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]

Today on Tablet

Bibi reactions, plus Bloomsday


Tablet Magazine has plenty of coverage of Benjamin Netanyahu’s two-state-solution speech yesterday. Contributing editor Gershom Gorenberg considers the address and identifies its deep internal contradictions. Benjamin Balint identifies the three different audiences for which it was intended, and what Netanyahu was saying to each of them. And senior editor Michael Weiss rounds up press reaction in Israel and the United States. Plus, in our weekly Vox Tablet podcast, senior editor Sara Ivry talks to Caraid O’Brien, a leading Yiddish translator, who’s performing in WBAI’s complete Ulysses reading in honor of Bloomsday, June 16. We’ll have more throughout the day, including regular updates to the blog you’re reading, The Scroll.

Daybreak: Two States, and Exiles

Bibi’s speech, kosher Google, and more from the morning papers


• Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed a two-state solution for the first time, but attached conditions that have left Palestinians unsatisfied, to say the least. [WP]
• While generally praising President Obama’s Cairo speech, The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg agrees with André Aciman that “a mention of the eight hundred thousand Jewish refugees from Arab lands might have been in order.” [New Yorker]
• Meanwhile, representatives of Jews exiled from 10 Arab nations will go before the Italian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Commission tomorrow to make a case for their rights. [JTA]
• American al-Qaeda member Adam Yahiye Gadahn officially acknowledged—and denounced—his Jewish roots in a new video. [Haaretz]
• Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, is fasting today and tomorrow to, somehow, raise awareness about Darfur. [JTA]
• Koogle, a new “kosher” search engine, rests on the Sabbath. [Reuters]

Sundown: Seven More Jewish Children

Obama-love, hot (and not) vacation spots, and rich Ukrainians


• Caryl Churchill’s controversial play Seven Jewish Children went up in Israel for the first time last night, directed by a Palestinian currently under house arrest for protesting a right-wing government appointee. If the American reaction is any indication, the Israeli press should prepare the floodgates. [Haaretz]
• Suggestions from The Baltimore Jewish Times for must-see Jewish vacation attractions include the obvious—the Memorial and Museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau—and the not-so-obvious—a 200-year-old synagogue in the Virgin Islands. Such a tough choice.[BJT]
• Jordan Farmar of the L.A. Lakers will appear at a fundraiser for the Citizens’ Empowerment Center in Israel, to be held at “a beautiful private residence in Beverly Hills.” (Is there any other kind?) [CECI]
• Three of the four billionaires in the Ukraine are Jewish, apparently. This potentially celebratory mark of success has, naturally, led to “anxiety within the country’s Jewish community.” [JTA]

Another Video From Israel

This one of sober, reasonable people


A week after revealing the extremely stupid things drunk American Jewish kids in Israel are willing to say in front of a rolling video camera, intrepid reporter Max Blumenthal ventured out to an anti-settlement rally in Tel Aviv sponsored by the left-wing political party Hadash. Unsurprisingly, the sober Israelis he interviews say quite reasonable things. “I think Obama has—I felt it was like the Gettysburg Address, really,” one man said of last week’s Presidential address in Cairo.

Meanwhile, over on 50 Cent’s web site, This Is 50, commenters continued to prove how dumb people can be. Tablet contributing editor Jeff Goldberg helpfully culled through responses to Blumenthal’s first video he found there, finding plenty of f-bombs. But one person noted, “Man, that whole nation needs therapy and counseling.” And another, a rapper posting under the name Save our Souls, posted some lyrics:

Fuck an AIPAC, Israel got the states jacked/
probably label me a terrorist because I say that/
September 11th?, oh yea, you know they staged that/
with the CIA, same place Bin Laden’s payed at.

Israelis to Obama: “Save Us From Ourselves”
Racist Video: Young Israelis Give Their Opinion of President Obama and the United States [This is 50]
Same Hatred, Different Idiots [The Atlantic]
Earlier: Cultural Learnings of America, Zion Square Edition

Mazel tov, Fergie!

You just got a little more Jewish

Fergie performing for the Today show today.(Getty Images)

The Black Eyed Peas are gettin’ Jewy wit it in their new single, “I Gotta Feeling.” A blogger for L.A.’s Jewish Journal noticed that, snuck in among lyrics like “I got my money / Let’s spend it up / Go out and smash it / Like oh my god,” are a shtickle of stock Yiddishisms. L’chaim shows up a few times, and mazel tov, too. It all gives the breast-baring soiree the Peas attend in the song’s video a slight flavor of bar-mitzvah reception. But, then, is that really so surprising? Peas frontwoman Fergie has always had a campy JAP vibe. Something about her being a vaguely ethnic white girl who really wants you to purchase her some diamonds.

Boom Boom Mazal Tov! [Jewish Journal]
Related: Black Eyed Peas: I Gotta Feeling [YouTube]

Philanthropy CEOs Keep Pay

While economy tanks and staffers get laid off


Jewish philanthropies have been cutting back and laying off staff in response to the economic bust and Bernie Madoff’s graft. But executives of those philanthropies have barely seen dents in their six-figure salaries, according to a report by Anthony Weiss in today’s Forward. Bigshots’ salary cuts ranged from none at all to a whopping 10 percent. (You can skip ahead to a handy chart naming names.) A 10 percent cut hardly means an enormous change in lifestyle for someone making $400,000 a year. Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University (which, admittedly, was hit hardest by Madoff), has the most to lose, PR-wise, by this article. Not only did Yeshiva lay off 60 people last year, but his handsome $676,004 salary suffered not in the least. However, he was wise not to talk to the Forward. United Jewish Communities CEO was less smart: “I think sometimes people are making those decisions [to cut salaries] for not the right reason,” he argued, “because it appears to be the right thing to do from a political perspective.” Not appearing “political” means Rieger pocketed $555,000 (plus a $150,000 stipend for expenses) in the 2006-07 tax year, while 31 UJC staffers, who each earned a fraction of that amount, lined up for unemployment. How principled.

As Layoffs Mount, Which Jewish Executives Shared the Pain? [Forward]

Holocaust Museum Reopens

While friends remember slain guard and canceled play moves to GWU


A troop of Girl Scouts from Dallas were among the first people in line this morning at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which re-opened today, two days after anti-Semitic Holocaust denier James von Brunn allegedly tried to storm the federal facility. “To say that we can’t do this because of this event is that man winning,” troop leader Liz Johnson told the AP. “We’re not going to let him win.” Von Brunn, who remains hospitalized in critical condition, was charged yesterday with first-degree murder in the killing of guard Stephen T. Johns, who was shot at point-blank range in the chest as he moved to hold a door open for the 88-year-old von Brunn. A high school friend of Johns, a 39-year-old father from Temple Hills, Md., told reporters he was just the kind of person who would help someone like von Brunn. “If Steve saw an old lady struggling with groceries, he’d go help her,” Kevin Martin told the AP. Johns’ mother, Jacqueline Carter, told the wire her son, who spent six years working at the Holocaust museum, was her “teddy bear.”

The AP is also reporting that an official with the union representing the guards says he pushed for bulletproof vests after a man made threatening remarks to guards there several years ago. The wire service notes that von Brunn, a former Navy officer, went to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., last month to complain about increased minority enrollment at the school. The museum, meantime, was to host the premiere of a new play on Wednesday, the day of the shooting, called Anne & Emmett, which imagines a conversation between Anne Frank and Emmett Till, both teenaged victims of racism. “I went from opening-night jitters to murder at the museum,” playwright Janet Langhart Cohen told the Washington Post. “It was like a bad dream: A white racist killed a black man at a Jewish shrine.” The play will go on tonight at George Washington University.

DC Museum Reopens After Fatal Shooting [AP via Yahoo!]
Slain Security Guard Remembered as “Teddy Bear” [AP via Yahoo!]
Guards Who Stopped Von Brunn Were Retired Cop, Ex-Marine [WP]
Officials Wanted Vests for Security Guards [AP via Yahoo!]
Attack Underscores Play’s Message [WP]

Fighting Over Lot

Parking in Jerusalem

(Still from video)

As if Jerusalemites needed more to fight about, now there’s a parking battle. The city government shut down a new parking lot after ultra-Orthodox protesters rioted last week, bringing the often sensitive religious tensions in town to a new, ridiculous height. The parking-lot wars began a few weeks ago. Responding to an escalating parking crisis—the number of cars has increased stratospherically; the number of spots has dropped due to widespread construction—the city agreed to build a public lot for for exclusive use of residents, choosing a location not far from the Old City. But the city’s ultra-Orthodox community cried foul, claiming that car traffic on the Sabbath so close to the Western Wall was, well, unholy. The municipality, leading rabbis said, needed to set up a “Sabbath Goy” parking lot, another lot in a different part of town. And so another location was picked, another lot built. But still no peace: calling that new lot a travesty, throngs of ultra-Orthodox protesters unleashed violent demonstrations last week, throwing soiled diapers and glass bottles at police officers. The new lot was shut down as well. And angry secular Jerusalemites are still circling the block.

Ultra-Orthodox Riot in Jerusalem; Six Policeman Wounded [Ynet, in Hebrew]

Bibi’s Two-State Plan

Requires Palestinian demilitarization

Netanyahu at an Israeli cabinet meeting this week.(AFP/Getty Images)

If the U.S. administration’s ultimate goal in putting pressure on Israel to acknowledge the two-state solution and refrain from building up existing settlements was, as Jeff Goldberg posited, to bring about the downfall of the Netanyahu government, then it may be faced with a surprising development: the Netanyahu government now seems willing to accommodate. According to Eli Lake of The Washington Times, the Israeli prime minister will deliver a speech Sunday in which he will lay out the preliminary requirements for Palestinian sovereignty—which means the new P.M. has now signed on to a two-state solution. A future Palestinian state, Netanyahu will say, according to Lake, must refrain from developing an air force or army with heavy munitions or signing treaties with powers “hostile to Israel,” and it must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” and “allow Israeli civilian and military aircraft unfettered access to Palestinian airspace, allow Israel to retain control of the airwaves and to station Israeli troops on a future state’s eastern and southern borders.” Such a program, which walks back from Netanyahu’s previously more dogmatic position of wanting to see “bottom-up” development of Palestinian infrastructure and economy before even considering a plan for statehood, would represent a return to the Bush-minted “roadmap.” So, if not quite a giant leap forward, this is a return to the status quo ante under Ehud Olmert.

On the point of airspace and radio waves, Lake quotes Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine arguing that this a mere starting point for serious negotiations. “The idea that the Palestinian state will not have sovereignty over these aspects of national life is one thing, saying that there will be accommodations for Israeli security concerns something else altogether,” Ibish says. Demilitarization was something hashed out, with no conclusion, at Camp David in 2000 between Yasser Arafat and then-Israeli P.M. Ehud Barak. And it’s tough to see it having more success now.

Netanyahu Yields on Palestinian Sovereignty [WashTimes]

Today on Tablet

An anti-Jewish novel, casting Hasidim, and this week’s parasha


There’s a new batch of content for you on Tablet Magazine today. UCLA professor Shelley Salamensky reviews Chandler Burr’s new You or Someone Like You, about a Hollywood macher and his family, and finds it “a freakish, tiresome anti-Jewish tirade.” Allison Hoffman profiles Eliezer Meyer, a Lubavitcher who calls himself “the King of Broadway” and has become the go-to guy for filmmakers and TV shows seeking Hasidic characters. And Liel Leibovitz likens the Israelites in this week’s Torah portion to the self-obsessed kids celebrating Internet Week. Plus, there’s still Mark Oppenheimer’s essay on James von Brunn and the three strains of modern American anti-Semitism, and there will be new content posted all day on the blog you’re reading, The Scroll.

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