Forward Thinking

Hugo Chavez Protege Insists He's a Jew

By Michael Kaminer

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I’m a Jew, Too: Nicholas Maduro insists he’s no anti-Semite, despite being a follower of Hugo Chavez. In fact, the new Venezuela president is touting his grandparents’ Jewish background.

You can’t call me an anti-Semite. My grandparents were Jewish.

That’s the message from newly elected Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, who rejected charges of anti-Semitism by revealing his Jewish roots in an interview with pro-government news site Apporea.

But even if the Venezuelan president is a member of the tribe, some observers are questioning his intentions.

“Why is Maduro so interested in making a claim about Jewish ancestry? If it’s true he will have to prove it,” said Caracas-born Yolanda Potasinski, whose family “helped establish the Jewish community” there after emigrating from Poland and Austria.

“I’m suspicious of his motives. He was handpicked by a predecessor who hated Jews and surrounded himself with leaders of other countries who are anti-Semites. Maduro is following in the footsteps of Chavez,” said Potasinski, who emigrated to New York 20 years ago, is now executive director of LGBT synagogue Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in Manhattan. “We know the name Maduro has Jewish origins but I think his grandparents might have been baptized.”

After the head of the Latin American Jewish Congress accused Venezuela of “driving the rise of anti-Semitism in the region”, Maduro hit back by revealing his Hebraic roots.

“My grandparents were Jewish, from a Moorish background, who converted to Catholicism in Venezuela … The mother of [Minister of Communication and Information] Ernesto Villegas, also comes from that tradition,” according to a transcript on ArutzSheva.

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No 'Israeli ABBA' — Again

By Liam Hoare

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Moran Mazor

A Romanian opera singer dressed like Dracula and wailing falsetto. Dancers in a Perspex boxes and drummers dosed in baby oil. Moustachioed Greeks dancing and singing about the joys of free alcohol. A Russian plea for world peace in three minutes with a key change.

In case you missed it, that was the Eurovision Song Contest, Europe’s annual festival of music, costumes, and lights that at once unites, divides, and simply baffles the continent. And the winner wasn’t half bad this year. Denmark’s Emmilie de Forest sang “Only Teardrops,” a steady tune with a smattering of drums and Celtic pipes, and won 281 points, including the maximum points from eight countries, beating out Azerbaijan and the Ukraine respectively.

Absent once more from the spectacle was Israel. Since Harel Skaat placed 14th in the 2010 final with “Milim” (“Words”), Israel has failed to make it out of the semi-finals on three successive occasions. This year, Israel entered the talented if unknown reality show winner Moran Mazor, and her ballad “Rak bishvilo” (“Only for him”) fell flat in the semi-final, finishing 14th out of 17 acts.

For its size, Israel has a very strong record in Eurovision. Since it first entered in 1973, Israel has won on three occasions – including back-to-back in 1978 and 1979 with “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” and “Hallelujah” – and has come second twice and third once. This is more remarkable given Israel hasn’t even submitted an entry every year, missing the contest when it has fallen on the memorial days Yom HaShoah or Yom Hazikaron.

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Researchers Feud Over Jewish Genes

By Gal Beckerman

rita rubin
Eran Elhaik

Are Jews genetically homogenous? Though it’s certainly been a loaded question historically, the quandary has been the domain of scientists for a number of years now, all of whom have pretty much come up with the same answer: yes. But that was before Eran Elhaik entered the picture. An Israeli molecular geneticist, Elhaik is interested, it seems, not just in doing science, but in reveling in his role as a spoiler.

As a Forward story recently described it, he has written a report that claims Ashkenazi Jews are descendent from Khazars, a Turkic people from the Caucasus who converted to Judaism in the eighth century. This flies in the face of that established genetic research, which did prove a continuous genetic link between Ashkenazi Jews and the Middle East, positing that they descended from Jews who fled Palestine after the Muslim conquest in the seventh century. As Elhaik put it in the article, he sees this fairly well accepted theory as “nonsense.”

Perhaps to be expected, the comments section of this article became a microcosm for all the heated emotion that this issue inspires. Elhaik himself even jumped into the fray.

The person who kicked off the fierce debate was Jon Entine, who wrote a book, “Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity and the DNA of the Chosen People”, which presents the more established reading of Jewish genetic history. He also runs the Genetic Literacy Project at George Mason University. Entine insisted that the evidence is “incontrovertible”: “Ashkenazi Jewry is a coherent population, much like blacks descended from western Africa, the Amish or Icelanders.” Pointing out the Caucasian/Asiatic markers on his own chromosome – which he says typically makes up 20% of Ashkenazi genes – Entine says this might be because of the Khazar conversion, which took place among the elites of Khazaria and not the general population, as Elhaik contends. “When Khazaria collapsed, a fraction of the elite integrated themselves into the then tiny Eastern European Jewish communities,” Entine notes. “Today’s percentage of Khazarian like markers is congruent with the extrapolation of that core group to the founding of Ashkenazi Jewry in the 12-14 centuries, when Jews in Eastern Europe numbered only 15,000-20,000.” In other words, he writes, “Elhaik is just wrong.”

And Entine has a bigger point. He thinks that what really troubles Elhaik is the notion of Judaism as being tribally or ethnically founded in any way:

For those of you pulling out your hair over suggestions that modern Judaism has “racial roots,” get a grip. Christianity and Islam are faith-based religions…anyone can join at a proverbial drop of a hat. Judaism has never been just a faith based religion. It’s a triple helix: belief in god (yet many Jews are atheists/agnostics); belief in the state of Israel as a founding principle of our religion; and recognition of our “blood” connection to fellow Jews. Judaism is one of only two surviving tribal religions (Zoroastrianism, which shares many tribal attributes with Judaism is the other). All or any of those qualities can define one as a Jew. But one can’t just junk the “blood” part in an attempt to be “modern”–that’s an abandonment of a central tenet of what makes us Jewish.

This is when Elhaik chimes in. For him, Entine has revealed his own prejudice in his comments: “I would like to thank Jon Entine for disclosing his scientific guidelines for studying Judaism as believe in God (though it is ok not to), patriotism (though living afar is also okay), and the purity of the blood line…Not surprisingly, the last two scientific principles of Entine share a common ground with the Nazi ideology. While this may makes sense to some people and may fit with their belief, for those of us who actually practice science this is mere nonsense.”

The only thing that matters to Elhaik, the only point of his research, he says, is to discover the cure for genetic disorders in Jews and non-Jews. Identifying the correct genetic provenance of Jews will help find cures for diseases. “Today, we still don’t understand genetic diseases nor do we have a cure (for a large number of them),” Elhaik writes. “Non-Jews who have ‘Jews-only diseases’ are misdiagnosed because they are not Jews. There are serious problems requiring serious solution. The only method that works is the scientific method.”

The frustrating aspect of scientific debates (for us, outside observers, that is) is that both sides assume objective fact is on their side, and so they never really engage with each other’s arguments. As Entine has the last word, this tussle in the comments section is no different. They both seem to be talking past each other:

Elhaik is young enough and immature enough to be a young son of mine. All his rants aside, Judaism is a modernized version of a tribal religion, a fact thatshows up in the genes of Jews, across a range of disease and other traits. Elhaik, in either his overheated “academic” article or his posts just does not come across as a serious intellect. I have not found a mainstream geneticist who thinks much of his analytical ability let alone his care in assembling and analyzing genetic data. Sorry…just stating the facts.


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Jewish Lessons of Murder in Greenwich Village

By Jay Michaelson

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Police investigate crime scene after murder of Mark Carson in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Mark Carson was a 32-year-old gay man in New York City, who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The place is one familiar to many New Yorkers: the busy corner of 6th Avenue and 8th Street, in Greenwich Village. Just two blocks from the famous Stonewall Inn, Carson talked back to the wrong homophobe, and was shot dead last Friday night.

The expressions of outrage that followed have been both appropriate and predictable. Less predictable, at least from a Jewish point of view, have been the expressions of surprise: many people, straight and LGBT, took to the blogosophere to say how astonished they were that such violence could still be possible, in this day and age.

Really? Consider what would have happened had Carson been targeted for being Jewish, instead of being gay. Shock, outrage, and condemnation would surely pour in from all quarters. But surprise? Probably not. We Jews are used to persecution, and we see it even when it isn’t there. So when it is, it’s a confirmation of our sense of persecution, not a shock to our sense of imperviousness.

That anti-gay violence continues should not be a surprise. The advent of civil rights for African Americans did not end racial violence, still widespread nearly fifty years after the Civil Rights Act. Feminism has not ended violence against women. Indeed, from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, to echo President Obama’s historic turn of phrase, legal inequality is only the tip of the iceberg. Submerged beneath it are deep-seated patterns of injustice, privilege, prejudice, and fear.

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Israel's Doing Poor-ly

By Nathan Jeffay

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Israel has the highest poverty rate in the developed world. Some 21% of Israelis were poor as of 2010, more than in any of the other 33 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, its new report reveals.

Compare this figure with where Israel stood in 2000 and the picture is stark — back then the poverty figure was 15%.

The question is, where does Israel go from here/ Israel’s cabinet has just passed an austerity budget that curs spending across government ministries, and will eat away at some important welfare payments.

Israel was delighted back in 2011 when it was admitted to the OECD. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that it was a “seal of approval” for Israel’s economy. But what of the critique that the kudos came with?

“Countries get the poverty rate they are prepared to pay for,” Angel Gurría, OECD secretary-general, said at a roundtable with Israel’s then-finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, just over two years ago. “If Israel is to cut poverty and reduce inequality, it will have to not only shift the composition of social spending, toward more cost-effective benefits, but also increase its investment in this area.”

Have poverty figures dropped since Israel joined the OECD? The new figures don’t tell us, but given that changes in policy to decrease inequality have been minimal, it looks unlikely. And with the austerity budget about to pass, gaps looks set to widen.

One of the new budget’s clauses is a cut in child allowances — payments that the Knesset Research and Information Center has just reported represent a staggering 28% of the income of Israel’s poorest decile.

Three years in to Israel’s membership of the OECD one can’t help but feel that it has taken the prestige of OECD membership and run with it, the country hasn’t done so much listening and learning.


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Brief History of Stephen Hawking's Hypocrisy

By Eli Valley

British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking waded into the Israel debate last week by announcing his decision to boycott an academic conference. Eli Valley, the Forward’s artist in residence, offers his own unique graphic take on the controversy.

Got wheels, Mr. Hawking?

Click to enlarge.


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Taxed to Death in Israel

By Nathan Jeffay

haaretz

Israelis are about to be taxed to death — literally.

Israelis are furious at the austerity budget, and thousands took to the streets last night to demonstrate.

You may have read about the planned spending cuts or the planned tax increases, but you probably haven’t heard about the cemeteries plan.

The government wants to impose property taxes on graves. According to the plan, grave owners will be liable for the tax while they are living, which if they bought young and go on to live a long life would end up costing far more than the value of the plot itself.

Once people are interred their families will be expected to pick up the cost. It is unclear how long the liability will continue, and whether it will be applies on existing graves.

Property taxes in Israel are paid to the local municipality, and help to meet the cost of a range of services that — at least according to information currently available to us — are enjoyed exclusively by the living, such as parks, cultural services, refuse collection etc.

The new plan raises an intriguing possibility. Over the years many Diaspora Jews have chosen to be buried in Israel for what they perceive as its spiritual value. Could we start to see some casket traffic in the other direction — Israelis going to be buried in the Diaspora to avoid an eternal tax burden?


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Six Words for the (Bad) Jewish Mother

By Naomi Zeveloff

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Mommy Dearest: Some readers’ mothers left a strong impression.

For Mother’s Day, the Forward challenged you, our readers, to write six-word memoirs encapsulating your mothers — and then we picked 12 winners who penned sweet and silly salutes.

In the process of sifting through your six-word submissions, we learned something important: mommy issues abound in the Jewish world. While most of the memoirs were warm and loving, some were downright disdainful.

Read the Forward’s full coverage of Mother’s Day, from stories to blog posts.

Below, we’ve published the best (or perhaps worst) angst-ridden submissions. We’ve kept the entrants anonymous this time in hopes that they will be able to patch things up with mom later on. Till then, here’s what we discovered:

Some of you think your mother isn’t the brightest crayon in the box:

Yes Mom, I do smoke “marinara.”

Stop texting reminders to call you.

Some of your mothers lay on the guilt and criticism:

Sacrificed her own happiness for ours.

Pressure? Criticism? Guilt? Russian-Jewish mother’s expertise.

Guilt is her paintbrush. Masterpiece. Me.

She expected me to be perfect.

You’re 25! Where are my grandchildren?

That’s not very becoming young lady.

Some of you feel mistreated by your moms:

“My whole family is dead.” Hello??

My mother was an insane monster.

“I’m bored.” “Go play in traffic.”

Mom raged, for she wasn’t adored.

Some of you find your moms supremely irritating:

Mom, why are you so obnoxious?

Listen. Mom is always right. Always.

Mom says, “What’s wrong?” for hello.

Some of you have contentious relationships with your mothers-in-law:

Righteously earned her Gold Meddle Award.

Evidently, I’m not bad for shiksa.

But no matter how you feel about your mother, all of you can probably relate to this one:

It’s complicated, yet I love her.


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Kotel Ball Is in Tzipi Livni's Court

By Nathan Jeffay

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Tzipi Livni

Could Tzipi Livni be sweetening feminists before dropping a bombshell?

As discussed earlier on Forward Thinking, Justice Minister Livni has just announced that she is working on legislation to criminalize the exclusion of women from the public sphere. The timing is interesting — just as she could find herself in a very awkward position on women’s issues.

Women of the Wall, the interdenominational feminist group that prays once a month at the Western Wall, is waiting to see what will become of its newfound rights.

For the first time ever, women tried to hold public prayers at the Western Wall with he blessing of the state today. It was be the group’s first prayer meeting since a landmark court ruling that will put an end to the police’s habit of detaining its members.

Women planned to gather at the Wall, some of them wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries, with guarantees from police that they will respect the protection that the court afforded them.

Instead of the police, women found themselves facing off against thousands of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators. Police had to protect them from the Haredi mob.

Now, non-Orthodox religious leaders are demanding an investigation into the violence.

Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has just dealt the political establishment a trump card to clamp down on the women. This week he waived his right to challenge the permissive court ruling they received as he believes it accords with the current law, but in his decision he left the door wide open for the Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett to redefine the law and put a stop to their newly-won right to public prayer at the Wall.

If Bennett decides to alter the law, he will head straight to Livni’s office for her signature to do so. The pressure will be high on Livni, the junior party of the coalition, from strongman Bennett. Perhaps she’s making a big gesture to women in her announcement today so that, if and when the time comes to reel in rights at the Kotel, she can say that she’s only lost a battle but won the war.

Either way, the ball is in Tzipi’s court.


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Jack Lew's New and Improved John Hancock

By Nathan Guttman

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When President Obama nominated Jack Lew to be his next treasury secretary, he could not avoid teasing Lew for his only known fault – his illegible signature. “Jack assures me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency should he be confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury,” Obama joked back in January.

And Lew took notice.

After two and half months in office, Jack Lew unveiled his new signature, doing away with the loopy squiggly John Hancock that had become his trade mark, in favor of a way more conventional “Jacob Lew” signature, with a pronounced J and L and a winding W at the end.

Jack Lew’s new and improved signature

Lew is the most senior Jewish member on Obama’s team and the only Orthodox Jew to hold a top cabinet position. When first nominated, handwriting experts said his eccentric signature, made up of a series of loops, indicated a personality that can “adapt quickly” and Lew proved to be just that, with his complete signature makeover.

Old signature

Attention to Lew’s signature was not only an item of curiosity and a rare glance into the head of the otherwise perfectly molded civil servant. As Treasury Secretary, Lew’s signature will be on every new currency bill printed in the United States. And so the threat of having dollar bills carry an strange looking string of circular loops has been lifted, depriving Americans from an opportunity to see a more whimsical signature adorn bills in their wallets.

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Thanks, Haredim!

By Nathan Jeffay

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Are the days numbered for second-class citizenship for women in Israel?

Following two announcements in two days, it seems the exclusion of women from Israel’s public sphere may finally be nearing an end. The Attorney General Wednesday recommended criminalizing behavior that stops women from receiving “public services with equal conditions.” And today, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said that she is starting work on the legislation.

Israeli politicians should write Haredim who demand segregated buses a letter of thanks. They have provided them with the ultimate fits-every-occasion always-grabs-a-headline cause for whenever they need a bit of love from liberals or for when news is quiet. Women’s exclusion was never a popular story until it became about the ever catchy “back of the bus” and there is a seemingly endless supply of political points for anyone who condemns them.

But in the past we have seen the issue of gender exclusion disappear from the headlines as suddenly as they appeared. At the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 gender segregation and women’s exclusion topped Israel’s national agenda. “They will be huge issues in the next general election,” went the common prediction. Yet soon after the international community finished its New Year vacation and news picked up again, it became yesterday’s story.

Now, once again, the “back of the bus” story has been wheeled out. The changes being promised are important and welcome. The subject is better for the government than having people talking about Syria or Prisoner X.

But will it survive the next big new story or will it just fade away? Only time will tell.


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Quiz: Warren Buffett and BBQ Joint's Jewish Plan

By Lenore Skenazy

Welcome, readers! This week’s news quiz takes us from ultra-Orthodox England to Corky’s Ribs & BBQ in Memphis, Tenn. with a stop by Warren Buffett’s brain and heart to see what he believes in! And was that Kentucky Senator Rand Paul we just glimpsed? Did he really…?


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If Jews Are a Race — Which One?

By Anne Cohen

rita rubin

It’s no surprise that Johns Hopkins geneticist Eran Elhaik stirred a hornet’s nest of controversy with his claim to have debunked the scientific theory that Jews are mostly members of a single race, with origins in the land that is now Israel.

But as Rita Rubin, the science writer who penned the Forward’s piece on the dispute, points out, Elhaik isn’t really saying Jews aren’t a distinct race — he’s questioning which race. And that makes all the difference.

“I think what’s at stake is how we Jews view ourselves,” Rubin told the Forward’s Paul Berger during the paper’s weekly podcast. “The conventional wisdom is that we are a people descended from the indigenous Jews of Judea and Samaria …. This new study says that’s all wrong even though it’s been backed up by well-respected scientists in well-respected journals.”

Elhaik’s study flies in the face of 15 years of studies by notable scientists and geneticists who found that Jews — and Ashkenazi Jews in particular — bear more genetic similarities to fellow Jews than their non-Jewish neighbors.

The theory, most strongly promulgated by Yeshiva University geneticist Harry Ostrer, asserts that Jews are mostly descended from a group of people who lived in what is now Israel during Biblical times. That theory, of course, is a critical emotional and political cornerstone of the Jewish claim to Israel.

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Keeping the Faith in Gun Control Fight

By Nathan Guttman

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Joe Biden

In an effort to push forward stalled gun control legislation, Vice President Joe Biden met on Monday at the White House with faith leaders, including three representatives of the Jewish community.

In the meeting, which lasted two and a half hours, Biden discussed at length the current status of the background check legislation which failed its first test in Senate last month. Biden encouraged the group of 22 clergy members to continue their work in all states to make lawmakers know of their support for the legislation. He noted it is still not clear when would be the right time to bring the bill back to a vote on the Senate floor and made clear he believes it would happen only after debate over immigration reform is completed.

The event, organized by the White House office of faith-based initiatives, included Christian, Jewish, Sikh and Muslim religious leaders. The Jewish community was represented by Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, Jared Feldman who heads the Washington office of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.

“It was an unusual meeting in it duration, intensity and thoughtfulness,” Schonfeld said after the meeting. In the meeting, Rabbi Schonfeld used a Hebrew phrase, roughly translated to “we will cross the bridge when we reach it” to address claims by those who voted against background checks that it will lead to further limitations on gun ownership if passed. “Our country is so divided in anticipatory anxiety,” she said, suggesting that all can agree on background checks and later deal with other aspects of gun control.

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Taking Pulse of the Shtetl-Sphere

By Jane Eisner

In the legendary days of the Yiddish Forward, Ab. Cahan, the founding editor, could leave his office at 175 East Broadway and roam the streets, synagogues, restaurants, schools yards and tenements of the Lower East Side to listen to his readers. And he did, often. It helped him keep a finger on the pulse of his community and enabled the newspaper to directly connect with and reflect the ongoing concerns of his readers’ daily lives.

Now my office is on the eighth floor of a building in Lower Manhattan, largely removed from most of our far-flung readers. But I am able to tap into a virtual Lower East Side in cyberspace — a shtetlsphere, if you will — where engagement with readers can produce an ongoing conversation and some terrific journalism.

That’s what we’ve been doing this year. I hope you’ve noticed.

We began by asking you to nominate your most inspiring rabbi, and the result was a mesmerizing set of profiles of spiritual leadership across the nation. Then we asked for “Six Words on the Jewish Mother” and the result is published in this week’s paper — 18 charming, concise, hilarious odes just in time for Mother’s Day. A similar project for Father’s Day, also in conjunction with Smith Magazine’s Six-Word Memoir®, will commence soon, with a May 29 deadline for submissions.

Tell us your experiences with circumcision

But before then, we invite you to take part in a different kind of conversation on the brit milah, the circumcision ritual that has been a staple of Jewish life for millennia and is now under assault, from within and beyond our community. It’s a ceremony that inspires emotions ranging from rejoicing to repugnance — with dissonant combinations of everything in between. We would like you, our readers, to share your experiences as parents of a Jewish newborn facing this ancient, primal rite, or as an adult who chose to enter the convenant. Were you conflicted or inspired? Was it a moment of discovery or of disgust? Or did you, perhaps, walk away from it? What were the consequences?

As you can see, our efforts to engage readers span from the celebratory to the serious, as befits a publication that seeks to capture the many facets and challenges of American Jewish life today. Join us.


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Google Switches to 'Palestine'

By Susan Armitage

At least on Google, it’s Palestine.
Google

The company made waves this week when it changed the geographic tagline for the Palestinian version of its search engine, Google.ps, to read “Palestine” instead of “Palestinian Territories,” Foreign Policy reported.

“We’re changing the name ‘Palestinian Territories’ to ‘Palestine’ across our products,” Google spokesman Nathan Tyler said in a statement to the BBC. “We consult a number of sources and authorities when naming countries.”

“In this case, we are following the lead of the UN, Icann [the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers], ISO [International Organisation for Standardisation] and other international organisations.”

In November, the U.N. General Assembly voted to recognize the Palestinian Authority as a non-member state.

Dr. Sabri Saidam, an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told the BBC that the Palestinian Authority had asked Google and other international companies to use the term “Palestine” instead of “Palestinian Territories” after the U.N. vote.

“Most of the traffic that happens now happens in the virtual world and this means putting Palestine on the virtual map as well as on the geographic maps,” he said.

It comes as no surprise that Israeli officials weren’t pleased.

“Google is not a political or diplomatic entity, so they can call anything by any name, it has no diplomatic or political significance,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Times of Israel.

On Twitter, some saw the name change as a significant step:

Others thought the company could have gone further:

And some users who disagree with the tech giant’s decision won’t be Googling anymore:

What do you think about Google’s decision?


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Warren Buffett's $2B Bet on Israel

By Nathan Guttman

getty images
Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett, the famed investment Oracle of Omaha, is in love with the Israeli economy, or at least with one company.

On Wednesday, shortly after announcing his purchase of Israeli cutting tool maker Iscar for $2 billion, a move that would complete his takeover of the company, Buffett sat down with Israeli reporters at the modest corporate headquarters of Berkshire Hathaway investment company in Omaha, Nebraska.

“It’s 2 billion votes of confidence in Iscar and in the Israeli economy, you can’t separate the two,” he told Israeli TV’s Channel 1, “when we put $2 billion into Iscar, we’re putting $2 billion into Israel.”

Buffet made his first investment in Israel exactly seven years ago, buying 80% of the company’s shares for $4 billion. Seven years later, Iscar’s value has doubled in the remaining 20% ownership were sold for $2 billion, reflecting an estimated company value of $10 billion.

In back-to-back interviews with Israeli reporters, days before he holds the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting followed closely by investors across the world, Buffett showered praise over his Israeli partners. Asked what he found most impressive in doing business in Israel, he said: “If I could take our managers from Israel and clone them I would feel very, very good,” he said. “They have brains, they have energy, they’re never satisfied with where they are today, they always think things can get done better and they don’t get discouraged when the world economy slows down, they just try harder.”

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Hungary, Where Europe's Ugly Faultlines Meet

By Liam Hoare

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No Hatred: Hungarians mount demonstration against rising anti-Semitism.

As the World Jewish Congress prepares to convene in Budapest, Paul Berger covers the increasingly hostile conditions under which Hungarian Jews — one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe with an estimated population of around 85,000 recorded in 2012 — are forced to reside.

Primarily, the problem in Hungary is a political problem. With an unemployment rate of over 11 percent and low economic growth, the electoral success of the fascistic Jobbik movement, and an annual rise in recorded hate crimes last year, the European faultlines of economic malaise, political extremism, and the persecution of immigrants and minorities are meeting in Hungary with troubling consequences.

Fidesz, the ruling political party, has since 2010 set about trying to concentrate authority in the parliament in which it has been able to muster a supermajority, taking powers of oversight away from the other organs of government. Recent constitutional amendments passed this year included limiting the power of the country’s Constitutional Court to strike down any laws passed by a two-thirds majority, castrating the court and allowing to rule out on procedural matters. The retirement age for judges was also lowered in an attempt to weed out uncooperative justices.

Other provisions restricted the liberty of the individual to work, travel, and marry. Students whose college education is subsidised by the state are required to work in Hungary for a certain period of time after graduation, while others who elect to move abroad now have to pay back the value of that subsidy. The law now also gives preference to traditional family relationships, in other words those between one man and one woman with children. At the behest of the European Union, a provision allowing only public media to broadcast political advertising before general and European elections was amended.

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News Quiz: Kate Upton Says No, Eli Roth's Injury

By Lenore Skenazy

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Welcome, readers! This week’s news quiz will have you kicking yourself — or at least thinking about Jews who kick, even as you also think about the sea, the South, the shekel and… breasts. (If you weren’t already.) Enjoy!


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Is Arab (League) Glass Half Full?

By Nathan Jeffay

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Skeptics point out that all that happened yesterday was that Arab leaders acknowledged what everyone already knows — that if and when Israel makes a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, it won’t return exactly to 1967 borders.

This is true. When the Arab League indicated that it is updating its position from its Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, to accept some degree of land swapping so that Israel won’t have to return to 1967 borders, it was really just a matter of its leaders coming closer to earth and recognizing that the Green Line won’t become a border. The Palestinian Authority and the international community have long realized that Israel will cede land in its sovereign borders in return for holding on to parts of the West Bank.

In fact, when the so-called Palestine Papers were leaked in 2011, they showed that the Palestinian Authority had been prepared to deviate significantly from the 1967 lines, at least in Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, stating the obvious can be important. The road to peace is obstructed by taboos from both the Israeli and Palestinian side, and the breaking of each and every taboo is an important landmark. Only when key players publicly break a taboo can the discourse start to shift, closer to agreement. The fact that the Arab League has shown willingness to revise its “1967 lines” mantra, and inject some flexibility in to the take-it-or-leave-it Peace Initiative could, if capitalized upon, present an opportunity.

There is still a huge gulf that divides Israel and proponents of the Peace Initiative, with massive differences in important areas. But the latest development updates it from an offer frozen in its time to one that could potentially be revived and form the basis of talks.

One of the most interesting questions is how, if this leads somewhere, will Hamas react. Hamas’ ideology is uncompromising, and doesn’t lend itself to the idea of agreements. However, in the scenario that the Arab world, represented by the Arab League, moves forward, there could be significant pressure on Hamas not to stand in its way. Hamas has kept its reaction to the plan in check in the past, resisting the temptation to vote against it at an Arab League summit in 2007 and instead abstaining.

But there’s another less obvious factor that could prove relevant. It was Qatar that met with John Kerry and announced the openness to land swaps. Hamas is increasingly reliant on Qatar for donations and political credibility. In October the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, visited Gaza - giving the regime kudos by going there and promising $385 million, for building projects. This gives Qatar obvious leverage withHamas.

Yesterday’s development is by no meant a fast-track to a peace agreement, but it could simplify a still-difficult route.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: peace, israel, palestinian, arab league, 1967, two-state



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