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Sundown: The Home Team

Pols, playwrights, and players

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• The author of The Baseball Talmud applies statistical acumen to create a pantheon of Jewish players. [WNYC]
• Check out an excerpt from Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family, about the powerful Christian cabal in Washington including Mark Sanford, which highlights its reliance on King David—who “liked to do really, really bad things”—as a political model. [Killing the Buddha]
• JTA surveys attempts by a new generation of Sephardic Jews—or, as Aviva Ben Ur, author of Sephardic Jews in America: A Diasporic History, prefers, “non-Ashkenzic Jews”—to reconnect with their cultural heritage. [JTA]
• In a new memoir, Alice Eve Cohen, author of the play Hannah and the Hollow Challah and others, discusses going through with a surprise pregnancy discovered on Rosh Hashanah when she was 44 years old. [NYT]

Moscow Circus Monkeys Around

With Jews-as-primates imagery

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(Ynetnews.com)

One of Russia’s most venerable circuses appears to be sticking to its 19th-century roots in at least one current act: a “Jewish wedding” starring a troupe of monkeys. According to an offended Israeli audience member, men dressed as Hasids led four monkeys dressed as a bride, groom, and proud parents onto the stage and under a chuppah, where they enacted the traditional nuptials. The audience member took the issue to the Israeli embassy, which shrugged it off as a case of “bad taste and/or poor humor.” And the circus’s response? “They have also been dressed in traditional Russian clothing and sang, ‘How drunk I am,’ but no one complained,” an official said.

Moscow Circus Presents Monkeys as Jews [Ynet]

Wag the Luntz

Leaked report on settlements PR sounds like Netanyahu’s language

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Luntz at the Tribeca Film Festival in May(Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

“Judea and Samaria cannot be Judenrein,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said last week during a meeting with a visiting delegation of German diplomats, including Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to get across why he had no intention of touching Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Reuters, which broke the story on Thursday, added that its source claimed Netanyahu has been encouraging his confidants to use the language of ethnic cleansing to counter pressure, particularly from the Obama administration, to limit or contain settlement construction.

That same night, Newsweek (following, we should note, an op-ed in the New Jersey Jewish News) posted a leaked copy of a study prepared in April by pollster and message-man Frank Luntz for The Israel Project, a hawkish nonprofit with offices in Washington and Israel, in which Luntz reported that the question of settlements is “the single toughest” communications issue for Israel. What message tested best? Coincidentally enough, the same one that Netanyahu was making: “We cannot see why it is that peace requires that any Palestinian area would require a kind of ethnic cleansing to remove all Jews. We don’t accept it. Cleansing by either side against either side is unacceptable.”

The story launched a tempest in a teapot, with the left-leaning Jewish lobbying organization J Street accusing The Israel Project—whose entire raison d’etre is to “educate” journalists, and by extension, the public about the threats facing Israel—of, well, doing its job. But the more interesting question is whether Netanyahu is sub-contracting out his communications strategy to the group. Israel Project founder Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi says no. “There is nothing about Judenrein in our book,” she told Tablet. (Luntz did not return a call.) “Much of our book are things leaders already said that we found effective and important.” So: does the tail wag the dog, or is the dog just happy to hear what it wants to?

Chosen Words [Newsweek]
The Israel Project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary [Newsweek]

Ringleader Gets Life

For murder of French Jew, but accomplices get off easy

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A French court sentenced Youssouf Fofana, the 25-year-old son of Ivory Coast immigrants, to life in prison on Friday for the crime of abducting and torturing to death Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old Jew. Halimi had been kept in a cellar in Bagneux, just south of Paris, for close to three weeks in the beginning of 2006, as his captors, who accurately described themselves as the “Barbarians,” sued for ransom. Halimi worked at a telephone shop in Paris and was kidnapped, according to Fofana, because Jews are “loaded with dough.” (When told that the Halimis were not wealthy, the gang said they should get the money from their synagogue; they even contacted a random rabbi, saying, “We have a Jew.”)

As The New York Times reported in 2006, Halimi had been tied with tape, beaten, stabbed, and burned with cigarettes and acid (the better, his torturers thought, to conceal their own DNA evidence) before being deposited in a wooded area, from which he crawled, “naked and bleeding from at least four stab wounds to his throat, his hands bound and adhesive tape covering his mouth and eyes,” to his agonizing end.

Though about 20 people are said to have been involved in the crime, Fofana, as ringleader, received the stiffest sentence. Unrepentant, he applauded when the judge read it to him. Fofana’s two top accomplices were given 15 and 18 years, while other (lesser?) Barbarians received sentences of 6 and 9 months. One was let off entirely. Though many have compared the Halimi case to the Dreyfus Affair, the difference here is that no one actually denies the Barbarians’ guilt: les bien pensant argue that the crime wasn’t a function of anti-Semitism but of “poverty” and “ignorance;” the victim’s mother counters that the police are reluctant to admit that pathological Jew-hatred had anything to do with it because they’re afraid of offending French Muslims. And while the argument that the Barbarians were motivated by greed may account for their ransom demands—which, as a sign of both the stupidity and amateurishness of their enterprise, oscillated between $500,000 and $5,000—the fact that they could so blithely torture and murder a Jew does more than hint at “crude stereotypes” about Hebraic bank accounts, doesn’t it?

Man Sentenced to Life in Killing of Jew in France [NYT]

Of Hamas and Hummus

Did an Israeli interviewee actually get the better of Brüno?

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In 2006, when Borat came out, it didn’t take long before Sacha Baron Cohen started fielding complaints (and lawsuits) from those who felt they’d been unfairly mocked. This time around, with Brüno, the complaints started well before the premiere—in one case, a full year before. In a piece he wrote for the Forward last June, Israeli political analyst (and onetime IDF intelligence officer) Yossi Alpher, who was “interviewed” by Brüno alongside a former Palestinian Authority minister in the movie,  related how he’d been duped.

Now that the movie’s in theaters, it’s interesting to look back at the piece. Our verdict: it’s a bit defensive, gets a couple of things wrong (Brüno doesn’t say that it was the Jews who should return the pyramids) and raises a question or two (we’d love to know the identity of the “respected Middle East expert in Washington” who made the interview happen), but on the whole Alpher comes out looking OK.

In a review of the movie published in the latest issue of The New Yorker , Alpher comes off looking better still:

[Brüno] even gets Israeli and Palestinian officials together at the same table, holding their hands while he sings a song of (though not in) perfect harmony. It’s horribly awkward, sure, yet the actual questions he puts rely on tired malapropism—mistaking Hamas for hummus, say—and, if you look at the faces of the negotiators, you don’t see dumb humiliation. You see tough, weathered types who have met many dunderheads in their time, and this fop is no different—he’s nothing to them, a speck, and they’ll brush him off the instant he leaves the room.

Who knows, maybe Alpher will be the rare dupe who comes out of a Baron Cohen project with a boost.

What Kind of Interviewer Confuses Hamas and Hummus? [Forward]
Mein Camp [The New Yorker]

Evil Is as Evil Does

Obama draws a connection between slavery and the Holocaust

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Obama speaking Saturday at Cape Coast Castle, a former slave-trading fort in Ghana.(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper scheduled to air today, President Obama brings up a somewhat fraught connection—finding a parallel between black slavery and the Holocaust. While visiting the African nation of Ghana, Obama visited a slavery dungeon, which he found “reminiscent of the trip I took to Buchenwald,” and which similarly reminded him of “the capacity of human beings to commit great evil.” Although that is all the POTUS is reported to have said specifically in reference to the Holocaust, his words about the necessity of teaching the history of slavery to children—“the reason it’s relevant, is whether it’s what’s happening in Darfur or what’s happening in the Congo or what’s happening in too many places around the world, the capacity for cruelty still exists”—echo ideas about Holocaust education and the obligation to translate its lessons into a fight against genocide and injustice being committed in our own time.

Obama Links Slavery, Holocaust Memory [JTA]

At Ben Gurion, Time Is Money

Knesset member wants airlines to pay for delays

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Jets at Ben Gurion.(Quique Kierszenbaum/Getty Images)

There is a view, not so popular with the Israeli tourism board, that holds you haven’t really been to the Promised Land unless you’ve been stuck at least a few hours—or, for the most authentic experience, overnight—at Ben Gurion airport. But if Knesset member Ahmed Tibi has his way, future passengers will at least be compensated for the trouble, using a sliding formula that accounts for both the length of the delay and the distance of travel: 30 percent refunds for travelers delayed more than two-and-a-half hours for flights up to 1,500 kilometers, 50 percent for people delayed more than three hours for flights up to 3,500 kilometers, and 75 percent for anyone delayed more than four hours on long-haul flights further than 3,500 kilometers—that is, to North America, South Africa, or, by a hair, London.

The measure, which passed its first reading in the Knesset last week with 20-1 approval, would be much tougher than the much-bruited U.S. Passenger Bill of Rights, or than regulations in Europe, which require airlines to feed delayed travelers but don’t trigger reimbursements until delays hit five hours. The airlines, of course, are committed to ensuring that sleeping at Ben Gurion remains a tradition. “This type of rule is punitive and not remedial and would do nothing to help prevent delays,” says David Castelveter of the Air Transport Association, the lobby group for U.S. airlines. “Clearly we would not be in favor.” Clearly.

Bill Would Force Airlines to Compensate Passengers for Delays [Haaretz]

Today on Tablet

An age-old predicament, to bomb or not to bomb, new books, and a road trip by the numbers

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On Vox Tablet, our weekly podcast, Janice Erlbaum discovers a connection between Yiddish music and a writing class for sex workers. Marjorie Ingall presents the calculus of a summer road trip with her kids. Books columnist Josh Lambert reviews the latest on the Hebrew language, Primo Levi, and influential doctor Charles Spivak. Senior editor Michael Weiss determines that an Israeli attack on Iran is not quite on the horizon. And much more right here on The Scroll throughout the day.

Daybreak: Obama to Talk to Jews

Franken’s past, a controversial prof, and more in the news

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• President Obama will meet with heads of American Jewish organizations today to discuss his Israel policy and other matters. [JPost]
• Senator Al Franken talks to The New Yorker about growing up in a politically engaged family in a suburb of Minneapolis that was “not exactly a shtetl” but produced an unusual number of notable Jews (the Coen brothers, Thomas Friedman). [New Yorker]
• A British court has sentenced two men to jail for online Holocaust denial. [JPost]
• A week-long telethon in Greece earlier this year, which claimed to raise money for a destroyed Christian hospital in Gaza, was likely a scam. [JTA]
• An Arab-studies professor at Columbia University who has made anti-Israel statements has been granted tenure, stirring ire among alumni. [NY Post]

Sundown: Ye Olde Jewish Shoppes

The wondrous Dead Sea, more from Roya, and love for the Body

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• Cleverly named they’re not, but there are at least 18 still-operating Jewish-run business in Atlantic City that are over 50 years old, including Nathan Levin Furs, Mel’s Furniture, and Fischer Shoes. [Jewish Times of South Jersey]
• Israelis and Palestinians have managed to agree on something: supporting the Dead Sea as a candidate for the New 7 Wonders of Nature. [Haaretz]
• Roya Hakakian talks to NPR about growing up Jewish in Iran; the writer recently told Tablet that the recent rioting in her hometown, Tehran, was “not about Jew vs. Muslim, black vs. white, man vs. woman, it’s about a movement of national unity.” [NPR]
• New documentary Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg is “a study of media celebrity and collective forgetfulness in the age of information overload,” says the New York Times. [NYT]
The Jerusalem Post calls Nextbook Press’s The Jewish Body by Melvin Konner “a veritable grab bag full to brimming with tidbits of Jewish history and culture.” [JPost]

Target Practice

Jewish kids hone their reasoning skills at a gun-rights lecture

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A different (and presumably non-Jewish) kid, with a different gun.(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Jewish teens on cross-country educational trips have a few must-see destinations: the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, civil rights hot spots down South, and, apparently, a shooting range in Salt Lake City, Utah. As part of a visit led by what the Salt Lake Tribune calls an “Atlanta-based youth education group” (some research concludes that it’s a very cool-sounding political road-trip organization called Etgar36), Jewish high school students heard from NRA rep Clark Aposhian (and his pistol) in what may have been an attempt to give them more respect for gun-rights advocates, but more likely furthered what the paper calls their “east coast liberal” sense that firearm enthusiasts are dumb rednecks. The lobbyist answered the students’ intelligent questions with evasions of logic, such as his explanation that Japan has fewer guns but more suicides than the United States (leading one to wonder what might happen if the Asian nation had more guns). The conversation did, at least, take a turn for the Talmudic: in response to Aposhian’s suggestion that “Why not?” was a sufficient reason for a private citizen to own and carry a concealed machine gun, one Pennsylvanian student said, “It’s a bull answer, but it’s still a true answer.”

Firearms Rights: Jewish High Schoolers Debate with Gun-Rights Champion [Salt Lake Tribune]

British Rule on What Makes a Jew

Not mom anymore

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The British Court of Appeal ruled late last month that Jewish schools must admit students based on faith, not birth or conversion. Citing the Race Relations Act of 1976, the three judges overruled a prior judgment that upheld the right of Jews’ Free School, the oldest and largest Jewish day school in Britain, to reject a boy because it did not recognize his mother’s conversion. As a result, the country’s 97 Orthodox schools may be forced to introduce “faith tests” similar to what church schools, which require their pupils to attend Sunday mass, have implemented.

The trouble seems to have been how the boy’s mother became a Jew—she used what Haaretz calls an “independent progressive synagogue”—which led Britain’s Office of the Chief Rabbi, which decides on the legitimacy of such conversions, to reject her claim to Jewishness. In their ruling, the three judges wrote: “The motive for discrimination, whether benign or malign, theological or supremacist, makes it no less and no more unlawful,” a decision that reflects the broadest state intervention into the affairs of British Jews since Oliver Cromwell allowed them back into the country.

Interestingly, this sets a international precedent for something Israel is trying to accomplish: the introduction of civil unions as an alternative to the Orthodox-approved religious kind (currently the only legal way to go for Jews there). A bill to do that was recently outvoted in the Knesset when Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party absented itself from the vote, claiming the measure—sponsored by a swath of Labor and Kadima Knesset members—was designed merely to humiliate the party by forcing a wedge between it and its conservative religious allies. Yisrael Beiteinu candidates had campaigned in the last Israeli election as very much in favor of allowing civil marriage, a move popular with one of its largest voting blocs, Russian immigrants who, having grown up in the Soviet Union, are often deemed insufficiently Jewish by the Israeli rabbinate. But Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu’s ally, is against civil marriages.

Who Is a Jew? Let the Civil Court Decide ] [Haaretz]
Related: The Other Civil Union [Tablet]

Brüno May Dress Yiddish

But he thinks British

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By this point, much ink and many pixels have been devoted to highlighting the “Jewishness” of Sacha Baron Cohen’s humor. And, to a certain extent, the point is incontestable. In what amounted to a movie-length wink, the “Kazakh” spoken by his Borat was actually a well-polished Hebrew. And his interest in Hasidic garb predates Brüno by at least a decade. That said, it bears remembering that Baron Cohen is also a Brit, and that he is every bit as much an exponent of British comic traditions as he is Jewish ones. Take, for instance, the scene in his new movie (glimpsed already in the film’s red band trailer) where he shows up for a self-defense class armed first with one and then with two dildos. The scene reminded us, and was, no doubt, inspired, at least in part, not by the time he spent in the Labor Zionist youth group Habonim Dror, his undergraduate thesis on Jews in the American civil rights movement, or his nonagenarian Israeli grandmother, but by a classic Monty Python sketch. Anyway, happy Brüno -release day.

Monthy Python: Self Defence [YouTube]

Barr Mitzvah

Roseanne says Michael Jackson’s kids are Jewish

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‘Granny’ Roseanne, looking the part.(Alberto Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Finally, an answer to the are-Michael Jackson’s-children-Jewish debate from no less an authority than Roseanne Barr. (Jackson’s ex-wife, who may or may not be the mother of the two older kids, is Jewish.) Barr took to her blog this week to, first, offer herself as a “granny” to the kids and then clear up the mysteries of Jackson’s relationship with Judaism. Here’s her take, complete with her punctuation:

You are jewish, and your dad really loved jewish people and considered himself one of them. He considered that it didnt matter if a person was black or white, rich or poor, Muslim or christian, but that it DID matter if a person was jewish. Your dad believed that the Jewish People would change the world just by changing themselves. This is a very important jewish concept! Your dad would want you to know these things, he was a student of kabballah. kabballah teaches us that the jews need to change themselves, and to do that, they need to accept that they came from africa, from ethiopia, and not from europe!

Someone Tell Paris and Prince Michael 1 and 2 [Roseanne World, via Perez Hilton]

On Tablet Today

A life’s work, a vibrant fest, and the pitfalls of playing God

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Cartoonist Vanessa Davis takes an animated look back at strange jobs from her past. Roger Bennett reports from the “crazy, magical” Jewish culture festival in Krakow. Tablet Magazine’s Liel Leibovitz plays God on his iPhone only to find himself more in awe than ever of the Real Deal in this week’s Torah portion. And of course, new posts on The Scroll throughout the day.

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