U.S. President Barack Obama speaks alongside Saban Forum Chairman Haim Saban / Getty Images
The New York Times over the weekend shed some needed sunlight on the close ties between Washington think tanks and foreign governments. Digging into the funding practices of some of the nation’s most respected research institutions, the article outlined an impressive array of foreign money funneled into think tanks. These contributions, the article revealed, come with many strings attached and could put into question the independence of the research conducted in think tanks. (Though, it should also be noted that think tanks, as opposed to universities, are set up, in many cases, around a certain ideology or belief and do not claim the mantle of objectivity.)
The list of foreign governments supporting American think tanks is populated heavily with Arab countries and also demonstrates the significant role played by Norway in funding these think tanks (much of this focus is thanks to Norway’s aggressive public disclosure policies that allowed the writers to follow the money from Oslo to Washington.)
Israel, however, is absent from the list. The reason is clear: Israel does not directly provide government money to fund American think tanks. But this doesn’t mean there is no Israeli input. Pro-Israel donors in the United States have long made generous gifts to research institutions of their liking.
Three decades ago, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) sought to increase its influence in Washington policy circles by setting up its own think tank. It founded the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and funded it for several years. Since, however, the Washington Institute has severed its institutional ties with AIPAC and is now completely independent. But it still counts among its major funders some of the lobby’s key donors.
Joan Rivers, Marcel Proust and the U.S. Open would all, if they could, welcome you to this week’s quiz. After all, they’re in it!
A page from the Seder Oneg Shabbos bentsher / Courtesy of David Zvi Kalman
Books are probably going extinct, but it doesn’t matter — in the Jewish world, ritual texts are still key players in the spread of ideology. Three texts, in particular, have been in print since the printing press was invented: the siddur (prayerbook), the bentsher (Grace After Meals), and the haggadah (Passover seder guide). If you took every copy of each of those books that was printed in the past 30 years, I bet you’d find that the vast majority were printed by Orthodox publishing houses or edited by Orthodox rabbis and scholars.
This is true for a number of reasons, but one important one is that Orthodox publishing houses in both American and Israel have been producing a consistent stream of well-designed, easy-to-navigate publications. These publications are so functional that they’ve broken out of the Orthodox market and are widely used by many non-Orthodox Jews and institutions, many of whom are indifferent to the textual and ideological idiosyncrasies of the Orthodox publications. These books have become the default, while other ritual texts — including those which “on paper” many Jews would find more ideologically compatible — are speciality items, bought only by those who care enough to choose differently.
We weren’t satisfied by this situation. If there were to be a default edition, we wanted it to be as inclusive as possible. We wanted a bentsher that didn’t belong to a denomination and could be accepted by everyone — by the Orthodox, the non-Orthodox, everyone.
Between February and June of this year, a team lead by Joshua Schwartz and myself set out to create a new bentsher. In it, we included options for queer couples, like: “You are Blessed, Hashem, Who brings happiness to: the groom and the bride / the groom and the groom / the bride and the bride.”
People stand outside the ‘As du Fallafel’ shop in the Marais district in Paris / Getty Images
The news from France is bleak: anti-Semitic sentiment is on the rise, violent incidents are piling up, and Jews are packing up and leaving for Israel.
Recently, I learned that one of my cousins, tired of feeling marginalized, was planning such a move. That got me thinking.
I lived in Paris for a three-month period in the summer of 2013. Even then, I felt that being Jewish in France was a whole other ballgame than my experience as a Jew in Montreal or New York. French Jews were either French people who happened to practice Judaism, or Jews who happened to be French. I felt that there was no, or little, French cultural Judaism such as the Woody Allen/bagel-and-schmear combo we’re used to. At the same time, I felt more kinship with the Jews in France than I do with most New York Jews — because Jewish culture in France is Sephardic and, well, incredibly French.
There is certainly cause for alarm when stores close their doors for fear of attack; when shul-goers need to hide from an angry mob like the recent events on Rue de La Roquette; and when Jews like my family, who have been proud French citizens for decades, feel the need to leave their homes. But in all that panic, it’s easy (and dangerous) to forget what a strong impact Jews have had, and continue to have, on French culture. Here are a couple of examples:
Given the amount of street style snaps and runway shots invading my Facebook and Instagram feeds, fashion seems like a good place to start. French Jews have always been involved in fashion. In fact, the cult classic “La Verite Si Je Mens” revolves around a non-Jew trying to pass himself off as an Ashkenazi Jew in “Le Sentier,” Paris’ garment district — which is inherently funny because, duh, everyone there is Jewish (and Sephardi, but more on that later).
More recently, Jews have left the shmatte for high-end luxury. French brands like Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot have fashionista followings from London to New York. You may not know, however, that all three brands are owned by Jews — sisters, in fact. Judith Milgrom and Evelyne Chetrit were born in Morocco, and moved to France with their parents when they were kids, mirroring the experience of many French Sephardic Jews, who now outnumber the older Ashkenazi community. Both are vocal about their Jewish heritage. In an interview with The Telegraph in 2012, Milgrom even talked about not working on Shabbat: “About 20 years ago, I started to observe the Jewish Sabbath really seriously. From dusk on Friday until dusk on Saturday, I don’t do any work, don’t shop or look at my email or phone. It’s unbelievably therapeutic.”
On the more kitschy side of things, let’s not forget Yiddish Mama. As Laurent David Samama over at the Daily Beast shows, young Parisian designer Camille Vizioz-Brami is doing for French Yiddish culture what Mile End did for the New York deli. Boasting slogans like “Power Yiddish Mamma,” “Super Mensch” or “Chepselleh,” her apparel makes quite a statement in a time where Jews may feel compelled to mask their identity for fear of anti-Semitic reprisals.
Jewish and Muslim demonstrators advocate peace at a rally in Paris / Getty Images
Is it the spike in anti-Semitic acts or rather their growing banality that drives Jews in Paris, Lyon and Marseille to seriously consider emigration?
Maybe both. Caught between the rise of far-right movements like the Front National and the tide of anti-Semitism preached by Islamists, French Jews today look like they are once again stuck in an age-old historical trap.
After WWII and the massive trauma of the Holocaust, my country — France — tried to build a society free of anti-Semitism. Over the years, various pieces of legislation have prohibited Holocaust denial and racist acts in general. Several associations (SOS Racisme, MRAP and LICRA) have worked hard to erase differences between French citizens. Now, for the French Republic, you are neither Black, nor Asian, nor or Caucasian. You’re not Catholic, Jewish or Muslim. You are French. I grew up with this wonderful principle along with the Republican motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.” But our society is not equal to these principles and, sadly, it has taken only four decades for anti-Semitism to return to my country.
The result? My family is a good example. My Tunisia-born grandparents came to France in the late 1950s and had two sons; my father then had three. One of them now lives in New York with no plans of coming back to Paris, the other one studies in Spain and Sweden, and the last one is writing down these lines. Within months, I silently bore witness as a large part of my entourage made aliyah — including some of my friends and all of my girlfriend’s family. It was quite a strange feeling. I wouldn’t say that I felt abandoned, but I was definitely disappointed by all those people choosing to live a different life abroad.
Palestinian Gigi Hadid eyes Israeli Michaela Bercu on Vogue’s 1988 November issue / Vogue
When Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour was preparing the cover shoot for her very first issue back in 1988, she chose an Israeli model — Michaela Bercu — to grace the front of the glossy magazine. This summer, as Wintour prepared for the relaunch of the magazine’s website, she chose a Palestinian-American model — Gigi Hadid — to recreate the iconic cover.
Over at Haaretz, Shahar Atwan says it’s “interesting to wonder how much thought Wintour and Co. gave to Hadid’s family background when they mulled placing her in Bercu’s shoes,” but concludes that it “wouldn’t be fair on Hadid” if she was selected because of her Palestinian roots. Besides, Atwan says, Wintour had “more than enough reason to choose Hadid regardless of the political connotations.”
Atwan seems eager to toss off the possibility that Hadid’s Palestinian background helped her land this photoshoot — but from where I’m sitting, that possibility looks more than likely. In fact, I’d be surprised if the model’s background did not play a significant role in her selection. And I don’t think that’s “unfair” — to Hadid, or anyone else — at all. Just the opposite.
Can we talk?
Gay men have always loved our outsized female heroes, and Joan Rivers was right up there with the best of them. It’s no coincidence that a disproportionate number of these divas are Jewish (Rivers, Barbra Streisand) even though many (Judy Garland, Madonna) are not. In fact, gay men love strong women for very Jewish reasons.
First, gay icons (divas, glamour queens) and Jewish women both tend to be strong, outspoken, and assertive – models for drag queens like Bianca Del Rio and RuPaul. Once again, of course, Rivers was among the best. Her humor was almost always blunt, occasionally offensively so. (In a good way – people who get offended by humor are usually taking themselves too seriously.)
This strength of spirit is, itself, a rebuke to patriarchy – or, if that’s too lofty, to macho chauvinist jerks who subjugate women and persecute gays.
But Rivers was not merely a strong person; she was a strong woman. Here, again, gay men cheer on the sidelines as powerful women stand up to institutions of sexism and the individuals who uphold them.
Rivers, like Streisand, broke barriers – ethno-religious ones as well as gendered ones. The night-time talk show circuit was an old boys’ club until River broke that glass ceiling. And while Jews were omnipresent in the television world of the 1950s and 1960s, they often stayed behind the scenes as writers, or closeted their Jewishness, or were limited to comic relief. Rivers was brash, in your face, female but not ‘feminine,’ and also aggressively Jewish.
A Swedish punk rocker with a swastika tattoo. / Getty Images
It’s been a big month for swastikas.
They were recently featured by Spiritual Punx on their donut swazi tee, and now they’re officially on their way to rehabilitation.
At least that’s what Thomas Kaenzig, Raelian Guide and President of the ProSwastika Alliance, wants us to think.
Following this year’s successful Swastika Rehabilitation Week, the ProSwastika Alliance has been granted 501c3 nonprofit status. Yes, you read that correctly.
“Thanks to its new 501c3 status, the Alliance will now be able to accept tax-deductible donations,” Kaenzig said.
Commence the celebration. Really.
Shiite Muslim fighters take part in a last combat training before joining the government forces to fight Islamic State jihadists / Getty Images
And so another beheading of another American journalist — this time “one of us,” as today’s Forward editorial has reminded us. “One of us” meaning an American Jew, and one whose family is active in their South Florida community, and one who took Israeli citizenship.
But also one of us, a journalist — as my friend Ilene Prusher, one of Steven Sotloff’s former editors, shared in Haaretz today.
Sotloff’s execution is a triple crime. Of course, it is first and foremost a crime against Sotloff himself, brutally executed in what experts have said is likely a gruesome and excruciating way to die.
Second, it is an act of war against the United States, meant either to scare us or, perhaps, goad us into an all-out war in Iraq and Syria. “I’m back, Obama,” the executioner announces.
Third, it is a crime against everything we in the West hold dear: the safety of journalists and other non-combatants, the rules of war, and nothing less than civilization in general.
So, what now? Everyone, including the Forward, is demanding “a plan to deal with ISIS,” as if such a plan can be devised. But everyone knowledgeable about the situation (again, including the Forward editors) knows that this is a complex morass, partly of our own making, that cannot be cleanly addressed. Limited air strikes, of course — those have already prevented a genocide. Tactical support here and there. But what, more broadly, can be done?
John Beattie / Youtube
Will voters in a small Canadian town overlook the hate-filled past of a town-council candidate?
John Beattie is betting on it.
Beattie, the 73-year-old founder of the Canadian Nazi Party, has thrown his hat in the ring for elected office in Minden, an Ontario hamlet of 5,600 better known for tidy country cottages than political controversy.
Despite the fact that Beattie now disavows his white-supremacist leanings — “it’s a hobby,” he told the Toronto Sun — he’s left a long and toxic trail through Canada’s most populous province.
Fifty years ago, Beattie “was infamous for leading Nazi rallies in Toronto that descended into violence,” according to the Toronto Star. In 1966, “hundreds of police officers had to guard the 24-year-old at [arena] Allan Gardens as he shouted anti-Semitic slogans at a mob of 1,500 protesters.”
And after founding the Canadian Nazi Party in 1965, Beattie “was jailed for six months for placing swastikas on the lawns of prominent Jewish residents,” the Star reported. A turncoat after that, he spied on right-wing groups for Canada’s intelligence service in 1972.
A journalist films as rescue workers remove the body of a Palestinian man from the rubble of his home in Gaza / Getty Images
The American media covers Israel more than almost any other pressing geopolitical concern. The disproportionate coverage was continually pointed out (as it had been in the past) as reporters crawled in and out of Gaza, writing far more lines on the subject than nearly any other. Some have claimed that the coverage of the most recent conflict was too pro-Palestinian, some that it’s too pro-Israel. Explanations for the newsroom’s Israel-Palestine obsession have been given by both sides, ranging from the practical to the vaguely conspiratorial.
Still, to my mind, the primary reason for the enthusiastic coverage, is, as is so often the case, explained by capitalism. Americans see Israel-Palestine and the conflict that rages therein as a place of religious fantasy, racial tensions, and the repository of American time, money and resources. In other words, Israel sells.
A few months ago I was traveling back to Israel from the United States, and around three o’clock in the morning I found myself in a minivan to Jerusalem seated next to a CNN producer for Wolf Blitzer. Somewhere between a demonstration of her Tinder profile and stories about the Queen of Jordan, she explained to me that being a producer involves making the news appealing and digestible for a mass audience. The aim is single-minded: to take home the top ratings, ultimately winning more money for owners, stockholders and advertisers. Thus, American news broadcasters, especially when it comes to cable news, are out to make a buck. This is a longstanding problem, and it has massive implications for how international conflicts are covered. So why does Israel get covered more? It’s a sure-fire moneymaker.
Barbra Streisand, Elvis Presley and Harry Houdini. It’s no illusion; they are all bound together in this week’s quiz. Good luck getting out of this one!
Still shows Israeli woman with a sign that reads “We left for Berlin.” / Shmemel
“Berlin” is a very catchy tune, half-way between pop and hip-hop, performed by Israeli band Shmemel — and anyone who sees Israel as the Jewish homeland and/or can hum “Jerusalem of Gold” should probably give it a good hard listen.
The video features Israeli after Israeli in various international locales singing and dancing with signs in their hands:
“I left for Amsterdam.”
“I left for New York.”
“I left for Tokyo.”
“I left for Berlin.”
The full, annotated translation below is meant to hep English speakers appreciate all the nationalistic references being subverted in the lyrics. I went more for accuracy than for poetry — it sounds better, of course, in Hebrew.
Full disclosure: My Jerusalemite husband and I left for Chicago in 1998.
Settlements haven’t been in the news of late — and not simply because war pushed them off the media’s radar. They haven’t been in the news because since the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli yeshiva students back in June, there hasn’t been much settlement news to report.
True, already-approved settlement construction continued unabated (and there’s plenty of it). And settlers established several new illegal outposts. And tenders were awarded for new construction in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. So clearly we’re not in the midst of a full-fledged settlement freeze. However, with respect to both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, there is undoubtedly a semi-freeze: no major new settlement plans promoted through planning committees, very few new approvals granted and then for only a tiny number of units, and no new tenders issued.
This is nothing like the 10-month “moratorium” Netanyahu grudgingly negotiated with then-U.S. envoy George Mitchell, during which all sorts of new settlement planning and approvals continued apace, and previously-approved construction went ahead without restraint. And it’s nothing like the settlement “restraint” that Netanyahu disingenuously promised Secretary of State John Kerry in the context of the last U.S.-backed peace effort, which translated to a huge spike in settlement approvals and announcements.
To be clear, a lull in new settlement approvals and announcements under Netanyahu isn’t unprecedented. However, coming on the heels of the collapse of even the pretense of peace talks and Israel’s condemnation of Abbas for forming a reconciliation government approved by Hamas, one would have expected Netanyahu to open the floodgates. Instead, he adopted a policy that, if adopted months earlier, could have given peace talks a chance to survive and even succeed. Why? The most likely explanation is that Netanyahu calculated that at a time when he wanted the world to see the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the most black-and-white terms possible — a peace-seeking democratic nation fighting an irredeemably evil terrorist enemy — he was better off keeping settlements out of the news. And so he did.
In his press conference yesterday on the Gaza operation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was open and honest about at least one thing: the outcome. He noted that it was “too early” to tell if long-term quiet had been achieved. This was inevitable, given the vague nature of “quiet” as a goal for a military campaign. Indeed, it is too early to tell for sure what long-term effects the war will have on Israel, on Hamas, on the Palestinian Authority, and on the prospects for peace talks.
But four things stand out for the immediate future. First, it is clear that Israel has won the war. Much of Hamas’s military capabilities have been degraded or used up, its regional allies are few and far between (and themselves bereft of much regional influence), and none of its efforts to achieve a tactical victory over Israel succeeded. In addition, the United States and many European governments are now talking about demilitarizing Gaza (essentially, disarming Hamas and the smaller jihadist groups) as part of a longer-term process to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All of these tilt the balance of power in Israel’s favor.
Second, there is no military solution to the “Hamas problem” or, for that matter, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more broadly. But there will be a return to the status quo ante if a political framework is not established as part of the talks that follow from the ceasefire. In this sense, the seeds for Hamas’s rejuvenation have been planted alongside the seeds of its taming. If Israel can work constructively with the Palestinian Authority and the international community, it can bring the PA/Fatah to Gaza to improve the lives of Palestinians there while also tying Hamas down by not letting it rebuild its military capacity or its authority. However, for this work, Israel will have to accept that Hamas isn’t only here to stay, but must be accepted as a political actor — one that has a role to play in the political process.
“The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood at first,” explained Chava Karen Knox, an African-American woman who converted to Judaism a couple of years ago.
Knox is referring to the Jewish volunteers who work on a weekly basis in Eden Gardens, a community-run urban farming project in East Detroit.
The project is a collaboration between the local African-American neighborhood association and the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue.
Jews journey from their homes in suburbs or more affluent parts of the city to weed rows of leafy collard greens and stake tomato plants. Some say they get far more back than they give in sweat.
“Working in the garden is a place where I often feel the most Jewish. Let my sweat pants be my tefillin,” said Noah Purcell who coordinates the volunteers on part of the synagogue.
Eden Gardens has two ambitious goals: The garden provides much needed nutrition to a low-income neighborhood, where healthy food options are absent. But the project also aims to build a bridge between two estranged communities: Jews who grew up in Michigan’s affluent suburbs after their families joined the ‘white flight’ in the 1950s and African-Americans who live in the city of Detroit, which has been struggling for decades with record numbers of unemployment and foreclosure.
The vegetables in Eden Gardens are soon ready to be harvested. But the trust between Jews and African-Americans is growing at a much slower pace.
“Trust is being built by us showing up every week,” Purcell said. “As we continue to show that we’re not here for a quick photo and a pat on the back. It will continue time to build trust.”
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice march in New York / JFREJ
Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality. My Shabbat was, as it was for many other Jews, a time of reflection and restoration, a time to remember (zakhor) and a time to observe (shamor).
I remembered the innocents whose lives were snatched away for the crime of being people of color in the United States. I remembered my obligation as a Jewish person to see myself as someone who came out of Egypt, who knows the suffering of someone made to feel a stranger in a strange land, and who lives by the creed that all people are made b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God.
I observed this Shabbat as a time of reflection, contemplation, and community. Rabbi Scott Perlo of the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue argued that social justice has a place in Shabbat, that “[Shabbat] is about seeing. It is about understanding. It is about contemplating. It is about generating compassion. It is about seeing our small place in the big picture. It is about recognizing how we fit, before we fix.”
As I marched, I listened to the people who are daily, directly affected by discriminatory and abusive policing. I dug down into myself for compassion and empathy and at the same time reflected on how radically different our situations are. I marched as part of a Jewish community who thinks this difference is fundamentally wrong, who abhors that people in this country are treated as criminals because of their identity rather than their actions.
Overweight rabbis, 100-year-old sex therapists and Nazi spaghetti. Oh – and Amy Winehouse. Time for you to dive into this week’s Jewish News Quiz!
Henk Zanoli is second from right in this 1942 family photo / Yad Vashem
It was at the insistence of Rivka Ben-Pazi that Henk Zanoli was deemed a “righteous gentile” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s state Holocaust museum. Ben-Pazi wrote a book about the Jewish boy that Zanoli saved, Elchanan Hameiri, and eventually got the museum to honor the Dutchman for hiding 11-year-old Hameiri from the Nazis.
Ben-Pazi, Hameiri’s niece, said she strongly disagrees with Zanoli’s decision to return the medal after six members of Zanoli’s extended family, the Ziadahs, were killed in Gaza last month. Now, she has written a letter to Zanoli explaining why she thinks he was wrong. She shared it with the Forward:
Dear Mr. Henk Zanoli,
It was with great sorrow that I heard about the tragedy that befell your relatives in Gaza. I would like to express my sincere condolences to you and your family.
You, your mother, and your brothers saved my uncle, Elchanan Pinto, from the hands of the Nazis. You hid him in your home at a risk to your own lives and cared for him with devotion and love. My family and I are forever grateful to you and your entire family. The Zanoli family is a symbol and an example of charitable, moral people who are guided by their faith without fear, despite danger to themselves.
I was informed that as a result of the tragedy that befell your family in Gaza, you have chosen to return the Righteous Among the Nations medal that you received from Yad Vashem in 2011 in recognition of the courageous and humane actions of your mother, your brothers and yourself during the Holocaust.
I can understand the anguish you must be feeling which led you to reject the award that you received from the State of Israel, yet I would like to tell you our story, the story of the Jewish nation living in the State of Israel, as it has unfolded over the past several weeks.
Americans have endured endless hours of Gaza media coverage in the past month, from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer crawling through Hamas tunnels to live reports of rocket launches and airstrikes.
In between, spokespersons for both sides flooded the airways, each trying to formulate an argument able of convincing American viewers, already overwhelmed by news from the Middle East, to support his or her side.
But what message really works with the American audience?
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Meagan Buren, both experts in public opinion and formerly with The Israel Project, set out to find a real-time answer to this question.
As war raged in Gaza, they gathered focus groups representing different swaths of the American public. The participants, gathered in a conference room on a weekday evening, went through several hours of hearing almost every possible message about the conflict. Then, in discussions and by using a tiny dial that collected their responses, members of the focus groups rated the level of empathy they felt toward messages conveyed by Israeli, Palestinian and American officials in TV interviews. Taken together, the input from these handheld dials produced a graph depicting exactly which message worked well and which fell flat. When the line climbed beyond the halfway marker, it was a sign that the message was working well; when it dipped below, it was clearly time to abandon this line of argument.