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This Week in Boycotts

Who wants Trader Joe’s, Nokia, or Pepsi products anyway?

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It’s too late to participate in either the boycott of Trader Joe’s, organized June 20 by a group called “Don’t Buy Into Apartheid” that is critical of the supermarket chain for stocking Israeli products, or the counter-boycott, in which a series of viral emails urged Jews to buy Israeli goods at Trader Joe’s that day. But if you’re looking for something not to buy, there are still Nokia and Siemens cameras, which a bunch of scattered groups on the internet are targeting for the telecommunications companies’ alleged sale of surveillance equipment to the Iranian government. And finally, there’s Pepsi, which Egyptian cleric Sheikh Hazem Abu Ismail claims is an acronym for “Pay Every Penny Saving Israel.”

Anti-Israel Group Boycotts Trader Joe’s [Jewish Journal]
Consumers Boycott Nokia, Siemens for Selling to Iran [Wired]
They Took the First Letter… [Islamayet]

Michael Jackson, z”l

Notes on the passing of a star

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Most surprising to some (or to us, anyway) in the coverage of the death of the phenomenally successful and influential pop singer Michael Jackson is the appearance in recent photos of a bendel, the red string bracelet Kabbalah adherents wear to help ward off the evil eye. He reportedly began an on-going exploration of the mystical tradition four years ago, even while speculation arose that the former Jehovah’s Witness had converted to Islam.

The bracelet is but one totem of a relationship with Jews that was, like most everything in the star’s life, rocky. In 1995 he was publicly castigated for lyrics (“Jew me, sue me, everybody do me/ Kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me”) from the song “They Don’t Care About Us.” Jackson rejected the critique that he espoused anti-Semitism, saying “the song in fact is about the pain of prejudice and hate and is a way to draw attention to social and political problems. I am the voice of the accused and the attacked. I am the voice of everyone. I am the skinhead, I am the Jew, I am the black man, I am the white man,” according to the New York Times. Despite the rebuttal, he changed the lyrics. A second flare-up ten years later renewed speculation about Jackson’s feelings about the Jews when a phone recording of the pop wonder calling two Jewish former business associates “leeches” was leaked.

A reputed loner, Jackson did, apparently, have occasional spiritual advisors—or so Shmuely Boteach suggests in a homage in which the rabbi subtly congratulates himself for accompanying Jackson to Shabbat dinners and services and for introducing him to Elie Wiesel. And David Suissa, the editor of Olam magazine recalls Jackson’s joy at Suissa’s rendition of a Sephardic melody during a meeting in which Jackson agreed to write an article about his childhood for the magazine. The legendary entertainer wrote that his youth “was not an idyllic landscape of memories. My relationship with my father was strained, and my childhood was an emotionally difficult time for me.” For Jackson, difficult times never abated completely.

King Michael [Slate]
Michael Jackson, Islam, and the Middle East [Agoravox]
In New Lyrics, Jackson Uses Slur [NYT]
Michael Jackson Calls Jews ‘Leeches’ [JPost]
The Tragic End of Michael Jackson [JPost]
Memories of My Childhood [Olam]

Day 14 in Tehran.

Was it a coup?

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Is Iran like Venezuela? Or China? Both? Neither? How about Stalinist Russia? Discuss, for ten points, in light of today’s developments: A leading dissident and former member of Iran’s fearsome Revolutionary Guard, Mohsen Sazegara, tells NPR that his former colleagues, not the ayatollahs, were responsible for staging a military coup to keep Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the presidency. “They started to invent those fake numbers in the Ministry of the Interior,” Sazegara says in an interview with Scott Simon.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Guardian Council, which oversees elections, reiterated his earlier assertions that the violently contested results of the June 12 presidential election contained “no major violations” despite initial admissions of discrepancies in as many as three million ballots—which means Ahmadinejad is expected to be formally certified the winner on Monday, after which he will be free to continue questioning the Holocaust, comparing Israel to a cesspool, and dodging airborne clown noses at big international summits.

Reuters is reporting that hardline cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami told worshipers at Friday services that “leading rioters” should face execution. The AP reports that opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who remains out of sight and possibly under house arrest, has agreed to request permits for any future demonstrations; Mousavi’s Web site, the main tool for communicating with his supporters, has been hacked and wiped clean. The Guardian reports that 25 journalists who worked at Mousavi’s newspaper, Kalemeh Sabz, remain under arrest, along with another 15 reporters for other agencies.

Outside Iran’s borders, world leaders gathered at the G8 summit in Italy issued a statement “deploring” the deaths of civilians, but failed to outright condemn the religious leadership of the Islamic Republic for the violent crackdowns of the past two weeks; this following a statement from Russia—which earlier this week endorsed Ahmadinejad’s re-election, a possible indication the country, a member of the United Nations Security Council, will not support new sanctions to deter Iran from building nuclear weapons—defending the Iranian “exercise in democracy.” (Iran had initially been invited to Trieste to participate in discussions about stabilizing Afghanistan, but withdrew as the violence escalated.)

But the most telling diplomatic fallout may be in the Muslim world. Reuters reports that in Lebanon, U.S.-backed politician Saad al-Hariri (son of Rafik Hariri, whose 2005 assassination triggered the Cedar Revolution), is set to be nominated as prime minister, and is rejecting demands from Iranian-backed Hezbollah for a parliamentary veto. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that Lebanese Shiites are among many across the Muslim world suddenly seeing cracks in the absolute moral authority of the Iranian ayatollahs. “The infallible leader is all of a sudden making a lot of mistakes, and this creates a lot of doubt,” Ghazi Youssef, a Shiite member of parliament in Lebanon, told the paper.

(If you’d like to review the developments of the past two weeks, The New York Times has posted an exceptionally useful timeline.)

Today on Tablet

A flameout, a draft pick, and gay prayer books

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In the fourth and final installment of Mark Oppenheimer’s investigative series on Holocaust deniers Mark Weber and Bradley Smith, he discusses the Jewish women in their lives. Our Liel Liebovitz offers two pieces: his latest riff on the weekly Torah portion and a devastating take on the downfall of Israeli TV star Dudu Topaz. In advance of Gay Pride weekend, Hadara Graubart examines two new non-traditional prayer books. David Davis offers a look at Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball star Omri Casspi, the 23rd pick in yesterday’s NBA draft. And of course, there will be updates to The Scroll all day.

Treasure in the Attic

British man plum forgot where he stored stepfather’s art works

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A trove of work by the late German Jewish artist Erich Wolfsfeld, who lost his teaching job in Berlin in 1935 and moved three years later to England, turned up this week in the Liverpool attic of his 83-year-old stepson. Max Block, a recent widower, had gone up to empty the room before readying the house for sale. He told the Daily Mail the Wolfsfeld cache, including oils, drawings, and etchings,“just completely went out of my mind” after he stored them upstairs following his mother’s death 20 years ago. (Wolfsfeld died in 1956). The works are now worth roughly $164,000; they’ll be auctioned off in Chesire, England next month.

Widower, 83, Clears Out Attic—and Finds £100k of Lost Art [Daily Mail]

Daybreak: No Surprises from the G8

Religion and health care, a false false messiah, and more from the news

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• The G8 echoes everyone else’s calls for a settlement freeze in Israel, and tsk-tsks the violence in Iran. [Reuters]
• A Florida court clears philanthropist Guma Aguiar for charges lobbed by his uncle, who claimed Aguiar believes he is the Messiah and is therefore unfit to manage the family’s foundation. [Haaretz]
• At an interfaith rally for health care reform, Rabbi David Saperstein called on his fellow clergy “to remain a goad to the conscience of America.” [JTA]
• Hamas leader Khaled Meshal praised President Obama’s “new language” toward his group; apparently, when you’ve been called a terrorist for so long, it’s refreshing to be told that you “have responsibilities.” [NYT]

Sundown: The Game of Death

A painful metaphor, a strange role model, and a stupid mistake

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• A new Holocaust board game: “Once a train reaches the ‘finish line,’ the game is completed and it is revealed that the destination of the trains is Auschwitz. Nobody ‘wins.’” Sound like fun? It’s not supposed to be. [WSJ]
• On the Orthodox Union’s website, Chana Willig Levy draws parallels between the Kindle and Jewish life. Yes, the electronic book-reading doohickey. “The Kindle’s inner workings remain a mystery for most of us. … Similarly, the inner workings of our planet are shrouded in mystery.” [OU]
• Apparently, 20 years or so of gradually increasing involvement by women in Judaism is enough to make up for the thousands of years preceding; Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin feels there’s now a need for his book, The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary. [Jewish Week]
• Israeli officials plan to use Canada as inspiration in trying to better integrate the nation’s various cultural populations, a goal that’s probably easier to achieve when people live miles from their closest neighbor. [Globe and Mail]
• The editors of a Colorado paper try to make up for using the phrase “of Jewish descent” to describe a suspected criminal by falling all over themselves to parse that age old question: How else do you describe a hairy guy with a big nose? [Vail Daily]

Is ‘Nazi Soap’ a Myth?

Play suggests no; historian says yes

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Every Holocaust museum visitor has likely encountered examples of the Nazis’ ghastly “recycling” of human bodies: gold teeth melted down, cremains used for fertilizer. So why is the Nazis’ alleged use of human fat to make soap so rarely presented alongside these other grotesqueries? That’s the central question of a new play by Jeff Cohen, The Soap Myth, which will open in New York on July 10—and which, according to the play’s promotional materials, suggests that fear of inciting the skepticism of Holocaust deniers may be the reason. “What are the evidentiary standards that apply to Holocaust research?” it asks. “Do Holocaust deniers, with their credo ‘false in one, false in all,’ play a role in determining those evidentiary standards? And if they do, should they?” The odd conceit is made only odder by a just-posted YouTube trailer that suggests random people interviewed in a park are somehow questioning the experience of an elderly, yarmulked man who relays a horrifying memory.

There’s one problem with this premise. The reason historians don’t publicize the “soap myth,” according to Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, who’s quoted in the trailer, is because it is, in fact, a myth. “There is no evidence that soap was actually manufactured out of human flesh, not because the Nazis were nice guys but because it was not economically feasible,” Berenbaum told Tablet. “We have at times tested soap that has been represented of being made of human fat and found that it was not made of human fat.”

“The Soap Myth” Premieres at Dog Run Rep [BroadwayWorld]
The Soap Myth [YouTube]

And the Old Shall See Visions

Israeli mogul receives messages from above

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Shari Arison, the richest woman in Israel and the principal shareholder in the nation’s second-largest bank, Bank Hapoalim, isn’t worried about the economic downturn currently plaguing the country. After all, she’s been communicating with an otherworldly entity and seeing visions assuring her that everything will be all right. “For the past year I’ve been seeing peace and happiness,” Arison said. “I don’t know when that will happen. I know I have a role to tell people…. Everyone has to make it happen.” The entity, whose nature Arison would not divulge, communicates with the tycoon through visions and “messages from above,” she said. “I get a picture, I can feel it. If it’s fire, I feel like I’m burning. If people are dying I feel pain,” she told Reuters in a recent interview, after initially revealing her paranormal contacts in a weekend interview with Israel’s Channel Two. How did Israel respond to news of Arison’s seeming clairvoyance? Well, of course: the morning after her TV appearance, Bank Hapoalim shares jumped 1.6 percent.

Israel’s Richest Woman Gets Messages, Has Visions [Reuters]

Breaking: Gilad Shalit to Be ‘Transferred’ to Egypt

IDF soldier part of Egypt-Israel-Fatah-Hamas deal

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Shalit, in a photo provided by his family.(Getty Images)

Haaretz is reporting this afternoon that IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, kidnapped by Gaza militants three years ago, will soon be “transferred” to Egypt, perhaps as early as today. It’s part of a complicated deal, “assisted by Egyptian mediation and done in coordination with the United States and with the support of Syria,” as Haaretz puts it, to open crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel, create a joint Hamas-Fatah committee to control Gaza, and exchange prisoners between the two Palestinian groups. The news is sourced to “European diplomatic sources;” Israeli officials, says Haaretz, have not confirmed it.

Europeans: Gilad Shalit Transfer to Egypt Imminent [Haaretz]

Curiouser and Curiouser

Bibi plans IDF pullback from West Bank cities

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Netanyahu arrives in Paris to meet with President Nicolas Sarkozy today.(AFP/Getty Images)

Was Benjamin Netanyahu’s grudging and precondition-laden acknowledgment of Palestinian statehood just a sweetener to Barack Obama intended to keep Israel’s right-wing coalition together? In his American Prospect column this week, Gershom Gorenberg paraphrases Dr. Iyad Barghouti, director of the Ramallah Center for Human Rights, as saying that Bibi wants only “colonial-style ‘self-rule’” in the Palestinian territories. Maybe so. But at the same time, a funny thing is happening: Netanyahu seems to be pulling back a bit from the territories. Yesterday, Haaretz reported that manned roadblock deconstruction was occurring at an accelerated pace; today, the Jerusalem Post reports a plan to “radically reduce” Israeli troop levels in parts of the West Bank. Under the plan, IDF soldiers will decrease their presence in the cities of of Kalkilya, Ramallah, Jericho, Jenin, and Bethlehem and cede authority to American-trained Palestinian soldiers. “Defense officials said that the move was aimed at giving the Palestinians the ability to enforce law and order and crack down on Hamas and other terror elements independently without Israeli intervention,” Yaakov Katz writes. (Of course, Israel hasn’t ruled out IDF sorties in those cities to preempt planned or rumored terrorist attacks.)

Netanyahu may be a long way from adopting the Sharon About-Face and initiating a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. But these incremental measures aimed at bolstering Palestinian sovereignty cannot be discarded out of hand. Even a diplomatic salve to a more contentious American president has the possibility to alter “facts on the ground.”

IDF to Radically Cut West Bank Presence [J-Post]
Previously: The Curious Case of Benjamin Netanyahu

Day 13 in Tehran

Mousavi reported under house arrest; Israel might get its way

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With foreign journalists confined to their offices, the Internet blocked, and fewer opposition protesters venturing into the streets following yesterday’s bloody clashes outside Iran’s parliament building, Tehran has turned suddenly quiet. A planned vigil for the 19 people killed in the violence that has wracked Iran since the contested June 12 presidential election was called off today; meanwhile, the regime is continuing its vicious crackdown on the opposition, with presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi apparently under house arrest.

Into the vacuum rushes the noise of international diplomacy. Iran’s current leaders, the Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been blunt about blaming outside forces—particularly Americans and Israelis—for the chaos, and the British are “making inquiries” into claims that their citizens are among those who have been arrested in Tehran this week. A senior diplomatic adviser to the ayatollah, Ali-Akbar Velayati, blamed Britain for inhibiting the human rights of the Iranian people by freezing Iranian assets—behavior that Time’s Adam Smith reads as evidence that Iran is reluctant to confront the United States head-on, though that didn’t stop Ahmadinejad from telling Obama to mind his own business, according to The New York Times.

While nothing appears to have come so far of a request from the son of the former shah, Reza Pahlavi, for Israel to get involved in supporting the Green Revolutionaries, the Obama administration has been cagey about how far its previous willingness to engage with the Iranians over key issues—namely the country’s nuclear ambitions, along with its support for Hezbollah and, by extension, the threat to Israel—still extends. (Though it has made clear that Iran’s Fourth of July invitations are now withdrawn.) Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution argues that engagement remains the only way forward, particularly given that the regime is likely to grow “increasingly paranoid and dogmatic,” but that could turn out to be a politically infeasible strategy in the wake of Neda—which may mean that Israel, in the end, may get its way after all.

Are Lubavitchers Jewish?

Rubashkin lawyer suggests otherwise

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It has been said by some in the Jewish world—and the implication is almost always unkind—that there’s something “un-Jewish” about Lubavitchers, particularly those who believe that the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson was (is?) the messiah. (Chabad is the “religion closest to Judaism,” according to an oft-told joke.) Lubavitchers, understandably, take offense when presented with this line of argument.

Except: Sholom Rubashkin, the former CEO of the beleaguered Agriprocessors slaughterhouse, is currently under court order to stay in Iowa’s Allamakee County until his trial. (He stands accused of 142 counts of fraud, money laundering, and immigration-related violations there.) He has, however, gotten special permission—on “religious” grounds—to travel to New York today. What holiday is he observing? The 15th anniversary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s death. The commemoration, Rubashkin’s lawyer said, is of “exceptional religious significance for those of the Lubavitcher faith.” It’s a faith, we imagine, much like Judaism.

Rubashkin Allowed To Leave Iowa For ‘Jewish’ Holiday [FailedMessiah.com]

Today on Tablet

A feud, a free spirit, and Yiddish in translation

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In part three of Mark Oppenheimer’s investigation of two Holocaust-deniers, he discusses the conflict between them. Also on Tablet Magazine today, columnist Seth Lipsky compares President Obama’s Middle East language to his predecessor’s. Hadara Graubart profiles an Orthodox blogger whose humor is sometimes controversial. And contributor Joshua Cohen explores the work of a Yiddish writer preoccupied with America. And of course, there will be updates to The Scroll all day.

Paging Mulva!

Jason Alexander sees Middle East peace through non-sectarian comedy

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Alexander in East Jerusalem yesterday.(AFP/Getty Images)

In Israel this week to promote a program that brings together Israeli and Palestinian high school students, Seinfeld actor Jason Alexander compared the rocky road to Israel-Palestinian peace with the rocky road the hit show encountered when it first debuted. “We were canceled, we were gone, we were a distant memory and somehow we came back and eventually everybody caught on and started paying attention,” he said. Yuks, he continued, are “the best way to heal wounds.” But he admitted one hitch: “Nothing makes a Jew laugh more than jokes about Jewishness. It’s purely speculation, but my guess is that’s probably not as true for the Arab world.” Because, of course, that’s the big roadblock to Middle East peace: a Palestinian inability to guffaw at “So what’s the deal with these keffiyehs?”

‘Seinfeld’ star pushes comedy cure for Mideast [AP]

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