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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]

Daybreak: Bigger Boards are Better

Leonard Cohen, a Roman holiday, and more in the news

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• A study finds that most of the foundations that lost 30 percent or more of their money to Madoff had tiny boards of four or fewer. The lesson: “it’s not enough to allow Uncle George or Grandpa to say Bernie’s a good guy and make an investment.” [NYT]
• Leonard Cohen, who recently confirmed his plan to perform in Israel in September, has scheduled a concert in Ramallah two days later. [Haaretz]
• Young Jewish and Catholic leaders are powwowing in Rome “to promote and facilitate the next generation of leadership in Catholic-Jewish relations.” [JTA]
• A local court has ruled against a Jewish school in London that refused admission to a boy because his mother’s conversion wasn’t up to snuff. [Guardian]

Sundown: Fourth of Jewly?

Holy fireworks, non-revelations about God, and Eruv 2.0

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• The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle suggests eight ways to make Independence Day more Jewish. One suggestion: to “let the sparks” of the fireworks “lift you to the world of the Zohar.” [WJC]
• An effort is underway to restore synagogues in west Afghanistan, where only one Jew remains. The project’s leader says she wants to find ways to put renovated religious buildings back “in public use”—we hear mikvehs have great acoustics. [Ynet]
• A New Jersey lawyer has been banned from practicing in his home state for allegedly “misappropriating” funds from the Holocaust survivors he represented. [Daily Record]
• Salon interviews Robert Wright about his new book The Evolution of God, which apparently rehashes the “scandalous” news that neither the old testament God nor Jesus were always the most gentle of spirits. [Salon]
• A new eruv in San Francisco has its own Twitter page. Sample tweet: “Stop stringing me along!” [NBCBA]

Agriprocessors Finds Buyer

With an interesting doppelganger

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(Getty Images)

Agriprocessors, the Iowa-based kosher slaughterhouse that was infiltrated by Peta in 2004, raided by federal agents last May, and which filed for bankruptcy in November, seems, at long last, to have gotten what appears to be a break. The A.P. is reporting that Hershey Friedman, the president of a Montreal-based plastics company, and two partners have filed court documents in an effort to buy the beleaguered meat packer. We’ll leave it to the business reporters to determine whether or not this latest development will be good for Agriprocessors. Kevin Huntsman, a Kansas City-based plastics specialist quoted by the A.P., thinks the deal makes sense for Friedman, as his Montreal-based company is a leading manufacturer of meat and poultry packaging. And here’s a second reason the deal seems to be bashert: There’s a Hershey Friedman listed on the CUNY-Brooklyn College website as a professor of marketing and business. Now, it does not appear that this Hershey Friedman is the same as the one trying to buy Agriprocessors, but if you go to his web page, there’s an animated chicken dancing on top.

Partners Agree to Buy Iowa Kosher Slaughterhouse [AP]

Israeli Anti-Semitism Documentary

Makes only its filmmaker look bad

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Israeli filmmaker Naftaly Gliksberg debuted his most recent documentary, Look Into My Eyes, at New York’s Lincoln Center Monday night. It’s billed as his investigation into contemporary anti-Semitism: is it truly a pervasive global problem, or is it merely a buzzword used by the Israeli government and individual Jews to fend off criticism? But what the film reveals instead is only that Gliksburg—large and brash, and appearing in nearly every shot—is a real-life manifestation of Sascha Baron Cohen’s Borat. As Gliksberg travels from Poland to France to America to Germany, he harasses the men he interviews, flirts with the women, and gets inappropriately physical with both. Many of the interviewees aren’t likely to shed any light on covert anti-Semitism, as it turns out, because they’re self-proclaimed neo-Nazis. And most of the other subjects have no problem with Jews, and are somewhat offended that Gliksberg’s asking—sometimes, because they’re Jewish themselves. In the movie’s most uncomfortable scene, Gliksberg asks Elinor Tatum, the black and Jewish editor of New York’s Amsterdam News, “Which side is black and which side is Jewish?” In the face of such treatment, the actual anti-Semites come across as almost normal. When Gliksberg asks the leader of a far-right German nationalist party if skinheads are the work of the devil, Horst Mahler replies that they’d be better described as a youth movement. And the thing is, yes, they would.

After a screening, Gliksberg told me he was “a bit upset” with how the film had turned out. Rather than undercutting the notion that anti-Semitism is everywhere, he said, it suggests that alarmists are right to believe the world is out to get them. It’s a reasonable self-criticism of a highly unreasonable film.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Netanyahu

Likud P.M. is removing roadblocks, negotiating settlement freeze

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Amos Harel in Haaretz notes a latest bit of curious behavior from thought-to-be-hardline Benjamin Netanyahu: under the new Israeli P.M., the pace of roadblock destruction in the West Bank has accelerated greatly. There are now 10 manned roadblocks in the entire territory; last year there were 35. And although the UN estimates well over 600 “obstacles and roadblocks” (presumably unmanned?), “the defense establishment has allowed several hundred Palestinian businessmen, holders of BMC (Businessman Card) permits, free access to Israel,” Harel reports. Residents in Jericho now have free and easy access to all of the West Bank, all of the roadblocks surrounding Nablus have been lifted, and, according to Israeli security services, the only Israeli cars being inspected at the Jaba roadblock at the Adam-La Ram junction.

All of these decisions have been undertaken with the express consent of Netanyahu, who has been signposting his willingness to do business with Barack Obama ever since the U.S. president’s Cairo speech, Harel notes. Elsewhere in Haaretz, meantime, is the news that Israel is currently discussing a settlement freeze with the United States. Netanyahu government’s position is that it should not last longer than six months and that building projects in progress in pre-existing settlements should be allowed to continue.

Israel removes dozens of West Bank roadblocks [Haaretz]
Israel mulls temporary freeze on settlement construction [Haaretz]

Richard Nixon Explains Anti-Semitism

We have a ‘death wish,’ apparently

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It’s not news anymore that Richard Nixon disliked Jews. But the twist revealed in tapes and documents released by the Nixon Presidential Library yesterday was that the 37th president was not just a practicing anti-Semite but a theorist of anti-Semitism. His basic gist: They ask for it. Take, for example, Nixon’s philosophizing in a 1973 conversation with Billy Graham:

Anti-Semitism is stronger than we think. You know, it’s unfortunate. But this has happened to the Jews. It happened in Spain, it happened in Germany, it’s happening—and now it’s going to happen in America if these people don’t start behaving…. It may be they have a death wish. You know that’s been the problem with our Jewish friends for centuries.

The notion that Jews are somehow bent on their own destruction—and the subset of it concerning Jewish “self-hatred”—has had a long and ignoble history. It’s a theory that’s still very much in use—by all sides—in today’s debates over Israel. But that it was a theory held by a figure as paranoid—and as self-destructive—as Nixon makes a certain kind of sense.

On Nixon Tapes, Ambivalence Over Abortion, Not Watergate [NYT]

Day Twelve in Tehran

Protests, bloodshed, and intransigence

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Students burn mock flags in a protest outside the British Embassy in Tehran yesterday.(AFP/Getty Images)

If Twitter is to be believed, today’s opposition protests outside Iran’s parliament have turned deadly; several papers, including the London Times, are running unconfirmed reports from bloggers inside Iran who claim three people have been shot, while the messaging service itself is teeming with reports of tear gas and widespread beatings and arrests in Baharestan Square. “Situation today is terrible—they beat the ppls like animals,” wrote PersianKiwi, one of the most frequently cited Twitterers.

But cell networks have apparently been shut down in the area, which means hard information from the street is hard to come by (beware videos that are cropping up on blogs today without date stamps, The New York Times warns), though the AP is reporting that helicopters were spotted hovering over the square. The wire adds that Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, posted an item on one of his Web sites beseeching the regime to stop treating people “as if martial law has been imposed in the streets.”

Ayatollah Khamenei—still the Leader of the Islamic Revolution—apparently told parliamentarians that “for sure, neither the system nor the people will give in to pressure at any price,” according to Iran’s state-run, English-language Press TV. He insisted on “implementation of the law”—but it wasn’t immediately clear how that squared with statements from a militia member who told the Farsi newspaper Roozonline that he was paid about $200 to “beat the revolutionaries so hard they won’t be able to stand up.” According to a translated synopsis in the Guardian, the young man, who had never been to Tehran before he was bused in to join the militia, said he hoped to use the cash to pay a dowry or two.

The Guardian Council extended today’s election-certification deadline until Monday, perhaps on the hope that the violence will abate before then. State-run television is broadcasting a documentary about the accomplishments of the Revolutionary Guard, the Los Angeles Times is reporting, and news announcers have scoffed on-air at President Obama’s statements last night siding with opposition protesters. “Of course, the president of America says that these remarks are not tantamount to meddling in internal Iranian affairs,” an announcer apparently said. He added: “But in conjunction with the Americans, the Israelis are also pursuing the objective of agitation too.” (Al Jazeera adds that Iran’s interior minister thinks the CIA has something to do with it, too.)

On a side note: The BBC is reporting that the British housewares chain Habitat is also guilty of spreading agitation after an overzealous member of its social-media PR team starting posting discount specials on Twitter coupled with the keywords “Iran” and “Mousavi” to draw in people looking for news. “This was absolutely not authorised by Habitat,” the company said in a statement. “We were shocked when we discovered what happened and are very sorry for the offence that has been caused.”

Today on Tablet

An academic Holocaust denier, Roya Hakakian, and the forgotten Singer

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Today, part two of Tablet Magazine’s investigation of two prominent Holocaust deniers by contributor Mark Oppenheimer. Also, Marissa Brostoff talks with Iranian Jewish writer Roya Hakakian about the future of her homeland. And Sarah Weinman considers a neglected novel by Esther Singer Kreitman, sister of I.B. Plus, of course, this blog will be updated throughout the day.

This Week in Poland

Prisoners! A Hitler tree! A gay rabbi! Kibbutzniks!

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(AFP/Getty Images)

So much Jewish news in Poland lately!

First, a new program requires Polish prison inmates to take part in the rehabilitation of Jewish sites throughout the country. Hopefully this gig will be an improvement on whatever prisoners were forced to do before—otherwise the plan might be creating a new population of future ex-cons with a bone to pick against the Jews.

Meanwhile, in the latest attempt to repurpose something Nazi-related, the mayor of Jaslo, a southeastern Polish town, has decided to cut down a 67-year-old tree originally planted to mark Hitler’s birthday and replace it with a tree commemorating Polish soldiers killed by Soviet forces. It’s unclear whether honoring the dead by killing a tree is an act of vengeance or merely a misguided gesture.

And over in Warsaw, provocative Israeli film artist Yael Bartana has started construction on a mock kibbutz, as an attempt to “revive the Jewish spirit again.” (As opposed to the socialist spirit, which, presumably, is long past rekindling.) And elsewhere in town, a Reform synagogue has hired Poland’s first openly gay rabbi, Aaron Katz. The remarkable Katz has made quite an evolution, from a bearded Orthodox rabbi with a wife and kids in Sweden, to a clean-shaven man hosting dinner parties with his partner, Kevin Gleason, a convert and former reality-TV producer. Mazel tov!

And that’s all from Poland.

Polish Convicts to Renovate Jewish Sites [JPost]
Hitler’s Tree to Get the Axe [Arutz Sheva]
Israeli Artist Builds Mock Kibbutz in Heart of Polish Capital [AP]
Poland Gets 1st Openly Gay Rabbi [Fox News]

Daybreak: Free Madoff in 2021

A sentencing request, Nixon’s take on Jews, and more in the news

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• Bernard Madoff’s lawyers have asked for a 12 year sentence for their client—just short of life, as actuarial tables suggest the 71-year-old has 13 more years. [NYT]
• Richard Nixon told Billy Graham that the Jews may have “a death wish,” what with the history of persecution and all, according to newly released secret White House tapes. [NYT]
• Lesley Hughes, a former political candidate in Winnipeg, is suing the Canadian Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith Canada for ruining her career by alleging she was anti-Semitic based on a 2002 statement that Israelis were spared from the 9/11 attacks because of secret intelligence. [JTA]
• Israel has postponed a meeting between P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. envoy George Mitchell in order to take more time to mull over the settlement problem. [AP]

Sundown: Bringing Home the Bacon

Creative hate crimes, Madonna goes wailing, and Ben Stiller as secret weapon

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• A synagogue in Roundhay, England, was scandalized last Saturday to find bacon strips wrapped around its door handles and stuffed in keyholes. The local paper, Roundhay Today, adds insult to injury with a salacious ad for a t-shirt reading “Bacon Makes Everything Better.” [RT]
• “The wailing wall is a very sacred place for anyone with links to the Jewish faith,” a source tells Britain’s Sun. Apparently, Madonna considers herself among them; she plans to take her adopted kids to the holy site in a few months. [The Sun]
• As if the film’s humor wasn’t offensive enough, an Iranian TV spot attempts to expose the 2000 Ben Stiller vehicle Meet the Parents as a tool that “cunningly tries to arouse the viewer’s compassion and sympathy toward Zionist beliefs.” [London Times]
• The latest victim of intermarriage and assimilation? Jewish country clubs. [Golfweek]

Jewish Hipsters Exist

Commentary belatedly discovers

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Commentary has made a discovery in its new July/August issue (not yet available online): there are young urban liberal Jews in America. (Commentary has apparently not, however, discovered the nonprofit called Reboot, which is devoted to bringing young urban liberal Jews together at secret retreats in Park City, Utah, and which the article, titled “The Judaism Rebooters,” does not mention.) You might spot them at the “never-ending dance-and-drug parties known as raves,” or know them by their occasional use of Xanax, the stalwart magazine says. They are “scandalized by public indifference to global warming” and “offended by George W. Bush.” They even think that Jews are “analogous” to other people, and that being Jewish is “the equivalent of being black or Latino or gay or Native American.” And the worst part? They’re “not alienated, either from Jewish culture or from the secular world”—in fact, they want to “throw open the gates of Jewish culture to new ways of thinking.” All this will fail, says Commentary, because “the secular temptation” to be actively Jewish and still a person of one’s time has failed “in every generation.” That must be why there are no urban liberal Jews left on God’s green earth, except for the ones in this article.

Commentary [Official site]

British Parliament Chooses Jewish Speaker

There’s a first time for everything!

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There’s something of an ironic rule in Britain that in order to advance politically as a Jew, one must belong to the Conservative Party. Witness yesterday’s election of John Bercow, the first Jewish speaker of the House of Commons. What distinguished Bercow most, apart from being a member of the country’s oldest religious minority, is that he is not his predecessor, Michael Martin, who was forced to resign as speaker last month after overseeing one of the most widespread abuses of legislative expenses in British history. Martin was another milestone: he was the first member of parliament to resign the speakership in 300 years. Jews were only formally admitted to parliament in 1858 when Lionel de Rothschild, after three successful elections, was sworn in as M.P. without having to recite the Christian oath previously required. The clause “upon the true faith of a Christian” had blocked Rothschild from being admitted into the chamber. Rothschild was given his earned seat by using the more prosaic phrase “so help me God.”

Bercow Becomes First Jewish Speaker of U.K. House of Commons [JPost]

New York Ignored Westboro Picketers

Except to give money to gay synagogue

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Protesters from the anti-gay, anti-Semitic Westboro Baptist Church got the freak-show treatment when they staged (very small) rallies outside New York City Jewish institutions this weekend, The New York Times reported. Passersby “gawked,” “jeered,” and threw the occasional sarcastic Nazi salute at the seven Topeka, Kansas-based protesters when they showed up at the Jewish Theological Seminary and various synagogues with “Jews killed Christ” and “God hates Israel” placards. At Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, the gay synagogue in Greenwich Village, the Westboro picketers were greatly outnumbered by more than 100 counterprotesters.

In fact, the protest was if anything a boon to CBST. Synagogue leaders asked supporters to pledge a dollar or more in donations for each minute the Westboro members spent picketing, according to a report in the New York Daily News. The congregation raised $10,000.

Messages of Hate Met by Scorn and Shrugs [NYT]
Manhattan Synagogue Makes $10G Off of Westboro Baptist Church Protest [Daily News]
Previously: Anti-Gay, Anti-Jewish Activists Coming to New York

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