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]

Tablet Today

Gay marriage in Toronto, a foreskin in Brooklyn, and more


There’s lots of new content on Tablet Magazine in the past 24 hours. Allison Hoffman traveled to Toronto to visit a century-old shul that just voted to perform gay weddings after several years of congregation-wide discussion and debate. Peter Hyman reflects on his son’s bris and the foreskin left behind. And in books coverage, Adam Kirsch reviews D.D. Guttenplan’s new biography of I.F. Stone while Josh Lambert considers new books of Jewish interest. And, of course, we’ll have new features throughout the day, plus regular updates to the blog you’re reading, The Scroll.

Quarter of U.S. Blames Jews

For financial crisis.

Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, speaking to the National Association of Realtors last month.(Getty Images)

A pair of political scientists has managed to prove what ADL head Abe Foxman was simply able to intuit months ago: thirty-eight percent of non-Jewish Americans hold “the Jews” to some degree responsible for the financial crisis, and almost a full quarter blame “the Jews” a moderate amount or more. The surprising part, as reported in the current Boston Review, is that those who chose to assign somewhere between a “moderate” amount and a “great deal” of blame were much more likely to be Democrats (32 percent) than Republicans (18.4 percent), particularly given the prominence of Jews in the Democratic Party and the presumed big-tent tolerance of Democratic voters.

Bill Kristol, on his Weekly Standard blog, chose to see the results as more evidence that American Jewry is “foolishly” maintaining “allegiance to a party that includes lots of people who don’t like them much (and who certainly don’t like Israel much).” But, Bill, doesn’t that argument, if it’s true, work against the whole country?

State of the Nation [Boston Review]
Democrats, Republicans and Jews [Weekly Standard]

Daybreak: Haggling Over Settlements

Palestinian news in Hebrew, decreased support for Israel, and more from the morning papers


• Wafa, the state-run Palestinian news agency, has launched a Hebrew-language site, so Israelis will know what they’re up against. [Reuters]
• European Union reps hinted they might upgrade trade relations with Israel if P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu commits to a settlement freeze. [WP]
• Netanyahu is still trying to get out of such a freeze, and hoping to strike an agreement with U.S. envoy George Mitchell next week. [Reuters]
• Cheap housing might be one factor attracting Israelis to the settlements. [Slate]
• According to a poll by The Israel Project, American voters’ support for Israel has dropped dramatically in the last year. [JTA]

Sundown: Madoff Stole My Savings

And all I got was this lousy t-shirt


• There is, apparently, an “entire marketplace” of Bernie Madoff tchotchkes. For those who lost their fortunes, they’re no doubt as comforting as “Bushisms” calendars were to Democrats a few years back. [NYMag]
• But is the con man’s wife suffering unduly? The poor woman can’t even get highlights. [NYT]
• And it still doesn’t seem quite right that George W. should join Hitler and Saddam Hussein on condoms offering a double layer, if you will, of birth control. [Dieline]
• A three-month Tony Kushner festival in Minneapolis offers something for everyone, and that’s just in the playwright’s newest work, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. (Apparently, he’s also writing a screenplay about Abraham Lincoln with Steven Spielberg!) [CNN]
• A job fair in New York City used kosher jelly beans and Tabasco to try to lure Orthodox families to take gigs in flyover states. Maybe they should have just offered pedophile-free pita. [NYT]
• A Sports Illustrated column about Jewish baseball player Ian Kinsler manages to refer to Manischevitz, matzo balls, blintzes, bar mitzvahs, prune hamentaschen, kvetching, and something called “the proverbial Louisville Torah.” [SI]

‘Post’ Time

‘Jerusalem’ meets ‘New York’


Yesterday, the dependably pro-Israel New York Post began “rounding out” its Middle East coverage with the debut of a weekly 48-page supplement from the reliably right-of-center Jerusalem Post. To be fair, it isn’t the paper’s range of opinion that the Rupert Murdoch tabloid is looking to beef up with its new partner, but circulation—and ad sales. As the Times reported in April, weekends have long been tough for the Post; Sunday circulation was just 61 percent of the paper’s weekday figure last year. The Post’s hope is that the insert—which will appear in 105,000 issues every Sunday—will help narrow the discrepancy. The misanthrope may be tempted to muse on whether the debut issue’s advertisers will continue to be interested once the project’s novelty wears off (i.e., next Sunday), but seeing as we are ourselves a new publication, it seems churlish to be pessimistic. And so, let us join the chorus of well-wishers. B’hatzlacha!

‘Jerusalem Post NY Edition’ Hits the Streets Today [Jerusalem Post]

Iran Election: How Rigged Was It?

Considering the evidence

Opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi at a rally in Tehran today.(AFP/Getty Images)

Allowing that the very concept of an “election” in a totalitarian state is at most a public relations gambit designed to satisfy other countries, it’s true that Iranians cast ballots in record numbers last Friday, and it’s also true that one candidate should have walked away with more of them than others. Was it the soft-spoken intellectual who supports uranium enrichment, Mir Hossein Mousavi, or was it the flamboyant, Holocaust-denying peasant who supports uranium enrichment?

According to Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty, two students of extremist demographics in the Middle East, what you saw was what really happened—it was all Ahmadinejad’s show. Writing in The Washington Post, they argue that the election results, if anything, undershot the mark of the incumbent’s polled popularity. Ballen and Doherty cite their own survey, conducted by A Terror Free Tomorrow: The Center for Public Opinion, part of the New America Foundation, which found that for “three weeks before the vote … Ahmadinejad [was] leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin—greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday’s election.”

But this analysis has been called into question by a fellow Post writer, Jon Cohen, who blogs at Behind the Numbers. While admitting that this poll adhered to the methodological standard, Cohen points out that the so-called 2-to-1 margin was based on flimsy data: “34 percent of those polled said they’d vote for Ahmadinejad, 14 percent for Mousavi. That leaves 52 percent unaccounted for. In all, 27 percent expressed no opinion in the election, and another 15 percent refused to answer the question at all.”

Columbia professor and Middle East analyst Gary Sick calls the election a “coup” waged by the ruling regime against its own people. For Sick, the proof is in how the current cycle—the most reactionary candidate was vouchsafed a victory in advance by mullahs terrified of civil unrest—clashes with years of unexpected consequences. For instance, in 1997, the “moderate” candidate Mohammed Khatami won the presidency, much to the mullahs’ surprise, though they chose not to interfere after the fact. In 2005, when no one anticipated a hardliner victory against Rafsanjani’s touted mass appeal, Ahmadinejad became a mispronounced household name in the West. So what happened in 2009? On his blog, Sick writes: “The authorities were faced with a credible challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who had the potential to challenge the existing power structure on certain key issues. He ran a surprisingly effective campaign, and his “green wave” began to be seen as more than a wave. In fact, many began calling it a Green Revolution. For a regime that has been terrified about the possibility of a ‘velvet revolution,’ this may have been too much.” (Judging by three days of protests in Tehran by battered and harassed students and democracy advocates, the regime may have got a velvet revolution anyway.)

Among the countervailing statistics suggesting Ahmadinejad and his clerical backers stole the thing, one set coming from the Mousavi camp itself has gained a lot of traction in cyberspace, mainly because it was allegedly leaked from the Iranian interior ministry (the same bureaucracy that warned Mousavi to cancel his scheduled protest in Tehran). By these data, Mousavi won the election handily, winning 19.1 million votes as against Ahmadinejad’s 5.7 million. The two other state-approved candidates, Mehdi Karoubi and Mohsen Rezai, won 13.4 million and 3.7 million respectively. (Karoubi and Mousavi are said to be the “reformists,” while Rezai is a hardliner like Ahmadinejad; so the takeaway here, if these numbers are accurate, is that the conservative old guard did indeed have everything to fear last Friday.)

The Guardian’s Robert Tait and Julian Borger add that these leaks were made by disgruntled public officials and that “[t]he figures have been accompanied by claims from interior ministry sources that fake statistics were fed into a software program and then distributed to vote counts among polling stations to produce a plausible outcome. The same sources have also claimed that the interior ministry’s statements announcing the results were prepared before Friday night’s count.”

But perhaps most reflective of widespread and systemic rigging is the results the Kurdish province of Iran, a region that has consistently, since the 1979 revolution, voted in small numbers for the opposition candidate (the Kurds are a much persecuted minority in Persia and don’t bother with elections that will not alter their plight). This year, apparently, they turned out overwhelmingly for Ahmadinejad.

Book Burning Zealots Want Compensation

They had to look at an icky book about gays!


The Christian Civil Liberties Union in Wisconsin is suing for the right to publicly burn the book Baby Be-Bop by Francesca Lia Block, a novel beloved by alienated teens queer and straight alike for its daring portrayal of a young man’s coming out, including his experiences being beaten and harassed for his sexuality. The Christians also want damages for having had to (gasp!) see the book on a library display. Seemingly a little unclear on the concept, the group asserts that the novel itself “constitutes a hate crime.” Perhaps next they will complain that instructional videos used in driver’s ed constitute traffic violations, or that the host of To Catch a Predator is a pederast.

Out magazine’s blog puts it best: “A group of grown-ups want to rally around a burning trash can, remove an elected public official from office, and pocket $30,000 public dollars a piece because they were ‘exposed’ to a decade-old story the American Library Association called ‘[A] gift to young people who have known since they could remember that they too wanted—and deserved—love’ as if it were asbestos.”

Christian Group Sues for Right to Burn Gay Teen Novel [Guardian]
Francesca Lia Block Under Fire [Out]

Bill Keller, Accidental Reporter

Times chief files from Tehran


As you no doubt noticed this weekend, The New York Times had an important byline on its front page: that of Executive Editor Bill Keller. Keller is no stranger to the reporting-and-writing trenches; he came up as a foreign correspondent, served stints in Moscow and Johannesburg, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for covering the fall of the Soviet Union. He also served as an op-ed columnist and Times Magazine writer in the early part of this decade. But since he became executive editor, in the summer of 2003, Keller has written only a handful of articles for the paper, nearly all on his old areas of expertise: South Africa and Russia, according the paper’s online archive. What prompted him to pull a Tom Friedman and suddenly jet to the Middle East? “He went because he had long wanted to visit Iran and the occasion of the election seemed like a great time to do so, accompanying our reporter, Robert Worth,” Times spokesman Diane McNulty told Tablet. “Bill had not planned to write articles, but when the story got so big, he did so.” She said the executive editor arrived early last week and has no definite departure date.

Leader Emerges With Stronger Hand [NYT]
Reverberations as Door Slams on Hopes of Change
Related: ‘New York Times’ Editor Bill Keller Is Useless in Tehran [Gawker]

Meet Bruno and Borat’s Bubbe

Nonagenarian P.E. teacher

Weiser leads an exercise class.(Haaretz)

She may not lower her naked bottom onto Eminem’s face, but Liesel Weiser, a 94-year-old gymnastisc instructor and the grandmother of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, is as manically active as her famous progeny. In her quarters at a seaside retirement community in the Israeli town of Bat Yam, Weiser, a former dancer, teaches physical fitness and ballet to her fellow senior citizens, Haaretz reports in a profile today. Her students may all be nonagenarians—the oldest is 99 years old—but Weiser insists that old age is no excuse for inaction. “People of a certain age get used to not doing anything all day long,” she says. “And that’s not good.” She loves her daily exercise routine, she says, but no moment is as satisfying as receiving the weekly bouquet of flowers from her grandson, the man behind such hilariously crude characters as Kazakh reporter Borat and the fashion-obsessed Austrian Bruno. And while Weiser probably won’t be rushing out to the multiplex to see her pride and joy assault strangers with dildos, an inscription from Baron-Cohen hanging in Weiser’s room reveals much about the relationship between the two. “You,” wrote her little Sacha, “are my inspiration for how to live life.”

Flowers for Bruno’s Grandmother [Ha’aretz, in Hebrew]

Jewish Orgs’ Mahmoud Problem

Who’s the president, and how to react

Opposition protesters in Kuala Lumpur today.(AFP/Getty Images)

Until Friday’s presidential vote in Iran, the smarty-pants view in Jewish circles was this: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be a menace, but at least he’s a Holocaust-denying menace who rarely wastes the opportunity to call Israel a cesspool of racism. With him as the public face of the Islamic Republic, few could fail to misunderstand the threat of a nuclear Iran.

But three days of violent crackdowns by police against opposition protesters in the wake of Ahmadinejad’s contested victory have, we can assume, disabused anyone watching of any misconceptions about the nature of Iranian democracy. Opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi reappeared this morning, after a weekend in which he was apparently held under house arrest, but the promise of an investigation into vote fraud drew a skeptical response from The New York Times, which has dispatched executive editor Bill Keller to the scene: “It was unclear whether the aim was quelling protests or a genuine re-examination of an election whose official results [Ayatollah Khamenei] had already approved.”

But rather than going in for the jugular—say, by adding organizational heft to anti-Ahmadinejad protests by Iranian expats in New York yesterday—Jewish groups have limited themselves to calling for renewed international pressure on Ahmadinejad and the regime that backs him. The quiet is strange, since the same groups weren’t shy about saying exactly what they thought of Ahmadinejad during his visit to the United Nations last fall—and, after all, it’s not as though he could like Jews, or Israel, any less than he already does.

Leader Emerges With Stronger Hand [NYT]
Calls For Pressure Greet Ahamadinejad Victory [JTA]

This Weekend in Media Irritants

Conan, Peyser, Israelis, and punk

O'Brien at a press event in January.(Getty Images)

Profoundly disturbing moment of the morning: leafing through The New York Post on the train to work this morning, we found ourselves, remarkably, in agreement with Andrea Peyser. Peyser, who is employed by the Post to be indignant, is today indignant with Conan O’Brien, who on Thursday night’s Tonight Show made this joke: “Political experts say that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to endorse a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side but have no contact. Netanyahu said it will be exactly like being married to a Jewish woman.” Peyser used the occasion to rant against comedians for their insensitivity (we thought that’s sort of the point of comedy, but whatever); we were initially more frustrated because it’s an old, lazy joke. But then we thought about it and realized our problem is deeper: it’s an old, lazy joke about suburban American Jewish women. It’s not at all a joke about Israeli women. And, ultimately, that’s our big objection: “Jewish” is not the same as “Israeli,” Conan (and everyone else). But, then, they probably don’t teach that in County Cork.

Also in our newsreading and old, lazy jokes: hey, Ralph Blumenthal of the New York Times, it’s just hilarious to open your report about a panel at YIVO Institute for Jewish Research on the Jewish roots of punk rock with the two-word paragraph “Who knew?” Oh, and also? Everyone who reads the Times knows.

Sick of ‘The Late Hate Show’ with Conan and Dave [NYP]
Punk, and Jewish: Rockers Explore Identity [NYT]

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