(JTA) — “Deflategate,” the controversy surrounding the New England Patriots that has made national news, made its way to a Houston business conference led by a rabbi.
Rabbi Yossi Grossman, dean of the Jewish Ethics Institute, on Monday transformed the football prattle into a high-minded look at ethics on the playing field in his bimonthly talk before some city businesspeople. To make his points, he cited the Exodus story, Talmud, the rabbinic authority Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the Code of Jewish Law and prohibitions against theft of money and of mind.
Theft of mind means presenting one’s credentials misleadingly, to the presenter’s benefit, Grossman said.
“The question is, who was actually committing fraud here? Was it the quarterback, the coach, the owner?” Grossman asked.
Discussions of right and wrong in sports typically tend toward on-field strategies: a baseball manager yanking a starter or a football coach opting for a field goal rather than a first down.
Rarely do ethical dilemmas enter the discourse, at least to the degree of “Deflategate” – allegations that the Patriots had deflated footballs to gain a competitive advantage during their Jan. 18 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game. Their 45-7 victory earned the Patriots a trip to the Super Bowl on Sunday against the defending NFL champion Seattle Seahawks.
An Orthodox Jewish man covered with snow walks in Jerusalem / Getty Images
New York’s got nothing on ancient Jerusalem, and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s got nothing on Rabbi Hillel the Elder.
While we were all rushing home to take shelter from the impending Blizzard Juno, with its promised “historic” downfall of 30 inches of snow, and while our fearless leader Cuomo was busy shutting down the entire New York City subway system, an unprecedented reaction that many believed was just for show, I couldn’t help thinking of one of my favorite Talmud stories.
This story proves that the ancient rabbis were totally badass when it came to coping with snow. At least, Hillel the Elder was. A promised 30 inches? That’s nothing! Hillel willingly stayed out in 54 inches of snow! His motivation? Well, see for yourself:
Still from Yotam Perel
Say what you will about Naftali Bennett’s “I’m Not Sorry” viral ad campaign — we certainly did. But one thing you can’t deny is that it was smartly done. Bennett’s ad was internet-savvy and in touch with its target audience.
The same cannot be said for Meretz’s latest ad campaign. I wish I could tell you exactly what goes on in it, but all I can do is use my finest army intelligence training to try and surmise. The gang from Meretz appear to be crashing (not very convincingly) a wedding party and breaking out into dance to the balkan beat of Meretz’s new jingle (you guys, balkan beats are so 2011). No one is looking at the camera and everyone seems embarrassed to be there. It feels like my cousin’s bar-mitzvah.
The head of the party, Zehava Galon, is a bar-mitzvah aunt, jumping from side to side with eyes glazed, awkwardly mumbling along with the lyrics. Galon can’t even handle her vodka shots. So how can she handle another four years as a political party head?
The music is as embarrassing as the visuals, with tacky lyrics like “I’ll just have good times, not bad times, everything is possible, it’s just a matter of choice” and “Let’s stop the hate and choose love.” And the balkan beat is a conscious PC choice, so as not to make the ad feel too Ashkenazi or too Sephardic. The result is this lackluster, dated song.
Meretz, after all, is filled with good intentions. They’re staying away from inflammatory and derogatory ads. Everyone from the Likud to the Zionist Block have been up to the usual pre-election mud-slinging and Meretz wants to set itself apart. “Suckers” is what Hipster Naftali Bennett would say, along with a bunch of Israelis. And suckers is a very nice name when compared to some of the name-calling directed at the Israeli left recently, especially in the wake of the recent Gaza war.
I understand that Meretz wants to be good. It just has to be better at being good. Meretz is all that’s left in the Israeli left.
And Meretz does have accomplishments to tout. You don’t have to look too hard to see that they are the most pro-gay party there is. They are constantly rated the number one party for workers’ rights. They are very strong when it comes to human rights as well. Galon is a great politician and she gets things done. So why does every Meretz video feel so awkward and ill-fitting?
Bottom line: Meretz needs to fire whoever is in charge of their PR, pronto. And I’ve got a suggestion for a new hire: animator Yotam Perel, the guy who made the following spoof of the Meretz campaign video. In less than 20 seconds, his animation managed to be more evocative — definitely more weirdly mesmerizing — than anything Zehava has managed to put forth so far. Here, see for yourself:
Hebro Travel ad
The image is a little jarring. On the left, a bearded, shirtless guy in sunglasses stands on a beach, the Israeli flag reflected in his mirrored aviators. On the right, a pink Star of David hovers over an ancient building in Prague.
But for Jayson Littman, the pictures make perfect sense. As the founder of Hebro Travel, a new tour company serving “gay Jews and those who love us,” he’s serving up trips that blend historical exploration, cultural discovery — and some serious partying.
The travel venture is an outgrowth of Hebro, Littman’s hugely successful party promotion and social-networking outfit, which hosts events with names like High Homodays, Jewbilee, and Sederlicious. “A lot of organizations exist to help gay people feel comfortable in Jewish spaces,” he told the Forward. “I exist to help Jews feel comfortable in gay spaces.”
An Israel trip timed for Tel Aviv Pride in June will take travelers to a famously gay-friendly environment. But it’s Littman’s latest tour offering that’s generating attention — and raising eyebrows.
The history-making Poland & Prague Pride Trip, August 8-16, includes a Jewish heritage tour of the Kazimierz District and Schindler’s List route; visits to historic synagogues; and stops at Auschwitz and Theresienstadt. It ends with parties and a parade — Prague’s Gay Pride festivities take place the final Saturday of the trip.
“Some people did say, ‘How can you go from touring concentration camps to celebrating Pride?’” he said. “I look at it the same way as Jewish trips that go from the camps to Israel to celebrate continuity.”
Argentine journalist Damian Pachter after arriving in Tel Aviv on January 25 / Haaretz
So here they are, the craziest 48 hours of my life.
When my source gave me the scoop on Alberto Nisman’s death, I was writing a piece on the special prosecutor’s accusations against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, her (Jewish) Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, two pro-Iran “social activists” and parliamentarian Andrés Larroque. I learned that Nisman had been shot dead in his home.
The vetting process wasn’t too tough because of my source’s incredible attention to detail. His name will never be revealed.
Two things stood in my mind: my source’s safety and people’s right to know what happened that day, though not necessarily in that order.
Of course, for both speed and the contagion effect, Twitter was the way to go. The information was so solid I never doubted my source, despite my one or two colleagues who doubted me because I only had 420 Twitter followers — a number now eclipsing 10,000.
As the night went on, journalists contacted me in order to get the news from me even more directly. The first to do so was Gabriel Bracesco.
Once I tweeted that Nisman had died, hundreds of people quickly retweeted the news and started following me. That was my first of many sleepless days.
“You just broke the best story in decades,” lots of people said. “You’re crazy,” was another take. Either way, nobody questioned that the situation was very grave.
The following days were marked by a government trying to create an official story. First, the head of state suggested a “suicide hypothesis,” then a mysterious murder. They of course were not to blame. In anything.
Encontraron al fiscal Alberto Nisman en el baño de su casa de Puerto Madero sobre un charco de sangre. No respiraba. Los médicos están allí.— Damian Pachter (@damianpachter) January 19, 2015
A woman holds a sign reading “I am Jewish from France” / Getty Images
(JTA) — Three weeks ago, my wife and I were shopping in a Parisian kosher butcher store several miles west of the supermarket where four Jews were murdered on Jan. 9. The shop in our neighborhood was well patronized, with lines stretching out to the sidewalk before Shabbat.
We were staying in an apartment in Paris’ 12th district while I promoted a new book about the treatment of Jews in France during World War II. During our stay, we spoke with dozens of our Parisian friends, including some who are Jewish, about whether the year 2015 evokes for them at least some of that dark anti-Semitic history. It was a time when a French government that became known as Vichy promulgated 200 anti-Semitic laws — with little German pressure — that eventually sent some 75,000 Jews “to the East” and almost certain death in the concentration camps.
In those weeks of what we now know was the “calm before the storm,” our friends confessed to some fears about a combined resurgence of both old and new forms of anti-Semitism in France. The far-right National Front party under Marine Le Pen barely hid its old-style anti-Semitism under the ugly mask of anti-Arab xenophobia. And the party was gaining strength in the polls.
Meanwhile, individual Jews were sporadically attacked, frequently by disaffected French Muslims. In some areas of Paris, one friend said, it might be unwise to wear a yarmulke outdoors. But in their own neighborhood, in the 15th district, they said they would have no such fears and did not counsel their nephew, an observant Jew in his 20s, against wearing a kippah.
In fact, a cross-section of my Parisian friends agreed that American talk of France having become anti-Semitic was grossly exaggerated. So in polite conversations back in the States, my wife (a French teacher in Manhattan) and I had already noted what we felt were overstatements, given our own experiences and observations during frequent visits in various parts of France. We chalked up some of the feverish American talk to the persistent Francophobia that too often marks political commentary about France in the United States. The French, after all, have long been targeted for American criticism.
We tried to curb this talk of French anti-Semitism, the supposed droves who were leaving for Israel — some 7,000 French Jews in a population of approximately 500,000 made the move last year, though some have since returned for economic and other reasons — and what we knew were exaggerated American images of French Jews living in constant fear. We did this, recognizing that Europe is perennially at some risk of returning to its traditional anti-Semitism — a risk I consider more fundamental even than Muslim extremism fueled by events in the Middle East.
My attitude about France has not changed even since the latest spate of deadly violence. There is nowhere in the world that is safe. But in many ways it is as safe for Jews in Paris as it is in Tel Aviv or Brooklyn, or Budapest.
Demonstrators protest outside the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires
Theories abound about the suspicious death of Alberto Nisman, the Argentina anti-terror prosecutor who was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment on January 18.
Nisman, who was Jewish, was set to testify the day after his death about the 1994 terrorist attack at the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), in which a suicide bomber drove a van full of explosives into the Jewish center.
The attack killed 85 people and wounded about 300, making it the deadliest single attack on Jews outside Israel since World War II.
Since Sunday, there has been an outpouring of outrage in the streets in Argentina. The case also raised the concerns of the local Jewish community who protested on January 21, in front of the AMIA in Buenos Aires, calling for “justicia.”
But who might have wanted Nisman dead — and why? Here are four possible answers.
Illustration by Lior Zaltzman
“Short clothing = shortened life.”
That’s a message currently winding its way through Jerusalem’s streets, thanks to a new ultra-Orthodox modesty campaign.
The ad, plastered across 20 Egged buses, has been sparking social media protests among secular Israelis who resent being told how to dress. They’re saying that it’s hypocritical of the bus company to agree to run such an ad, while often refusing to run ads by liberal groups that include photos or drawings of women.
But the Haredi advertiser claims there’s nothing for secular Israelis to be upset about. After all, the goal of the ad is “the transcendence of the soul of the Har Nof righteous” — the Orthodox Jews murdered at a Jerusalem synagogue back in November.
What do short hemlines have to do with a terror attack, you might ask? Well, here’s the advertiser’s logic:
“It’s clear that those who were murdered did not receive a punishment they deserved. They were righteous people. They woke up to pray at 6 am. They are public victims, and it happened to them because of us, because of our acts.”
In other words, terror attacks happen because Israeli women flounce around in racy dresses. Sure. Okay. Clearly.
The Jerusalem bus ad reads: Short clothing = shortened life
This might just be the world’s worst hashtag — ever.
Hours after a Palestinian terrorist stabbed 12 people on board a Tel Aviv bus, extremists took to social media to praise his actions with #JeSuisCouteau, which is French for “I am the knife.”
The hashtag, a clear play on the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag used around the world to express support for the people of Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, has the opposite effect: Instead of supporting the victims of violence, it supports the perpetrator.
“Palestine more damaged than Charlie,” one image states, linking together two separate issues and drawing a comparison that trivializes the deadly assault on Paris’s satirical newspaper. This profoundly misguided response is perhaps not surprising when we consider the cues given by people like Hamas spokesman Izzat al-Risheq, who praised today’s attack, saying, “The heroic stabbing incident against the Zionist in Tel Aviv is a daring and heroic act. It comes as a natural response to the terrorist occupation crimes against our people.”
Some tweets even seem to draw a visual connection between the Charlie Hebdo killing and the Tel Aviv attack. This cartoon, for example, says “10 stabs for those who don’t pray for the prophet.” Notice the bus in the background bearing the Star of David and that #40 — the bus line targeted by the terrorist, identified as 23-year-old Hamza Mohammed Hasan Matrouk, earlier today.
Still other tweets try to highlight a discrepancy between Western reactions to Israeli violence against Palestinians (see the cavalier response in panel #1) and Palestinian violence against Israelis (see the outraged response in panel #2).
The #JeSuisCouteau hashtag has been shared on social media almost 4000 times in the past few hours alone, according to the social media measuring site Topsy.
Probably lost on most of those social media users is the hashtag’s (unwitting?) allusion to French author Charles Baudelaire, who used the phrase “I am the knife” in his famous work, Fleurs du Mal: “Je suis la plaie,” he wrote, “et le couteau!”
Yesterday’s State of the Union address was a success for Obama. From ending the war in Afghanistan and helping to revive the economy, the president touted his accomplishments. The same accomplishments his fellow party members were reluctant to use to their advantage in the last elections.
So many stood up and applauded as he mentioned the most controversial topics and spoke frankly about them. Global warming — it’s real. Women — they’re not second-class citizens. Racism and discrimination — not in our home. Biden was beaming behind him like a guardian angel and John Boehner looked like his face was about to melt off in a giant frown.
There were a lot of good things for Jews to fist-pump over in last night’s address. Overwhelmingly, we care about women, care about the environment and care about education. But here are four things that made it especially good for us:
Even France was reluctant to say the recent attacks targeted Jews. And in a world where some are reluctant to use the “A” word, Obama said it loud and clear: “As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened… It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world.”
Reading the article was wrenching.
It was a first-person offering, on the website Kveller, by the non-Orthodox mother of a young woman who had adopted Jewish observance and in the process (at least in her mother’s telling) had jettisoned all respect for — apparently, all feeling for — her parents.
The mother described how her daughter had been all but kidnapped and brainwashed by a “fundamentalist ultra-Orthodox sect,” and that she only begrudgingly allowed her parents to attend her wedding. Her daughter’s Judaism, the writer contends, was “deeply intolerant,” demanding not only that the younger woman “follow an infinite number of rules, but also disassociate from all who were different. Even from her own parents.”
Those parents, in the mother’s testimony, bent over backward to accommodate their daughter’s new life. They bought her special kitchenware and offered her an oven and dishwasher to facilitate her observance of kashrut. They drove her to the homes of others for Shabbat and even, the mother writes, made donations to their daughter’s rabbi. “We even invited him to our home to hold weekly classes for us and a group of our friends,” she recounts. Although the mother was “not always pleased” with her daughter’s path, “We wanted to learn about what had so inspired” her. Still, her daughter acted, the mother asserts, in obnoxious ways toward her parents.
“What kind of people,” the mother wondered, “teach that in order to have a meaningful life, you must shun those who love you most?” After some research, she discovered that the “fundamentalist” group was part of an “enterprise, known as kiruv, or ‘bringing close’.”
Kiruv, of course, is a multifaceted effort to, yes, bring Jews closer to their religious heritage. But it is educational and nurturing, not malevolent and destructive. No kiruv group teaches any newly observant Jew to reject his or her family, and no responsible “kiruv professional” would ever gratuitously counsel a Jew to shun his or her family.
(JTA) — Remember that Hillary Clinton ad from 2008, the one where it’s 3 a.m. and the White House phone is ringing? The spot, an attempt to highlight Clinton’s superior experience compared to then Sen. Obama’s ostensible naivete, didn’t do much to save the Clinton campaign, which lost the Democratic primary that year.
But that hasn’t stopped Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and two of his challengers from copying it.
Netanyahu is facing a strong challenge from the center-left alliance of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. In response, he’s telling voters that he’ll be dependable no matter what happens. But with two leaders at the helm, who knows?
One of his latest ads shows Herzog and Livni both avoiding a call from President Obama. Even if you don’t understand the Hebrew, the message is clear.
Herzog and Livni hit back with an ad telling Netanyahu, “The question isn’t who will answer the phone. The question is: Who’s going to call you?” A voiceover then mocks the prime minister for damaging relations with Europe and the United States and says, “Bibi no one in the world wants to talk to you anymore.”
But wait, there’s more!
Rabbi Abraham Skorka chats with Pope Francis during their visit to Holy Land last year. /Getty Images
(JTA) — Rabbi Abraham Skorka traveled from Buenos Aires to Washington to wax lyrical about his passion – interfaith dialogue – and intimate about his well-known pal, Pope Francis. Also to plug his movement, the Masorti movement, and its strides in Latin America.
Timing dictated that he also issue a plea to his government: Press ahead with the AMIA case in the wake of the suspicious death of its prosecutor.
Skorka’s appearance at the Argentinean embassy in Washington came Tuesday just hours after the news of the death by gunshot of Alberto Nisman, the lead prosecutor collecting evidence of culpability in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.
News of Nisman’s death came just hours before he was to present evidence to Argentina’s congress that he said implicated his country’s president and foreign minister in a nefarious cover-up scheme.
“This is a moment of great sorrow, of great pain and consternation for all Argentineans, for all the people living in Argentina,” Skorka said, when I asked him to expand on comments he had made earlier, addressing diplomats and Conservative movement luminaries.
Now that Hasidic men are barred from pushing strollers, will they turn to other modes of baby transportation? / Illustration by Anya Ulinich
Baseball. Men’s briefs. Dogs. Hipster eyeglasses. Motorcycles. Neckties. English. Math. Men’s shoes any color besides black. Button-down shirts that flap left-over-right. Fixing your own car. Modern Hebrew.
That’s a partial list of “goyish” things Satmar Jews have successfully banned within their flock.
Pretty impressive, right? And yet, challenges remain. The Satmars have so far been unsuccessful at banning such blatantly goyish things as: Lexus cars, Bugaboo strollers, hipster neighbors, Jacadi stores, sex, pants, ghoulash, Brooklyn and Sol a Kokosh Mar. And they’ve only had partial success with bike lanes and Lipa Schmeltzer.
But there’s one particularly vile scourge the Satmars have yet to unscourge, and that is — men pushing baby strollers.
Unable to withstand such goyishness a second longer, they published the following notice in a recent issue of the Satmar advertising circular, D’var Yom B’Yomo:
With regard to the new custom among some men to push the baby carriage when walking on the street: The great Rabbi Nosson Yosef Meisels said in 1968, during a speech to grooms in the name of our holy rebbe [R. Joel Teitelbaum, the rebbe of Satmar], that one must not perform this practice, as it originates among the goyim.
Eliad Cohen is Israel’s top gay icon / Haaretz
Some people visit Israel for the holy sites. Some visit Israel as a political statement. Some visit Israel because they think Israelis are “hot.”
Disagree? Well, the Israeli Tourism Ministry and City of Tel Aviv do not. Recently, Israel’s economic capital held a Winter Gay Festival advertised using not just a sand-snowman, but also posters and videos replete with muscular Israeli men, armed with bursting biceps in tank tops. You could be forgiven for thinking Israel was advertising the virility of its menfolk, from both the posters and admiring European tourists on the city’s beaches this winter.
This trend is not just a one-time fluke. Witness the various posters and advertisements it has produced replete with the images of the strong, muscular, Israeli men of the IDF, or the beautiful women of Tel Aviv’s beaches. Of course, many countries use the attractive bodies of their citizens to invite tourists — but in many ways, this effort for Israel is political as well: it is sexy hasbara.
It is no secret that a certain type of hasbara operates below the belt buckles of Jews and Gentiles alike from Brooklyn to Birobidzhan. From the shirtless, muscular frat brothers in Birthright ads to the landscapes of bikini-clad female combat soldiers in the IDF, Israel not infrequently uses its sex appeal to garner support. The goal? Well, it seems to be that if enough people have “hot” associations with Israel, they will then support its government’s actions.
David Sookne, front left, and Bruce Hartford, third from right, register voters in 1965 / Courtesy
(JTA) — Since the nationwide release of “Selma” a week before the national holiday commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., I have wondered about the extent of Jewish participation in the civil rights movement. Was it just the Selma marches? Was our support also financial, in the voting booth? Or something more?
Albert Vorspan and David Saperstein concluded in their 1998 book “Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice: Tough Moral Choices of Our Time” that “Jews served in the forefront of the fight to end racial segregation in education, public accommodations and voting.” But wanting to hear it from someone who was actually in the “forefront,” I spoke with a Jewish recruit in the fight.
David Sookne may not sound like someone who served on the front lines of our nation’s battle for civil rights. The semi-retired mathematician and computer programmer — a resident of suburban Los Angeles with whom I pray a couple of times a month — is exacting in speech and even tempered.
He’s also blessed with an excellent memory: Sookne can name the people in the Roosevelt administration down to the level of the undersecretary.
So he vividly recalls his seven weeks spent in Alabama’s rural Crenshaw County as a foot soldier in the voter registration campaign for blacks organized by King through the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It was the summer of 1965 — after the Selma marches but before the passage of the Voting Rights Act that would be one of their outcomes.
Sookne, then 22 and enrolled in a doctoral program in in theoretical mathematics at the University of Chicago, signed up after following the news stories about the Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer — a campaign to register black voters in Mississippi in 1964 in which several supporters and volunteers were murdered, including two young Jewish men.
After first driving home to Silver Spring, Md. — his parents didn’t want him to go — he headed for Atlanta.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, right, marches with Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders / Getty Images
(JTA) — The 50th anniversary of the 1965 march at Selma is being commemorated this year with the release of the film “Selma.” Regrettably, the film represents the march as many see it today, only as an act of political protest.
But for my father Abraham Joshua Heschel and for many participants, the march was both an act of political protest and a profoundly religious moment: an extraordinary gathering of nuns, priests, rabbis, black and white, a range of political views, from all over the United States.
Perhaps more an act of celebration of the success of the civil rights movement than of political protest, Selma affirmed that the movement had won the conscience of America.
President Lyndon Johnson had just declared, “We Shall Overcome,” and congressional passage of the Voting Rights Act would come quickly. Thanks to the religious beliefs and political convictions of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., coalitions had been built, religious differences overcome and visions articulated that meshed religious and political goals.
My father felt that the prophetic tradition of Judaism had come alive at Selma. He said that King told him it was the greatest day in his life, and my father said that he was reminded at Selma of walking with Hasidic rebbes in Europe. Such was the spiritual atmosphere of the day.
When he returned, he famously said, “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”
Miss Israel, Miss Lebanon, Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan / Doron Matalon Instagram
Life sure is hard when you’re a contestant at the Miss Universe pageant. In addition to wowing the judges with your swimsuit, your evening gown and your talent, you also have to be constantly on the lookout for quick-footed, iPhone-toting Israeli beauty queens who are dead-set on squeezing themselves into a selfie with you.
Or at least that’s what Miss Lebanon Saly Greige would have us believe.
The Lebanese contestant is accusing Miss Israel Doron Matalon of photobombing her, after a picture of the two beauty queens smiling side-by-side circulated on social media, causing an uproar in Lebanon. Because Israel and Lebanon are technically still at war, some Lebanese saw the selfie as evidence that Greige was consorting with the enemy, and called for her to be stripped of her title. Here’s how Greige defended herself on Instagram:
“Since the first day of my arrival to participate to Miss Universe, I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel, who tried several times to take a photo with me. I was having a photo with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia, suddenly Miss Israel jumped in and took a selfie, and uploaded it on her social media.”
Did Miss Israel really photobomb Miss Lebanon, or is that just Greige’s excuse?
Michael Douglas poses with Michael Bloomberg after winning the $1M Genesis Prize. / Getty Images
When Michael Bloomberg was named the first recipient of the Genesis Prize last year, I wasn’t alone in wondering why a billionaire businessman and politician whose Jewishness was mostly hidden and whose ties to Israel were tenuous at best was given such an award. But considering the noble intent of the prize, the money it offered — a million dollars! — and the stellar reputations of some of the organizers, I tried really hard to understand the selection.
I ended a column in the Forward saying I’d give it another year.
Time’s up. A new winner was announced today. He makes Bloomberg looks like a combination of Golda Meir, Louis Brandeis and, hell, even Moses in his public devotion to the Jewish people.
Michael Douglas. Really?
Yair Lapid (Getty Images); Moshe Kahlon (Facebook
When Yair Lapid skyrocketed to the top of Israeli politics during the last election campaign in 2013, he did it by positioning himself as the most “hevrati” (socio-economically conscious) candidate. He and his party, Yesh Atid, capitalized on the momentum of the “tent protests” that brought half a million Israelis to the streets to fight the rising cost of living. By speaking to this middle-class frustration, Yesh Atid wound up with 19 seats and the Finance, Education, Welfare and Health portfolios.
Now, less than two years later, Yesh Atid has fallen from both grace and the governing coalition, and Israel’s exhausted middle-class has understood that its hope was misplaced. But while Israel’s socio-economic problems are worse than ever, Israelis still want someone to hope with — and this time around, it’s Moshe Kahlon.
Born into a Mizrahi family in a working-class neighborhood in Hadera, Kahlon rose to fame as communications, and later as welfare, minister in Bibi Netanyahu’s second term when he successfully broke the Israeli cell phone cartel, slashing prices by up to 90%. He surprised many by bowing out of politics in late 2012, though there was widespread speculation that he was planning an electoral bid. While Kahlon wound up sitting out the last round of elections, he finally founded his new party, Kulanu (All of Us), last year.
Kulanu’s campaign is heavily based on Kahlon’s reputation as both “social-friendly” and untarnished by the corruption scandals that regularly sweep Israeli politics. According to a recent survey of the Israeli public by the Jerusalem Post and Maariv, Kahlon is the “least corrupt” of the major candidates and best at handling socioeconomic issues. It comes as no surprise, then, that Kulanu is quickly becoming the Yesh Atid of 2015.
But the reality of Kahlon’s record tells quite a different story.