues!

With a corporate scam artist in New York

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The new issue of Fortune magazine carries a fascinating story on Dina Wein Reis, who amassed a not-so-small fortune—including a lushly renovated townhouse on New York’s Upper West Side, an impressive art collection, and vacation homes in Westhampton, Bal Harbor, and Jerusalem—by running a years-long, large-scale con. She’d trick marketing execs at major companies into selling her big quantities of inventory at greatly reduced prices, ostensibly for her to distribute as samples. Instead, she’d sell them to retailers at full price, pocketing the difference. A yeshiva girl originally from Brooklyn, she frequently donated generously—and anonymously—to Jewish charities. But she was also a vicious boss, firing one employee—a former teacher at Wein Reis’ kids’ yeshiva—after she injured her foot on an assignment for Wein Ries. (That employee, Irith Hayblum, then blew the whistle on the scam, thus serving as a reminder to employers engaged in criminal conspiracies that it’s probably smart to be kind to the help.) Wein Reiss was arrested last fall, after which she spent a week in the federal jail that would subsequently house Bernie Madoff. She’ll face trial sometime next year, but for now she’s out on bail. When she was released, Fortune reports, she “enlisted her rabbi in her bid to convince a judge that she should not be required to wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet. Orthodox practice, the rabbi said, forbids women from wearing slacks or pantsuits. Summer was coming, Wein Reis’s lawyer noted, and any skirt or dress shorter than ankle length would reveal the bracelet, which would complicate her efforts to get a new job. The judge agreed.”

The Alleged Grifter Who Duped Corporate Giants [Fortune/CNN.com]

Money Laundering Goes Global

Another scheme foiled, this one in Israel

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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• 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

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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]

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