Israel Partly Lifts Gaza Blockade

Allows materials for U.N.-approved construction


Only one day after several United Nations agencies and aid groups banded together to request that Israel at least partially lift its blockade of Gaza, Israel is doing just that. For the first time since its military incursion there in January, Israel’s government approved the transfer of construction materials, including metal pipes and cement (substances about which Israel is touchy, as they can be used to manufacture rockets and bunkers, respectively), into the Hamas-controlled area—but only for use on specific, U.N.-approved projects, including Gaza’s largest flour mill, a sewage treatment plant, and a British cemetery. The government also signed off on the equivalent of over $27 million in monthly transfers to the territory. Neither the money nor the materials are supposed to come under Hamas’s control.

Israel to Allow Cement, Metal Pipes into Gaza [Haaretz]
Israel Approves Money, Cement Transfers to Gaza [Arutz Sheva]

‘Birther’ Leader On Colbert

Woman, born a Soviet Jew, warns of Obama


Stephen Colbert welcomed Orly Taitz onto his Comedy Central show last night. Taitz is the California woman (whom I profiled yesterday for Tablet Magazine) who has become the de facto head of the so-called “birther” movement—the amorphous group of mostly conservative conspiracy theorists who insist, for various and changing reasons, that Barack Obama is not a “natural born citizen” and therefore ineligible to hold his current job. Taitz appeared excited to press her case to the Colbert Nation, earnestly telling her host, “If in Nazi Germany, the soldiers and the officers would have questioned the orders that came from the commander-in-chief”—Hitler, that is—“maybe 65 million people wouldn’t have died.” She also asserted, “I think we’re getting another Stalin.” That charge is particularly sensitive for her: she is herself a Soviet Jew who came to the U.S. in 1987 after six years in Israel. At this point, she told Colbert, there isn’t anything the president could say that would shake her doubts about his legitimacy. “He is a Chicago crook,” she explained.

It hasn’t been a great week for her cause: on Monday, House Republicans who had once appeared sympathetic to the birthers’ claims voted unanimously for a bill that stipulated that Obama was indeed born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961—which is what his, y’know, birth certificate says. Taitz told Tablet Magazine earlier this week that her real concern is that Obama could be some sort of “Manchurian candidate.” For whom, she wouldn’t say.

You can watch her appearance below.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Womb Raiders – Orly Taitz
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Tasers

Previously: In Doubt’s Shadow

Guss’ Pickles Decamps For Brooklyn

Are there any more decent pickles in Manhattan?

Guss' Pickles(05 Guss' Pickles by Jason Lam; some rights reserved.)

Manhattan’s Lower East Side has already lost most vestiges of its history as the teeming neighborhood whose tenements housed many of our ancestors. Yet there is still something depressing about Orchard Street landmark Guss’ Pickles decision to move across the East River to Brooklyn’s heavily ultra-Orthodox Boro Park. The pickle emporium, which opened on nearby Essex Street in 1910 and which still closes on Saturdays, reportedly needed more room and couldn’t afford a bigger rent in the neighborhood. So here we have another ravage to chalk up to gentrification, which has either destroyed what remained of “the old neighborhood” or turned it into an object of commemoration. Still, gentrification also undoubtedly increased the neighborhood’s Jewish population—albeit with Jews of the more secularized, yuppiefied variety—and it’s a shame they can no longer walk down the street and pick up a fresh, sour, briney pickle.

Guss’ Pickles Packing Up for Brooklyn [Bowery Boogie]

Today in Tablet

“Vagina” in Yiddish and a guide to Tisha B’Av


In Tablet Magazine today, Elissa Strauss celebrates the rich Yiddish lexicon for describing female genitalia. We present part 3 of Douglas Century’s epic report on the current state of Israeli organized crime (part 1; part 2). Apropos Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s attempts to argue that the Palestinian Grand Mufti’s alliance with Hitler during World War II argues against a settlement freeze, columnist Seth Lipsky details that alliance. In honor of Tisha B’Av (which starts tonight at sundown) we tell you all you need to know about the holiday. And we’ll tell you even more things you need to know throughout the day on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Madoff Speaks

Plus, tension at the Lebanon border


• In his first prison interview, Bernard Madoff said he was surprised how long regulators let him continue his Ponzi scheme. He also apparently looks healthy and “seems to be working out.” [ABC News]
• The simmering back-and-forth continues with reports that Lebanon has placed its army on high alert following the movement of Israeli tanks toward a border crossing. [JTA]
• Out of 25 countries polled, only Israel had lowered rather than raised its view of the United States since President Obama assumed office. The U.S.’s Israeli approval rating of 71% is still higher than most of the others’. [Haaretz]
• One of the 44 people arrested last week in connection with charges of money-laundering among New Jersey’s Syrian Jewish community, a political consultant named Jack M. Shaw, was found dead in a suspected suicide. [NYT]

Sundown: Bibi Predicts Hamas’s Defeat

Plus, Obama in a yarmulke


• Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predicted in a speech to National Security Academy graduates, “If the Palestinians could, they would overthrow Hamas, and believe me, one day they will.” [ynet]
• Al Jazeera’s director general rebuffed the suggestion, reportedly made privately by President Obama himself, that the Arabic-language network frequently broadcasts a picture of Obama wearing a yarmulke at the Western Wall. [Foreign Policy]
• Several United Nations and aid group officials issued a statement urging Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza, or at least make exceptions for construction materials. The United States and European countries have lodged similar requests in the past. [Haaretz]
• The man identified in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Brüno as the head of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade has come forward to say he is not affiliated with the Palestinian terrorist group and plans to sue. [ArtsBeat]
• And if you chanced to eat any whitefish from Haifa Smoked Fish Inc. in the past several months, then you may want to spit it out. [Food and Drug Administration]

Columnists to Obama: Talk To Us!

‘Haaretz’ writers tag-team the president


Today, two writers for the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz each published op-ed pieces making the same argument: President Barack Obama must speak directly to the Israeli people—as he has to those in the Muslim world—or else his credibility will vanish as he tries to persuade the Israeli government to halt settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The newspaper’s editor-at-large, Aluf Benn, argued in The New York Times that Obama’s failure to talk to the Israeli people has made Israelis “increasingly suspicious” and created “a virtual domestic consensus over [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's] rejection of the settlement freeze.” Columnist Bradley Burston, publishing from his usual Haaretz perch, appealed, “Speak to these people, my friends out here in the heat, the people who, ultimately, will make the decision to opt for a future peace.”

Senior Obama administration officials bristled at Benn’s suggestion that “The Arabs got the Cairo speech; we got silence,” reports Atlantic blogger (and Tablet Magazine contributing editor) Jeffrey Goldberg. They noted that in Cairo Obama rebuked Arab leaders’ exploitation of the Palestinian issue and unequivocally condemned Palestinian terrorism. The officials’ defense of Obama may be accurate; it may even be that Benn and Burston are demanding an unfair amount of the new president. (Benn all but admits as much, writing, “In the 16 rosy years of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Israelis became spoiled by unfettered presidential attention.”) But perceptions, fair or unfair, sometimes matter most, and Benn’s and Burston’s reading of the Israeli people’s perception carries a great deal of weight. Besides, if Obama is not embarrassed about what he is asking the Israeli people—and we see no reason why he ought to be embarrassed—then he should have no problem asking them to their faces.

Why Won’t Obama Talk to Israel? [NYT]
Mr. Obama, Have a Talk With These Israelis, And Soon [Haaretz]
The White House Reacts to Aluf Benn’s Arguments [The Atlantic]

Funny Jewish People

New film is Jewish, in a non-Borscht Belt way

Judd Apatow’s ‘Funny People’(Courtesy Universal Pictures)

Filmmaker Judd Apatow’s new movie, Funny People, is primarily about, well, funny people, but as New Yorker film blogger Richard Brody puts it, “a subtitle might be ‘And They’re Mostly Jewish.’” What’s more, Brody—who, like New Yorker film critic David Denby, considers the film a “masterpiece”—perceives the Judaism of the film’s characters as well as its auteur (Apatow wrote and directed it) to be integral to its success. The movie follows a prominent Jewish comedian, played by prominent Jewish comedian Adam Sandler, as he is diagnosed with leukemia, and then beats it. Sandler, Brody writes, “gives his character’s garlic-infused, worldly wisdom a particular Old World flavor and helps the movie to play like Jewish soul music.” Brody’s sense that the movie wields its Jewishness lightly but significantly jibes well with what Apatow himself told Jewish Journal in an interview published last week: “It’s just a sensibility that’s almost an unspoken, unconscious thing,” he said of his background. “I’m not a religious person, but I couldn’t be more Jewish.”

Funny People opens this Friday. You can watch the full-length trailer here.

Busting a Kishka [The Front Row]
What Makes Funny People Tick [Jewish Journal]

Israeli Crime Brothers Face U.S. Charges

Court approves extradition over Ecstasy ring


In another indication of the increasingly ambitious and global nature of Israeli organized crime, a trend I’ve been covering in a Tablet Magazine series this week, an Israeli court ruled yesterday that the brothers Meir and Yitzhak Abergil, two of Israel’s most notorious gangsters, and a few of their associates will be extradited to the United States. There, they will face the music for allegedly running one of the world’s largest Ecstasy rings in cooperation with the Vineland Boyz, a Los Angeles-based Latino gang. (The partnership had landed the brothers on the U.S. State Department’s list of the top 40 drug importers.) Headquartered in Israel’s northern coastal city of Netanya, the Abergils were arrested last August following a sweeping FBI investigation that spanned six years and involved law enforcement from more than ten countries across North America, Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East. The feds’ indictment assesses the Abergils’ fortune in the millions, and exposes their complex international enterprise: drugs were manufactured in the family’s laboratories in Belgium and then smuggled into California by ingenious means, including stuffing them into toy tigers.

Abergil Brothers’ Extradition Approved [Jerusalem Post]
Previously: Holy Land Gangland

Songman Cohen to Donate Concert Sales

He plays Tel Aviv in September

Leonard Cohen at Coachella.(Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

When Canadian-Jewish singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen plays Ramat Gan Stadium just outside Tel Aviv in September, he and his promoters will donate their takes to an organization that works with Israeli and Palestinian parents who have lost children to the bloodshed but still work for peace. Such a gesture is par for the course for Cohen, who keeps Shabbat (despite also being a practicing Zen Buddhist) and who played for Israeli troops in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War.  Cohen turned down an early suggestion that he also play Ramallah, the Palestinian city in the West Bank, with his manager citing the “noise level” that would attend such a performance and threaten to drown out Cohen’s music in more ways than one. Cohen has also rejected calls from some pro-Palestinian groups to boycott Israel. “Leonard had a very simple thought,” Cohen’s manager told the Jerusalem Post. “He said ‘I’d like to play, but I just can’t take any money out. I want it to stay there.’”

Leonard Cohen To Perform for Peace [JPost]
On the Road, for Reasons Practical and Spiritual [NYT]

Settlement Summer Camp

In the West Bank, not the Berkshires


Forget bug juice, ball games, and dips in the lake: the new trend in summer camps, in Israel at least, is settlement-building. “Youth for the Land of Israel,” a new non-profit affiliated with the Yesha Council, the leadership organ of the West Bank settlers’ movement, is offering Israeli youth a summery stint at camp on the hills of Judea and Samaria. There, the would-be settlers build new—and questionably legal—outposts, help expand existing ones, and attend lectures by some of the settler movement’s luminaries, like right-wing extremist Daniella Weiss. Shlomit Amitai, a 16-year-old counselor, said she told her campers that they should treat the land of Israel like their own mother. “Just like you would dress your mother’s wounds,” she said, “empty land is a wound we need to dress by settlement.”

Instead of a Summer Camp by the Beach, The Girls Came To Settle [Ha’aretz, in Hebrew]

Terrorists Threaten Sacha Baron Cohen

Over a scene in ‘Brüno’

Sacha Baron Cohen, center, at the Australian premiere of Brüno(Sergio Dionisio/Getty Images)

A scene in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Brüno has landed the British-Jewish performer in hot water with the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the pro-Palestinian terrorist group. In the scene, the title character—a gay Austrian fashion maven, played by Cohen, who goes around interviewing unwitting interlocutors—asks a man identified as the Brigades’ leader to kidnap him, because “al-Qaeda is so 2001.” Brüno then tells the man, Ayman Abu Aita, “Your king Osama looks like a kind of dirty wizard or homeless Santa.” The Brigades announced in a statement that they were “very upset,” and that, er, “We reserve the right to respond in the way we find suitable against this man.” (Cohen has beefed up his personal security detail in response.) For our own part, we can’t understand why the Brigades are acting so un-fabulously. Also, didn’t they see Cohen’s previous movie, Borat? If they had, they would have known better than to trust Cohen—who is, after all, a Jew—in the first place.

To watch the scene, fast-forward to the 1:50 mark:

Terrorist Threat to Sacha Baron Cohen over Brüno Ridicule [Times]
Previously: Of Hamas and Hummus

Today in Tablet

Israeli gangsters, Jewish birthers, and Einstein


This morning, Tablet Magazine publishes the second part of Douglas Century’s look at Israel’s organized crime scene (here’s part one). Allison Hoffman profiles the rising star of the “birther” movement, a Soviet Jew named Orly Taitz who argues that Barack Obama is ineligible to be president. Book critic Adam Kirsch reviews an anthology of Albert Einstein’s writings on Zionism and concludes that Einstein possessed an “unquestionable commitment” to the Jewish state. And The Scroll is coming at you all day.

Daybreak: War Is Not Israel’s Answer (For Now)

Even if al-Qaeda wants it, plus more in the news


• Despite the recent revelation that Hezbollah was maintaining an arms cache in southern Lebanon, as well as a bunch of tough talk from both sides, Israel’s top general said that war is not imminent. [JPost]
• Also on the northern border, responsibility for a January rocket attack from Lebanon that hit the Israeli town of Nahariya was claimed by an al-Qaeda affiliate. The group said it would continue the fight to “free Palestine.” [Arutz Sheva]
Haaretz’s editor-at-large writes a New York Times op-ed noting that while President Barack Obama has followed through on his pledge to talk to the Muslim world, “he hasn’t bothered to speak directly to Israelis.” [NYT]
• German prosecutors filed hate-incitement charges against a far-right politician from a former East German state for an Ash Wednesday speech in which he called Germany “a Jewish republic” and crudely warned of high Turkish birthrates. Jewish groups have previously called for his party, the National Democrats, to be banned. [JTA]

Sundown: N.J. Informer Disowned By Father

Plus, Israel threatens Hezbollah


• Rabbi Israel Dwek, who leads Deal, N.J.’s Syrian Jews, proclaimed that he has renounced and will sit Shiva for his (still-living) son, Solomon, who was central to the FBI investigation that netted last week’s 44 arrests. Rabbi Dwek cited the Talmudic Law of Moser, which forbids a Jew from informing on another Jew to a Gentile. [PolitickerNJ]
• Following a United Nations official’s formal finding that Hezbollah has violated the 2006 ceasefire by storing rockets near Israel’s border, Israel reportedly warned U.N. officials that if the international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon does not restrain the group, Israel will be forced to act. [Arutz Sheva]
• Israel’s government formally complained to Holland’s over the Dutch embassy’s having given money to human rights group Breaking The Silence. The organization has collected anonymous accusations of Israeli military abuses in Gaza. [Haaretz]
• The controversial film Rachel, about Rachel Corrie, the American activist killed in Gaza, screened at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival to many a boo and a hiss. [Forward]
• The American Jewish Committee’s Berlin branch requested an official investigation into whether Amazon’s German affiliate has violated German law by selling books that deny the Holocaust. [JPost]

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