Forward Thinking

The Deadly Identity Crisis Along Islam's Borders

By J.J. Goldberg

FBI

In the first few days after the Boston bombings, liberal pundits (like David Sirota, Cenk Uygur and Michael Shure) were hoping aloud that the perpetrators would turn out to be “white” rather than Muslim or Middle Eastern, so that the incident wouldn’t further inflame grass-roots anti-Muslim passions. Well, it looks like this was a twofer — perpetrators who turn out to be both Muslim and white, ethnic Chechens from the Caucasus region of South Russia. You can’t get much more Caucasian than that.

There’s much we still don’t know about the Tsarnaev brothers, including whether or not they actually were responsible for the April 15 bombing at the Boston Marathon. Given the volume of evidence visible so far, though, it’s not too soon to start drawing some lessons. In fact, we might as well start right away, because this incident just might force us to reconsider a lot of what we think we know about jihad terrorism and the larger questions of radical “Islamism” and politicized religion in general.

The fact that the brothers are ethnic Chechens is critical. It’s probably important, too, that they spent most of their lives growing up outside the boundaries of Chechnya. It seems pretty clear that the brothers were raised to value their Chechen identity as central to their sense of self. And yet they were strangers to Chechnya. Even before they came to America in 2003, they lived mostly in nearby Dagestan and Kyrgyzstan, both of them Muslim-majority ex-Soviet republics, where the Tsarnaevs were part of an outsider ethnic-Chechen minority. So while the brothers reportedly felt like outsiders in America—claimed they didn’t have American friends, didn’t “understand Americans,” even after living here a full decade—they were also outsiders to Chechnya. They belonged to both, and yet neither.

Now look at the map. Chechnya is a rough Muslim region in the Caucasus Mountains, wedged between Christian Georgia to its south and Christian Russia to its north, with fellow-Muslim regions of Ingushetia to the west and Dagestan to the east. It’s been at war with its Russian overlords on and off for close to two centuries, but the wars of the last two decades, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, have been particularly bloody. The core of the conflict is independence. It had little to do with religion, other than the fact that religion — mostly the moderate Sufi version of Islam — is a big part of what defines Chechen ethnicity. Radical Salafi preachers with a loose connection to Al Qaeda started showing up only in the last decade or so, accompanying foreign Muslim volunteers who came to join the fight.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yoruba, Uighurs, Turkey, Tsarnaev Brothers, Sufi, Sudan, Serbs, Russia, Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, Moro, Mindanao, Mali, Kyrgyzstan, Kurds, Kosovo, Kashmir, Islamism, Islam, Iraq, Ingushetia, Indonesia, India, Ibo, Han Chinese, Egypt, East Timor, Dagestan, Coptic Christians, Chechnya, Caucasus Mountains, Chechens, Burma, Boston Marathon, Bosnia, Assyrian Christians, Armenians, Arabs

Misplaced Focus on Chechen Identity?

By Susan Armitage

When news broke that the alleged Boston marathon bombers were from Chechnya, the Russian republic suddenly became part of the world map for many Americans who hadn’t previously given it much thought.

On Twitter, the instant reactions were so bewildered, they were eventually parodied:

When Buzzfeed compiles a list of 9 Things You Need to Know about Chechnya, you know an area studied mostly by policymakers and regional analysts has hit the big time.

With little known about the motives for the attack, much is being made of the connection to Chechnya. But the fixation on the suspects’ Chechen roots may be misplaced. While Chechen separatists have perpetrated numerous terror attacks in Russia — some taking far more victims than in Boston — it’s not clear why their anger would be directed against the U.S.

“I’m slightly baffled why they decided to attack Americans on American soil,” Aslan Doukaev, a Caucasus expert at Radio Liberty in Prague, told The Washington Post. Doukaev emphasized that the two brothers whom police suspect were behind the attack, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, remained at this stage only suspects. But he added, “Chechens have no grievances against Americans.”

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The Man in Wheelchair ID'd Man With Backpack

By J.J. Goldberg

Bloomberg News reports that the Boston bombing suspect shown in the photographs released by the FBI was first identified by Jeff Bauman, the man in the much-circulated photo being wheeled away from the blast with his lower legs blown off.

Just before 3 p.m. on April 15, Bauman was waiting among the crowd for his girlfriend to cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon. A man wearing a cap, sunglasses and a black jacket over a hooded sweatshirt looked at Jeff, 27, and dropped a bag at his feet, his brother, Chris Bauman, said in an interview.

Two and a half minutes later, the bag exploded, tearing Jeff’s legs apart. A picture of him in a wheelchair, bloodied and ashen, was broadcast around the world as he was rushed to Boston Medical Center. He lost both legs below the knee.

“He woke up under so much drugs, asked for a paper and pen and wrote, ‘bag, saw the guy, looked right at me,’” Chris Bauman said yesterday in an interview. …

While still in intensive care, Jeff Bauman gave the FBI a description of the man he saw, his brother said. Bauman’s information helped investigators narrow down whom to look for in hours of video of the attack, he said.


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Warsaw on My Mind

By Annette Zajdenberg

Getty Images
Today: Atop the former Warsaw Ghetto site sites the new Museum of Polish Jews, set to open this month.

In a city built on the scars of its destruction, I’ve come to Warsaw hobbled with old scars of my own.

As the daughter of Polish Jews, I never felt drawn to the country where they died. Until last month, when it became clear that I must make the trip to attend the 70th commemoration of the Ghetto uprising and touch the ground where my father may have toiled and died.

I’ve come with questions that can never be fully answered. Yet, I’m determined to understand why I needed to be here.

Would an architectural jewel, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews erected on the site of Europe’s once flourishing Jewish culture, allow me to make peace with my past? What lessons could be learned from this symbol of Jewish revival in a country where so many were murdered? Could this place have been my father’s grave?

His name was Chaim Zajdenberg and he gave his birthplace as Lublin in southeast Poland. As a young man, he moved to Paris, became a portrait photographer with a glamorous clientele of theater people and signed his pictures Studio Charles. My mother, Ruchla, was born in Warsaw at the turn of the last century. She emigrated in her late twenties and in France was called Rachel. Charles and Rachel met and married and I was born two years later. A curly haired sister was born when I was six, two days before the Nazis entered Paris. No longer the center of attention, I was devastated.

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A Woman Among the Chief Rabbis?

By Nathan Jeffay

Aliza Lavie

As the race to choose the next chief rabbis heats up in Israel, a new lawmaker is proposing appointing a female religious figure to serve alongside them. She says that she will propose legislation to introduce the role.

Aliza Lavie of the centrist Yesh Atid party wrote today that there should be a female in the Chief Rabbinate. Her role would be “to explain to women in particular and to families the way of the Jewish tradition of the generations.”

Lavie is one of the founders of Kolech, the Religious Women’s Forum in Israel, and an active Orthodox feminist. The chances of her proposition coming to fruition is slim, but it will hopefully stimulate discussion on the male-dominated nature of Israel’s religious establishment.


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Will Anthony Weiner Come Back?

By Lenore Skenazy


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Turkey Sees Bright Future for Israel Alliance

By Nathan Jeffay

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister has given an optimistic forecast for the ongoing efforts for reconciliation between his country and Israel.

Bülent Arınç is quoted in today’s Ma’ariv saying that “Turkey welcomes full normalization and returning relations between the two countries to what they were before.” Globes gives an outline of his comments in English.

Arınç went on to say: “I expect the talks to succeed.” He added: “Normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations will improve the chances for peace in the region.”

Arınç’s optimism is refreshing, because the rapprochement process is meant to start in earnest next week and the atmosphere in recent days has seemed far from the optimism felt a few weeks ago when Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu telephoned his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan a few weeks ago to reopen the channel of communication. But what is unclear is how Erdogan’s travel plans fit in with this picture.

Currently, when he visits Palestinians in May Erdogan plans to snub the West Bank, which is governed by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, and go only to Hamas-ruled Gaza. This has infuriated the Palestinian Authority, which feels it is being sidelined, and Israel, which feels that Erdogan is giving legitimacy to a terrorist regime instead of the would-be Palestinian partner for peace.

Israel will also take the view that if Erdogan is serious about making nice, when he’s in the region he really should drop in on the people who he’s in the middle of making nice with, with a brief visit to Jerusalem.

Will Erdogan complete the reconciliation process with Israel while planning a visit to her region that snubs both its leaders and the PA? Expect wrangling over itineraries, not just compensation, at next week’s reconciliation talks.


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Terror at the Boston Marathon

By Abigail Jones

Getty Images
A woman is loaded into an ambulance after being injured by one of two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon.

When you grow up in Boston, there are a few things you take as fact: The Red Sox are religion; driving in the breakdown lane is accepted and the Boston Marathon is one of the most celebrated days on the calendar.

The Boston Marathon is the oldest marathon in the country, dating back to 1897. Each spring, it takes a winding route through Boston’s suburbs, starting in Hopkinton and making its way through Framingham, Wellesley and Newton before spilling out into Boston’s Back Bay.

Growing up, my family and I would walk the five minutes it took to get from our house in Newton to cheer on runners near the famed Heartbreak Hill. It was a packed, messy scene of unmatched excitement and pure joy — marathoners running by in packs; fans cheering on friends, loved ones and total strangers; boom boxes blasting, and families hanging out on fold-up beach chairs, drinking beers and eating Cape Cod potato chips and chilling out. The weather almost always seemed to cooperate, too. My sister and I would sandwich ourselves between nearby fans to hand out Dixie cups filled with water and Gatorade. We looked for the names runners wrote on their shirts and shouted in failed unison: Go Jessica, go! You can do it, Meagan!

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Yesh Atid's Ofer Shelah on War, Grief and Promise

By J.J. Goldberg

It’s been a while since I’ve had the weekly privilege of translating and editing Ofer Shelah. Some years back he was the Forward’s Israeli commentator as well as a military and sports correspondent for Maariv. Now he’s Yesh Atid’s Knesset faction chairman. Today, marking Soldiers’ Memorial Day in Israel, he posted these thoughts on his Facebook page (in my poor translation - the Hebrew original is after the jump). His bottom line: The only true respect for the fallen is to vow that force will never again be used except in genuine self-defense.

It’s worth a read, especially if you’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that Lapid and Yesh Atid are just a warmed over yuppie version of Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu. ! היידה עופר

In the years after the First Lebanon War, Memorial Day was for me a day of private grief and longing. In that war, which remains to this day deeply divisive, my generation – comrades, commanders, soldiers – went first and fell, and their loss was immediately and deeply felt. For one day, it managed to cover over the helpless, bitter anger that that costly, pointless war aroused.

The years passed; the faces of the dead faded. In my annual Memorial Day conversations with my father, who with his generation fought and lost more than we ever did, the anger became stronger than the sadness. We would speak about the fact that this place, where we live and which we fought to defend, as it’s customary to say and as we say to the families of the fallen in a clumsy attempt to offer comfort for our friends who fell, is taking on an appearance that transforms our longing for them to anger over our lives that aren’t worthy of their loss.

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LA Times: Boston Cops 'Question Saudi National'

By J.J. Goldberg

The Los Angeles Times now confirms what the N.Y. Post first reported, that the Boston police are questioning a Saudi national in connection with today’s bombings. The Times attributes its report to federal law enforcement officials.

Earlier, I reported on the initial N.Y. Post story and flippantly dismissed it as a presumably false rumor. A Boston police spokesman had told Talking Points Memo that he didn’t know where the Post got its story, “but it didn’t come from us.” Looks like I might have dismissed it too quickly. The Post reported that the Saudi national had been injured in the blast and was being kept in the hospital under guard. The L.A. Times made no mention of those details.

From earlier: Chemi Shalev notes that the event occurred on a significant day on the Massachusetts calendar: Patriot Day, April 19, the anniversary of the beginning of the American Revolution in the Battles of Lexington and Concord, a a state holiday. It’s also the anniversary of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. I would add that it also happens to be Income Tax Day, symbolizing the dictatorial power of the hated federal government, if you’re of such a mindset.

On the other hand, it’s also the eve of Israeli Independence Day. Granted, that’s according to the Hebrew calendar, and Palestinians generally mark the Nakba on the Gregorian anniversary, May 15. On the other hand, it’s conceivable that as jihadis’ intelligence gets better, they’d want to time an attack to ruin their enemies’ celebrations. But, again, at this point we’re speculating.


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The Forward's Winning Newsroom

By Jane Eisner

It’s awards season again in the journalist world, and I’m honored to report that Forward staffers have received some worthy recognition for their work.

At the annual Ippies Awards ceremony March 28, which highlighted the work of New York City’s ethnic and independent media, the Forward’s Naomi Zeveloff and Nate Lavey won second place for best multimedia package for their enchanting story about Naomi Kutin, the young Orthodox weight-lifter from New Jersey who is the strongest contender in her class in the world. And Kurt Hoffman, our multitalented design director, won second place for best print design.

Meantime, Josh Nathan-Kazis is once again a finalist in the Deadline Club awards, the prizes bestowed annually by the New York chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Josh’s series investigating Jewish cemeteries in New Jersey made the selective cut for all newspapers with a circulation under 100,000. The winners will be announced at a gala dinner on May 16.

I’m also pleased to announce the addition of two names to our opinion page roster of columnists. One is familiar to devoted readers: Jay Michaelson. After years of writing for the arts and culture section, Jay will now train his focus on politics, religion and society on the op-ed page. He is joined by a newcomer to the Forward, Laura Rozen, an accomplished journalist based in Washington, D.C., who has written about foreign policy and the Middle East for Politico, Yahoo and Foreign Affairs and now for Al-Monitor. Cause for celebration.

Video: Nate Lavey



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Shul Axes Pamela Geller, and 2 Others Invite Her

By J.J. Goldberg

Pamela Geller

Her April 14 appearance at Great Neck Synagogue was canceled amid liberal protests, but anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller got the last laugh: The next morning, two other area synagogues invited her to speak the same day as the canceled speech.

“Two courageous and magnificent Rabbis have asked me to speak on Sunday,” Geller wrote last Thursday on her blog, “Atlas Shrugged.” “Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky of the Chabad, Great Neck and Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg of Congregation Beth-El in Edison, New Jersey have both invited me to speak at their synagogues on Sunday – the same day I was scheduled to speak at the Great Neck Synagogue on Long Island until that synagogue caved to a leftist/Islamic supremacist smear and intimidation campaign.” Geller wrote that the invitations both came Thursday morning, hours after Great Neck Synagogue announced the cancellation.

Chabad of Great Neck is five minutes away from Great Neck Synagogue. Geller is scheduled to speak there at 10:00 a.m., the same time set for the canceled gig, on the theme of “The Imposition of Terrorism in the United States.” Her talk in Edison, an hour and a half south, is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. The title there is “The Imposition of Sharia in America.”

The two rabbis adopted noticeably different tones in describing their motives for inviting her. Geisinsky, the Great Neck Chabad rabbi, adopted a neutral stance toward Geller’s views, implicitly positioning himself on the side of free speech rather than Islam-bashing. Geisinsky told TheIslandNow.com that Geller would “stick to discussions of free speech and terrorism,” and the synagogue’s moderator would “be able to stop it” if Geller goes “into any areas that don’t go in our direction.”

Rosenberg, a political conservative who created Rabbis for Romney last fall, took a more militant line. Interviewed on the NJ.com website, he said he didn’t “have to agree with everything she says or stands for,” but he went on to offer implicit endorsement, saying, “When Jews are being attacked throughout the world, someone’s got to speak up.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yonkers, The Jewish Press, Sharia, Rabbi Yosef Geisinsky, Pamela Geller, Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg, Islam, Edison NJ, Great Neck Synagogue, Dov Hikind, Chabad of Great Neck, Congregation Beth-El

What's at Stake After Hugo Chavez

By Michael Kaminer

getty images
Uphill Fight: Venezuelans are voting for a new president amid a surge of emotion around the death of Hugo Chavez.

On Sunday, April 14, Venezuelans will vote to replace their late president, Hugo Chavez. And while Chavez may have succumbed to cancer last month, his shadow looms large from the grave.

The campaign of Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor, continues riding the intense emotions around the longtime strongman’s death. That has made the campaign an uphill battle for Henrique Capriles Radonski, the opposition leader whose Jewish background has been fodder for ever-escalating levels of anti-Semitic rhetoric.

In previous elections, the tireless Capriles led Venezuela’s opposition to some of its best poll results. Though he’s shrunk Maduro’s lead to 10 points, according to Reuters, many observers believe Chavez’ legacy may prove the election’s deciding factor.

For Venezuela’s Jews, any hope of change means a positive sign. As the Forward reported last month, the late president derided Capriles, whose grandparents were Polish Holocaust survivors, as “imperialist,” a “capitalist,” a “little bourgeois,” and “Zionist.” And a campaign-related article in state media – headlined “The Enemy Is Zionism” – said Capriles “represents Israeli ideology covertly,” according to CNN.

For an inside perspective on what the election could hold for the country as a whole and the Jewish community in particular, the Forward spoke with David Bittan, Caracas-based president of the Venezuelan Confederation of Israelite Associations.

During the Chavez regime, Bittan provided a fearless voice against anti-Semitism. On the night of the death of ‘El Commandante,’ Bittan went on national television to express condolences.

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Shul Cancels Pamela Geller — But Fails To Take Stand

By Nechama Liss-Levinson

Pamela Geller

It was after 11 p.m. yesterday that I first heard the news that my synagogue, the Great Neck Synagogue, had announced the cancellation of a speaking engagement by Pamela Geller, founder of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), described as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. I breathed a great sigh of relief. I quickly stopped writing the piece I was working on about how my heart was broken by the intransigence of the synagogue and its leadership in confronting a moral challenge.

Despite the cancellation, I am still filled with pain. When the synagogue announced its decision to cancel Geller’s talk, originally set for April 14, it cited “security concerns,” particularly for member families and their children. This indeed may be the reason that the executive board of the synagogue cancelled the event.
In my heart, I hope it was not the only reason. I hope the leadership was (at least unconsciously) influenced by the virtual flood of phone calls, emails, and private conversations in which Great Neck Synagogue members, as well as others, made the point that even though Geller has the right to speak, the synagogue does not have an obligation to offer her its pulpit.

I wish my synagogue had spoken of the moral question. I wish the leaders had stood up and said, “We didn’t initially realize what Geller represents. Now that we do know, we will stand proudly against hate speech.” I wish that they had noticed that Geller’s concerns about radical Islam often morph into a vilification of all Muslims and the Islamic faith. Her language encourages denigration and dehumanization, rather than constructive discussion and cooperation.

What is even more distressing to me is the reaction that the cancellation has engendered. The commentary on the blogosphere, including a statement posted on Geller’s website, now denigrates the synagogue and its leaders. The vitriol and hatred in these postings are frightening. Both sides in this conflict feel that they are right, that they own the moral high ground, and that an evil is being perpetrated. But a quick survey of these postings will find that the supporters of Geller have totally lost the capacity for civil discourse.

I had planned to use two quotes from Elie Wiesel in my original post about the Geller invitation. His most famous one is: “Indifference to evil is evil.” And then, just days ago, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a young friend posted this, also from Wiesel: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides.”

I feel that these quotes give me added strength to do what I think is right. And then I read scores of quotes online from supporters of Geller,also using the example of the Holocaust as a reason that she should be permitted to speak. Most used the phrase, “Never again.” Who knew that even the Holocaust can be used to justify such disparate viewpoints?

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Orthodox Push Back on Kotel

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images

The rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz isn’t opposed to the plan for an egalitarian prayer section there, he announced in a statement emailed to reporters yesterday. But it’s already clear that he doesn’t speak for the Haredi mainstream.

Rabinowitz is Haredi, but softer on religious issues than most Haredi leaders. This is partly because he’s a state employee and realizes that there are limits to his autonomy, and partly because his family background is more moderate than many — for example he served in the army.

“The Kotel isn’t ours to give away,” rages the editorial of the Jerusalem-based Hasidic-establishment newspaper Hamodia today, using the Hebrew name for the Western Wall. “The place of the Temple was chosen by God and the Shechinah [divine presence] has never departed from the Kotel.”

Hamodia went on to argue that the Women of the Wall fight is a proxy battle by American Reform which is trying to compensate for its failure to make inroads in to the Israeli religious scene. “The Reform Movement in the United States is using the Women of the Wall to bully the government in to giving it recognition that the people have withheld,” it claimed.

Hamodia argues that while much of the world sees the fight of Women of the Wall as a human rights issue “nothing could be further from the truth.” It insists that Women of the Wall are actually infringing the rights of other female worshippers at the Wall with their controversial monthly prayer meetings there, such as today’s gathering which resulted in two female worshippers being detained by police..

“Indeed, if anyone’s rights are being trampled, it is those of the regulars at the Kotel, the women who come — every day not just Rosh Chodesh [the start of the month] — to daven [pray], not to create provocation. These women are denied a place of quiet, holiness and dignity, where they have been coming for decades to pour out their hearts, by a group of lawbreakers that seeks to advance a political agenda.”

Hamodia portrays the Reform movement as hypocritical, writing: “How ironic that the same Reform movement that hails Israel’s Supreme Court when it rules that the Tal Law on drafting yeshivah students is unconstitutional, or that Haredi schools must teach the core curriculum, has no trouble ignoring what it when it bars the Women of the Wall from holding services at the Kotel.”


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Today's Climate Shocker: Plains Blizzard (Sandy 2?)

By J.J. Goldberg

Still think the climate isn’t changing? Here’s one for the record books: an unusually fierce spring storm system on Tuesday brings record breaking blizzards to South Dakota, Nebraska, ice storms as far south as Oklahoma. Winter storm warnings stretched from Utah to Minnesota on Tuesday, said the Washington Post weather blog. NBC News reported temperature in Denver dropping 55 degrees in 24 hours. And:

On Tuesday, temperature differences across the Plains were more than 90 degrees. Highs ranged from 12 degrees in Cheyenne, Wyo., to 108 degrees in Laredo, Texas.

The culprit, AccuWeather.com explains, is an unusual blast of freezing Arctic air moving south, colliding with a low-pressure system moving eastward off the Rockies and a warm, moist air mass moving north from Texas. And this, dear readers, is almost exactly what caused Hurricane Sandy last fall to become the East Coast catastrophe it became.

The critical piece is that freezing Arctic air mass showing up where it doesn’t belong. You won’t be surprised to hear me suggest that it’s another nasty consequence of global warming. Here’s how it works:

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Mayor Anthony Weiner? It Could Happen.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

getty images
Anthony Weiner

A ho-hum New York City mayoral race just got a whole lot more interesting.

Sext scandal-ridden former congressman Anthony Weiner announced, a few paragraphs into a laudatory New York Times Magazine profile, that he’s considering joining the crowded Democratic field.

That could shake up allegiances among New York City’s political clans, including some city Jews. And analysts warned against betting against Weiner, given his potent resume and proven vote-winning prowess.

“Before his difficulties, before his personal troubles, he was going to be mayor,” said Michael Tobman, a New York City-based political consultant, alluding to the pervading sense prior to Weiner’s 2011 scandal that he was the frontrunner in the mayoral race.

Weiner ceded that leading spot in the Democratic field to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. In a race without any Jewish candidates, Quinn and the progressive Public Advocate Bill De Blasio have been contending for the city’s non-Orthodox Jewish votes.

Quinn’s strength is in Manhattan, where her City Council district is located. De Blasio, who previously represented parts of Brooklyn in the City Council, has built support in Brooklyn and Queens.

“Weiner makes trouble for Public Advocate De Blasio and Speaker Quinn,” said Hank Sheinkopf, another New York City political consultant. “He’s got the right name and a history in the outer boroughs, in places where the bulk of the Jews live.”

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Kerry's New Road Map for a Mideast Peace Deal

By J.J. Goldberg

From Tuesday’s Yediot Ahronot, as translated in the emailed Daily News Update of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace comes a fairly detailed description by Alex Fishman of John Kerry’s game plan for restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Fishman is Yediot’s veteran, impeccably well-sourced military affairs correspondent. He attributes this information to State Department sources. It doesn’t appear on line (neither in Hebrew nor English) so I’m posting the Abraham Center’s translation below in full.

In brief, Fishman reports that Kerry is aiming for a 4-way meeting in Amman between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the United States and Jordan. (Kerry is very eager to have Jordan step in as a sponsor of peace talks, both to give Abbas some substantive Arab backing and to give King Abdullah II a boost.) You’ll note at once that Abbas is already refusing to attend without a clear gesture from Israel. In the past he’s demanded a full Israeli settlement freeze. Lately he’s begun demanding a map showing Bibi Netanyahu’s notion of a future Palestinian state. As I’ve reported in the past, Abu Mazen has been refusing to talk to Bibi (after willingly talking to Ehud Olmert before him) because his sense is that Bibi has no intention of ever ceding enough land for a real state. The idea of the map is to show that the talks will go somewhere, so Abu Mazen doesn’t enter a dead end and end up looking like a fool.

So if you stop reading after paragraph 2, you get the sense that Kerry’s plan is dead in the water. But Fishman goes on to report that Kerry thinks he can eventually get Bibi to give up some lesser concessions that will satisfy Abu Mazen and get the talks started. The two sides’ notions of final borders are impossibly far apart at this point, but Kerry is aiming for an interim agreement on Israel ceding 80% of the West Bank as a first stage. It’s a long shot, but who knows? So were the 1969 Mets…

The Kerry Plan

By Alex Fishman, Yediot Ahronot, April 9, 2013

The new American secretary of state, John Kerry, is trying to get Israel and the Palestinians to sit down to a four-way meeting in Jordan. The answer he’s received from Abu Mazen, at least for the time being, has been flat out refusal.

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'Dormant' Arab Peace Plan Gets Annual Tune-up

By J.J. Goldberg

getty images
John Kerry

American and Israeli press outlets (Washington Post/AP, Detroit Free Press, Times of Israel, Arutz Sheva/Israel National News) are carrying unsourced reports that Secretary of State Kerry, currently visiting Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, is hoping to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on the basis of the “dormant” Arab Peace Initiative, which is “suddenly” springing back to life.

That would be the Saudi-initiated plan adopted unanimously by the League of Arab States in 2002, and reaffirmed in 2007. It offered Israel full recognition, normalized diplomatic relations and a formal end to the Arab-Israeli conflict in return for a return to the pre-1967 borders and an “just” and “agreed” resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. Kerry reportedly wants to dust off the supposedly long-forgotten plan and introduce certain “sweeteners,” such as better security guarantees and border modifications, to make it more palatable to Israel, which has never formally responded to the offer.

The funny thing is, from the Arab point of view the plan isn’t dormant at all. It turns out the Arab League considers it very much alive and actually has a standing Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee that’s been meeting regularly (2010, 2011, 2012 to discuss the plan and figure out how to get it moving. The committee is meeting today in Doha, Qatar, with the Palestinian Authority’s president Mahmoud Abbas, foreign minister Riyad Malki and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in attendance, to finalize plans for a delegation of foreign ministers that will go to Washington on April 29 to meet with Kerry.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Saudi Plan, Secretary of State John Kerry, Saeb Erekat, Riyad Malki, Qatar, Pre-1967 Borders, Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee, Palestinian Refugee Problem, Naftali Bennett, Mahmoud Abbas, Jewish Home Party, Doha, Arab Peace Iniative, Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, Arab League

Margaret Thatcher: The Feminist Challenge

By Jane Eisner

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Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher in 1975.

Margaret Thatcher was a challenge to most feminists, myself included. She was well into her second term as Britain’s first woman prime minister when I moved to London as a foreign correspondent. Beneath the polished veneer that so tantalized Americans at that time, Britain was in utter turmoil — bludgeoned by terrorist violence, divided by the brutal miner’s strike and economic upheaval, and uncertain about its role in a changing Europe.

Anyone trying to steer this battered ship of state would court controversy, but Thatcher didn’t just court it. She grabbed it by the lapels, yelled in its face and dared it to respond.

She wasn’t at all what one would expect of a woman leader, then or now. Was that right? Was that fair?

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Margaret Thatcher, Iron Lady, Feminist



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