Daybreak: Israel, U.S. to Keep Talking

A swine flu scare, justice for Holocaust victims, and more from the morning news


• While the meeting between Secretary of State Clinton and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman didn’t actually accomplish anything, they did issue a joint statement promising more talking, in the form of the U.S.-Israel Strategic Dialogue, stalled since last summer. [JTA]
• Israeli president Shimon Peres met with the Birthright group that was later found to be infested with swine flu, but he’s unscathed. [NYT]
• The Company for Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets is about to file a 300 million shekel lawsuit against Israel’s second largest bank, Bank Leumi, for funds that were allegedly deposited by Holocaust victims and are now owed to their heirs. [JPost]
• And descendants of Holocaust victims in the Czech Republic struggle to get their property claims considered. [Prague Post]

Sundown: Snack Attack

Offending (and befriending) Christians, disputed vineyards, and a Baltimore blog


• In the battle between two brothers to become the next chief Sephardi rabbi of Jerusalem, one issue has emerged as particularly critical: which prayer should be recited before eating Bamba, a sort of peanut butter-flavored Cheetos-like snack popular in Israel. [JPost]
• “I don’t mean to offend any Christian person,” says Harold Ramis of his new film Year One, “I only mean to offend Jewish people, who I trust completely because I’m Jewish.” [AMC]
Trevelujah, a networking site for Christians looking to travel to Israel, is run by a Jew. [JPost]
• Another new website promises “everything you need to know about Jewish Baltimore,” including “eruv status updates,” which presumably doesn’t refer to hourly reports on the eruv’s mood, or what it ate for lunch. [Baltimore Jewish Examiner]
• A chic new winery joins others that have been built in the Israeli settlements. “Wine and politics don’t mix,” says Shai Segev, a wine critic there. Try telling that to my family come Seder time. [BBC]

Hitler and Jesus, Together

In von Brunn artwork


A painting “of what appears to be Hitler and Jesus” was among the items seized from the Annapolis, Maryland, apartment of James von Brunn, according to court documents filed yesterday. FBI agents also seized 100 rounds of hollow-point bullets, a handwritten will, and a note regarding plant care in the home of the 88-year-old white supremacist charged in last week’s shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Von Brunn, a frustrated artist, was known to copy other artists’ work in his own, and among the extant works of another frustrated artist, Adolf Hitler, is an oil painting of a dark-haired Mother Mary cuddling a porcelain-faced, distinctly Aryan baby Jesus. Perhaps von Brunn was copying the artist into the same frame?

Hitler, Jesus Art in Alleged Museum Shooter’s Home
FBI Seized Hollow-Point Bullets from Supremacist’s Arundel Home [Baltimore Sun]

Earlier: James von Brunn, in His Own Words

Now, a Virtual Shtetl

Polish museum project

(Getty Images)

An as-yet unanswered question: Rabbi, is there a blessing for the Virtual Czar? The Museum of the History of Polish Jews—which isn’t projected to open until 2011—has launched a Virtual Shtetl. It’s less a Pale of Settlement village than a Wikipedia-style website, purportedly filled with historical information on some 800 Polish shtetls. In truth, it’s an odd and not particularly robust site, currently offering only a smattering of photos and information on the village. But the museum hopes descendents of shtetl-dwellers will add more data to the site, beefing up its content. If it works, it will yield a useful trove of data when the museum actually opens—and, until then, it at least serves useful marketing purposes. And reminds us to keep our eye out for Virtual Cossacks.

Virtual Shtetl [Museum of the History of Polish Jews]
High-Tech Edge for Poland’s Jewish History [AFP]

Tony Kushner, Post-Zionist Mascot

The standard-bearer for the Jewish left?

Kushner at the 2004 Emmy awards.(Getty Images)

American Jews are shifting their “mental models” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict away from unquestioning support of Israel, according to Merle Lefkoff, president of the Santa Fe-based Madrona Institute, which apparently applies “the science of Complexity to the transformation of peacemaking and diplomacy.” Of course, that’s been happening for years, but Lefkoff says recent news from the occupied territories—especially the recent Gaza war—has brought things to a tipping point. So what’s the pole people are moving toward? Apparently, she says, it’s Tony Kushner, whom she quotes as an advocate of a pluralist, democratic, but not necessarily “Jewish” Israeli state. Whether or not that’s really where American Jewish opinion is going—Lefkoff provides plenty of evidence that as recently as three years ago the American Jewish right wing didn’t like Kushner, but she doesn’t provide any that they do now—there’s the bigger question of, why Kushner? He’s a political playwright, sure, but his most extensive work on Israel-Palestine is an essay collection he edited six years ago. Maybe Lefkoff chose him precisely because he’s not a political guru or a religious leader but instead an extraordinary writer who’s something of an ordinary lefty Jew. Or maybe, in keeping with the New Age vibe of her institute, she just decided he’s the keeper of the Jewish left’s neshama.

Israel’s Angels in America
Related: Cosmos of Kushner, Spinning Forward [NYT]

Hasids on Bikes

Why was prison-bar mitzvah chaplain meeting with City Hall?


Last Thursday, the New York Post broke the story of Tuvia Stern, an ultra-Orthodox inmate at the Manhattan lockup known as the Tombs, who somehow managed to host a kosher bar mitzvah reception for his son and some 60 guests in the prison gymnasium. In the days since, the Post and other city dailies have breathlessly reported on the fallout—and written some delicious headlines in the process (“Bars Mitzvah,” “Bagels and Locks,” “Kosher Kings”). Today’s stories focus on Leib Glanz, the prison chaplain and Satmar Hasid who seems to have made the party possible. He has resigned (“RAB-BYE,” screamed the Post), but the plot continues to thicken. Today’s Times reports that official calendars show three meetings between Glanz and deputy mayor Kevin Sheekey in the closing months of 2008. Asked what the meetings were about, the mayor’s chief spokesman, Stu Loeser, cited what the Times calls “community issues.” Like the creation of bike lanes on the Brooklyn waterfront, he said.

Now, as anyone who has tried to ride a bike while wearing an ankle-length caftan can attest, Hasidim are not big cyclists. If Glanz was indeed talking about bike lanes with the mayor’s office, it wasn’t about creating them, as the mayor’s office seems to be suggesting, but keeping them outside an ultra-Orthodox enclave. Scantily clad cyclists were making the community uncomfortable, Hasidic leaders told the Post last fall.

Rerouting the flow of civic life in order to satisfy the demands of an influential splinter group—sounds like the recipe for a jailhouse bar mitzvah.

Rabbi in Jailhouse Bar Mitzvah Inquiry Met With Mayor’s Top Political Strategist [New York Times]

Knesset Story Time

Parliamentarians read, ideologically

The Knesset building in 1966.(

It’s National Book Week in Israel, and as befitting the People of the Book, the nation’s parliamentarians decided to mark the occasion by reading out loud from their favorite works. As you could probably guess—this is Israel, after all—their literary selections closely mimicked their ideological worldviews. Knesset member Daniel Ben Simon, for example, an intellectual and former journalist for the left-leaning Haaretz, read from Dutch historian Johan Huizinga’s The Waning of the Middle Ages, a rolicking tale of 15th-century France’s descent into violence, pessimism, and cultural exhaustion. Haim Amsalem, of the religious Shas party, read from the collected letters of famed Sephardic Rabbi Yossef Mashash . And Aryeh Eldad, of the extreme right-wing National Union party, read poems by Uri Zvi Greenberg, a nationalistic militant who has called for establishing a new Jewish Kingdom stretching across the entire biblical land of Israel. Because there’s nothing like a good book to bring people together.

What’s Fine Literature Doing in the Knesset? [Ynet, in Hebrew]

Today on Tablet

The British National Party, a new generation of Goldas, and more


There’s plenty to engage your mind today on Tablet Magazine. Ben Cohen examines the rise of the far-right British National Party, which just won two seats in the European parliament. Tablet art critic Jeannie Rosenfeld ponders the nature of history through the work of two art exhibitions. And parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall makes a case for reviving some lesser-known biblical names. And, as always, there will be more posted throughout the day, plus ongoing updates to this very blog, The Scroll.

Neo-Nazis Joining U.S. Army

Use training for nefarious purposes, Salon says


While we can never be sure where the next James von Brunn is going to come from, the U.S. military could be a breeding ground for his ilk. Salon reports that neo-Nazis are running rampant in the ranks, taking advantage of lax recruiting standards and hoping to use the training for their own nefarious goals, such as preparing for “a domestic race war.”

In 2008, the FBI reported that “[m]ilitary experience—ranging from failure at basic training to success in special operations forces—is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement,” says reporter Matt Kennard. He adds: “In white supremacist incidents from 2001 to 2008, the FBI identified 203 veterans.” And it’s probably getting worse, as the growing need for new soldiers to fight the war in Iraq has led recruiters to overlook signs, such as swastika tattoos, that might indicate potentially violent racism. This may be new evidence of the “Obama Effect”—a theory posited by a criminologist that having diversity in the White House has led to an upsurge in white supremacy.

Or, as Geoffrey Millard, an organizer for Iraq Veterans Against the War, says, it could be that “the military is attractive to white supremacists … because the war itself is racist.”

Neo-Nazis Are in the Army Now

Daybreak: Legal Definitions

Hate crime, international law, and more in the news


• Federal prosecutors have not decided whether to charge alleged U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum shooter James von Brunn with a hate crime. The D.C. city council is urging them to do so. [JTA]
• Meanwhile, Jewish institutions fret over how to buck up security without becoming unwelcoming. [JTA]
• A 1979 State Department legal opinion stating that the Israeli settlements are against international law, long disregarded by U.S. presidents, is newly relevant, but the Obama administration has avoided directly addressing it. [WP]
• Netanyahu will be the first Israeli P.M. not to attend the Jewish Agency’s annual board meeting; he canceled his appearance next week because the group has refused to guarantee Natan Sharansky’s appointment as agency chairman. [JPost]
• Lieberose, a former Nazi death camp near Berlin, has been consecrated as a Jewish cemetery. [AP]

Sundown: Birthright Spreads More than Jew-Love

Plus, a beer becomes a man and crankiness becomes a disease


• Ten students on a Birthright trip to Israel came down with swine flu and then passed it on to 18 IDF soldiers. The organization, which not-so-subtly promotes hooking up within the faith, should be relieved it wasn’t something worse. [Forward]
• A British couple is suing their neighbors for installing motion-sensor lights that keep the them from leaving their vacation home without activating the lights, a violation of the Sabbath rules. The neighbors refuse to replace light system, possibly because they enjoy the 24-hour-long break from the uptight couple. [Daily Mail]
• Staying true to its name, the Shmaltz Brewing Company—purveyors of He’Brew beer—is holding a contest for the best (worst?) bar or bat mitzvah photos in honor of its 13th anniversary. [NY Blueprint]
• A Chabad rabbi in Australia fabricated evidence of providing Hebrew lessons in order to qualify for government funding; oddly, even the phantom students hated going to class. [JTA]
• Orthodox website Vos iz Neias posted an article positing that “bitterness” (or, in the site’s words, “farbissen”) might soon be classified a legitimate mental disorder. Symptoms include kvetching, the use of colorful insults, and a sense that everyone’s out to get you. [Psychology Today via VIN]

The Littlest Ayatollah

‘Times’ says even the clerics never liked him


Argue all you want that the so-called Twitter Revolution in Iran has supplanted classical news reporting; the best piece of analysis on the post-election furor was published today in The New York Times. Neil MacFarquhar profiles Ayatollah Khamenei, who appoints both half of the 12-member Council of Guardians—the ruling clerical body of Iran—and the judiciary that appoints the other half. That makes him, in the long view, almost solely responsible for cooked election results last week as well for the blood-brutal acts his assorted goon squads have committed since then. The most fascinating disclosure about a seldom-scrutinized tyrant was the fact that Khamenei didn’t really have the metaphysical chops to become ayatollah, and thus he lacks credibility among even hardline clerics. “Ayatollah Khamenei was elevated from the middle clerical rank, hojatolislam, to ayatollah overnight,” MacFarquhar writes, “in what was essentially a political rather than a religious decision. He earned undying scorn from many keepers of Shiite tradition, even though Iran’s myth-making machinery cranked up, with a witness professing he saw a light pass from Ayatollah Khomeini to Ayatollah Khamenei much the way the imams of centuries past were anointed.”

One reason Joseph Stalin felt the need to liquidate all of the Old Bolsheviks in the mid-1930s was that he knew that so many of them were his intellectual—and revolutionary—superiors. His usefulness to Lenin before 1917 was as a murderer and bank robber, not as a Marxist, and certainly not as a war strategist. There are myriad ways in which Stalin’s enemies might have bucked his consolidation of power had they been as opportunistic and merciless as he. Resentment and inadequacy have long shelf lives in dictatorships, and so a minor biographical detail about the man now unleashing hell in Tehran helps explain why presumptions of Khamenei’s core “rationality”—presumptions now being scuttled by formerly gullible observers such as Ezra Klein and Roger Cohen—were so misguided to begin with.

In Iran, an Iron Cleric, Now Blinking [NYT]

How Should Madoff Pay?

One victim wants him to live long and suffer


Letters from 113 of Bernard Madoff’s victims were submitted to the court yesterday, in preparation for his scheduled sentencing, on June 29. Federal sentencing guidelines say he faces up to 150 years in prison for his crimes, and most asked for just that. But a few were more creative. In March, the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel (who was not among yesterday’s letter-writers) told an audience in New York how he would punish the swindler: “I would like him to be in a solitary cell with a screen, and on that screen, for at least five years of his life, every day and every night there should be pictures of his victims, one after the other after the other, always saying, ‘Look, look what you have done to this poor lady, look what you have done to this child, look what you have done.” At least one victim in yesterday’s batch showed similar ingenuity. “Bernie deserves a longevity pill—not death—so he can watch each generation suffer and watch what he did,” wrote Jackie Stone, who said her parents, in their late 60s, had been bankrupted. “Please don’t give this man anything.”

Fraud Victims Want Maximum for Madoff [NYT]
Victims’ Letters to Judge Denny Chin [PDF]

Jimmy Carter Is Not Dead

Perhaps thanks to Hamas?

Carter arriving at the damaged American International School in the Gaza Strip today.(AFP/Getty Images)

Maariv reported this morning that Hamas police thwarted an assassination attempt on former President Jimmy Carter, who’s visiting the Middle East and touring what he has labeled the “deliberate destruction” caused by Israel in Gaza. A Palestinian source told the paper that Al-Qaida-linked militants had planted a bomb along a Gaza road that Carter was expected to travel today. And in subqeuent reports, the IDF confirmed that there were indeed explosives aimed at Carter. So way to go, Hamas! Except for one thing: Other area news sources quote Hamas spokespeople denying having foiled an attack. So all we really know is this: The former president is okay.

Carter Target of Assassination Attempt [JPost]
Hamas Boasts, Then Denies Foiling Attack on Carter’s Life [Arutz Sheva]

American Al-Qaida Speaks of Jewish Grandpa

In baroque Arabic

Gadahn in an Al-Qaeda video released last year.(AFP/Getty Images)

American-born Al-Qaida operative Adam Gadahn acknowledged his Jewish roots in a video released over the weekend. It’s an awkward fact about Gadahn, born Adam Pearlman, that was already known to people following the Muslim convert’s strange career. Raffi Khatchadourian reported on Gadahn for The New Yorker in 2007 and noted the convert’s strikingly anachronistic use of Arabic language in his video messages: “sometimes his syntax is so baroque, his sentiment so earnest, that he sounds like a character from the Lord of the Rings.” That’s still true in his latest YouTube release—the Obama administration, in Gadahn’s words, is “led by a clique of Zionist Jews and Zionized Christians who respect in a believer neither kinship nor covenant”—and it’s especially interesting when he addresses his own heritage. “My grandfather was a Zionist, and a zealous supporter of the usurper entity” who would have influenced Gadahn’s views had it not been for “Allah’s kindness to me and His taking care of me,” he says. Jews, after all, are “usually bereft of fairness and human emotions.” What’s astonishing here is not so much the violence with which Gadahn rejects his roots, Jewishness included—see, as a fictional predecessor, Swede Levov’s terrorist daughter in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral—but the unsophisticated language he uses to separate himself from them. Gadahn, like Merry Levov, was (according to the New Yorker profile) a very bright child, which would suggest that he is today a very bright, and very angry, adult. It’s a testament to the blunt force of Al-Qaida’s ideology that they’ve got him talking about his rejected Jewishness like an anti-Semitic demagogue—or a peasant.

U.S.-Born Qaida Spokesman Describes Jewish Ancestry [AP]
Azzam the American [New Yorker]
Let’s Continue Our Jihad and Sacrifice Message from the Mujahed Brother Adam Yehiye Gadahn Azzam [YouTube]

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