A delegation of American senators met earlier this month in Cairo with a spokesperson for Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, according to the New York Times. The spokesperson clarified press accounts of Mr. Morsi’s recent description of Jews as “bloodsuckers,” “pigs” and “dogs.” The remarks, he explained, were “taken out of context.” The senators left the meeting “feeling as if Mr Morsi had addressed the issue,” according to the report.
In order to place the Egyptian spokesperson’s remarks in context, a ramble across past and present might be in order so as to uncover other examples of remarks being similarly “taken out of context.”
• Meeting on the beach outside besieged Troy with Greek bards, a spokesperson for mythical hero Achilles discussed a recent exchange he had with King Agamemnon over a war prize. Forced by Agamemnon to turn over the booty, god-like Achilles informed his commander that he was “a dog-faced, staggering drunk who was the most shameless, cowardly and grasping man alive.” He quit the army and retired to his tent.
When a bard asked for a clarification of the swift-footed warrior’s remarks, the spokesperson grabbed a spear and ran him through as rosy-fingered dawn appeared over the wine dark sea. The other bards felt as if Achilles had addressed the issue. (The prize, Chryseis, whose father was employed by Apollo as his priest, had no say in the matter.)
• Meeting with a single English reporter on the god-forsaken volcanic rock called Saint Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte, the recently retired Emperor of the French, was asked to clarify a remark he made about his former minister Charles Talleyrand, describing him as a “serving of s— in a silk stocking.”
What is Yair Lapid’s next move?
The man who shocked Israel with a stunning showing in the elections could try to establish a “blocking coalition” by uniting parties that want to stop Benjamin Netanyahu from forming the next government. Labor would definitely be game for that, as would Meretz, Hadash, the Arab parties and probably the Tzipi Livni party. But according to the exit polls, there would not be quite enough mandates to make this possible.
If he could convince the Haredi Shas party he could make it work, and such a move may appeal to Shas’ recently returned dovish leader Arye Deri. However, given that Yesh Atid is all guns blazing to draft Haredim to the army and Shas is dead against the draft, it’s difficult to imagine Shas cooperating with Lapid.
Lapid’s other hope is that exit polls may have underestimated Livni’s showing and Labors. If this is the case he could pull off the blocking coalition.
But even without a blocking coalition, Lapid’s victory is big news. If the figures are right Netanyahu could form a coalition It means that Netanyahu could leave the Haredi parties out in the cold and push through the Haredi draft. If he did this Lapid, who after all went in to politics to become a minister, could negotiate handsome portfolios for his party — I predict he will become Education Minister. The other coalition partners would be the Tzipi Livni Party and Jewish Home.
The difficulty with this option is that both Yesh Atid and the Tzipi Livni Party say they wouldn’t enter a government that won’t negotiate for a peace deal, while Jewish Home is totally opposed to a two-state solution. This raises the possibility that Netanyahu could substitute Jewish Home for Shas and resolve to advance negotiations. It’s hard to imagine given that much of his party is against a Palestinian state, but it’s a possibility nevertheless.
Exit polls are just out in Israel, and the results are, simply put, astonishing. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s list — an alliance between his Likud party and the further-right Yisrael Beytenu — was placed with 31 of the Knesset’s 120 seats according to all three polls that were conducted. The Yesh Atid party headed by political novice Yair Lapid, a popular journalist, surprised pollsters and is placing at 18 to 19 seats.
On the surface, this doesn’t seem amazing, but take a closer look. Netanyahu’s own Likud party will control just 20 seats if you discount Yisrael Beytenu’s seats. This is a very real calculation, as Yisrael Beytenu’s lawmakers will be loyal to their party leader Avigdor Liberman, and not necessarily to Netanyahu.
Labor looks set to come in close behind Yesh Atid with 17 seats. So what is the bottom line? Netanyahu probably will still get to form the coalition, but as a far weaker leader than he would have hoped. And he will do so with either a very strong opposition led by Lapid, or a powerful Lapid inside his coalition, trying to keep him central.
The Israel Land Administration is a notorious government bureaucracy, whose precise functions are a mystery to most Israelis. And yet, one day before polling opens here in Israel, the whole country is talking about it.
The reason is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced yesterday that the popular minister Moshe Kahlon, who aid ahead of the campaign that he was leaving politics, will become director of this body which controls the release of land for building.
Kahlon is loved because he’s a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy in a Likud party which is increasingly seen as serving Israel’s tycoons. In a country where ethnicity matters in politics he’s Sephardi in an Ashkenazi-dominated faction. Last but not least, in these important hours in which the parties try to catch floating voters (more than 10% of voters are still undecided) Kahlon has the ability to attract socially-concerned voters who may otherwise go for the centrist parties.
And so, while Netanyahu can’t undo the fact that Kahlon isn’t standing for Knesset, he’s done the next-best thing — appointed him to a high-profile unelected post. His big achievement as Communications Minister in the last Knesset was to reduce cellphone prices, and Netanyahu is indicating that he’ll have the same kind of impact on house prices.
But house prices are far more complex than cellphone packages, and one wonders why, if bringing house prices down is really so simple as appointing the right man to the job, why Netanyahu didn’t do exactly that 18 months ago when the social protestors took to the streets objecting to high living costs? If the answer is that this has more to do with the poll than with real concern about housing prices, one wonders how ethical making civil service appointments is as a form of electioneering. What happened to good old fashioned baby-kissing?
President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 was full of Jewish side events. There was a fancy ball at a downtown hotel co-sponsored by major Jewish groups and attended by Jewish politicos, activists and even Dr. Ruth Westhehimer, plus a string of private events hosted by Jewish Democratic donors and supporters.
WATCH President Obama’s inauguration LIVE:
This time around, the entire inauguration has been downsized as the president looks to send a message that he is taking into account the tough economic climate. And after all it’s his second term.
The Jewish community is also taking a low key approach. But here’s a few things to watch out for. And if you find a way into the inaugural lunch, Sen. Chuck Schumer is making apple pie for dessert.
Two Jewish groups, Repair the World and the D.C. Jewish Community Center, participated in the Day of Service volunteer fair on the National Mall on Saturday. The event aims highlighted volunteering opportunities, all part of the inauguration’s theme of community service.
The two groups shared the stage with 90 other organizations offering ways to help those in need.
“We hope to reach a part of the population we don’t usually reach,” said Erica Steen, director of community engagement at the DCJCC, which organizes throughout the years volunteers food drives for the homeless, house repairs for low income families and work with local schools.
This week, the Forward’s web site was overwhelmed by traffic from the social news site Reddit, which featured my piece about the Newtown school rampage, “Wrestling With the Details of Noah Pozner’s Killing.” In the post, I outlined and explained the Forward’s decision to publish Noah’s mother’s description of her son’s body during our December 23 interview.
“[Noah’s] jaw was blown away,” Veronique Pozner told me. “I just want people to know the ugliness of it so we don’t talk about it abstractly, like these little angels just went to heaven. No. They were butchered. They were brutalized.”
Why, a month after the killings, does the story of a Newtown mother’s insistence on sharing the brutality of her son’s death continue to resonate so strongly? The answer might be found in the Reddit thread, which attracted thousands of comments. Several users compared Veronique Pozner to Mamie Till Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till.
Emmett Till was a 14-year-old African-American boy whose 1955 murder helped galvanize the civil rights movement. Originally from Chicago, Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi where he was accused of flirting with a white female shopkeeper.
In the past, Israeli political parties have gotten themselves in to trouble for slurring their opponents during campaigns, with election authorities clamping down on what they see as negative campaigning.
Strangely enough, there’s the opposite problem this time — a contest to campaign for Bibi.
Given that it’s pretty much taken-as-given that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will win Tuesday’s election with his Likud-Beytenu list, parties on the right have decided that their best strategy is to hang on his coattails.
So Shas and Jewish Home have been declaring their allegiance to Bibi, telling voters that they’ll back him as Prime Minister and join his coalition — and saying that a vote for their party is the best of both worlds. In other words it’ll bolster their party in Knesset, and also bolster Bibi as Prime Minister.
Jewish Home advertisements featured that party’s leader, Naftali Bennett, next to a picture of Bibi, and a slogan “strong together, voting Bennett.” Likud-Beytenu objected, saying the advertisement gave the impression that Bennett and Bibi were actually running together, and election authorities insisted that the advertisements were removed.
Now, Shas has a video with a similar message. Arye Deri, one of the party’s leaders, has promised in a video that whoever votes Shas “gets a double benefit.” He used the slogan: “Voting Shas, keeping Netanyahu.”
Could this extent of devotion to Bibi work against Jewish Home and Shas when it comes to the coalition negotiations? Given that the parties have all but promised their voters they’ll be in the coalition, they’re going in to bargaining with Netanyahu with a pretty weak position.
Two confessions: I am neither a speaker of Yiddish nor a fan of professional cycling. But as we hover in the halftime break of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, I can’t help but wonder if the televised confession has implications for the meaning of chutzpah.
Most of us are familiar with Leo Rosten’s classic definition: chutzpah denotes “gall, brazen nerve, effrontery…presumption plus arrogance as no other language can do justice to.”
As an illustration of the word’s usage, Rosten famously offered the man who, having murdered his parents, then seeks the court’s mercy because he’s an orphan. There is decidedly a dark element to chutzpah, one that smacks of the ineffable, the awesome, even the amoral. There is nothing cute to chutzpah, though there may well be something sublime.
Can Lance Armstrong’s cheating be justified under Jewish law? Read Micah Kelber’s assessment.
But one needn’t be a lexicographer, much less a Jew, to notice the word has changed. We have moved from the sublime to the slick. Passing through the Cool Hand Luke or Sky Masterson type we now seem mired in the bog of Disney heroes, where chutzpah morphs into pluckiness.
I think about my kids who ask to be paid for doing their homework. I chuckle in admiration before I send them packing to their rooms.
Pauline Phillips, who wrote the ‘Dear Abby’ advice column, died yesterday at the age of 94.
The daughter of Russian immigrants was born on the Fourth of July in Iowa and learned the lexicon of everyday middle American life growing up in the heartland. Her advice was always sharp, witty and sound — and her audience swelled into the tens of millions.
Before Phillips’ birth in 1918, Forward editor Ab Cahan was credited with virtually creating the advice column genre with the Bintel Brief. That column helped make the Forverts indispensible reading to Jewish immigrants and a central pillar of Jewish life in New York in the early part of the last century.
I believe Cahan would have been a fan of Phillip’s work, which was rooted in the everyday concerns of her tens of millions of readers.
He would have mourned her. We mourn her.
In an effort to drive home the point that everyone, regardless of their economic standing, is required to study Torah, the Talmud cites a story of Rabbi Hillel the Elder.
Every day, Hillel worked and earned about half a dinar. He spent half of that to feed and clothe his family, and the other half on his yeshiva tuition. One day, after addressing his family’s needs, Hillel hadn’t enough money left to cover his tuition, and so he was barred entrance from the yeshiva. Rather than heading home dejected, Hillel climbed up to the yeshiva’s roof and pressed his ear to the skylight to hear the rabbis teaching below. Rapt in words of Torah, he failed to notice as it began to snow, and was soon covered from head to toe. The next morning, the rabbis noticed it was darker than normal in the beit midrash, and upon inspection saw a body slumped over their skylight. They raced up to the roof and there discovered Hillel buried beneath the snow. The rabbis dug him free, carried him downstairs, bathed and clothed him, and set him before a fire to thaw.
Then they charged him with multiple counts of felony infringement carrying a maximum sentence of 50 years imprisonment and up to $4 million in fines.
Actually, the last part didn’t happen to Hillel. Rather, his primitive act of copyright circumvention is lauded by the Talmud as exemplary of the spirit with which one should commit one’s self to the pursuit of knowledge.
But it did happen to Aaron Swartz, the 26 year-old hacktivist who took his own life last week after hearing that his latest plea bargain offer had been rejected by the U.S. attorneys prosecuting his case. Swartz’s supposed crime was legally downloading thousands of academic articles from the online database JStor with the intent to illegally share them on the Internet for free.
Swartz grew up in an Orthodox home in Highland Park, Ill., outside Chicago. And though he became an avowed atheist as a teenager, ultimately rejecting religion, his life’s work was nonetheless infused with deeply engrained Jewish values of inquisitivness, scholarship, iconoclasm and a passion for social justice.
So, we all kind of know who is going to take top spot in Tuesday’s general election in Israel — Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud-Yisrael Beytenu alliance. But who is going to come in second spot?
Some Israelis were starting to eulogize the Labor party after its poor performance in the last election in 2009, but buoyed by the social protests it has emerged as a force to be reckoned with this time around. To the relief of the Israeli left, it has looked all through this campaign like one of its parties would come in as the second largest party. But now it doesn’t look so certain.
A Geocartography Institute poll broadcast today on Israeli Radio predicted that Labor will win 16 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, but the right-wing Jewish Home will win 17.
In another poll released today on the Knesset Channel, conducted by Panels, Labor gets 16 while Jewish Home wins 14 — but the suggestion that it could be beaten to silver by the previously-sectarian religious-Zionist party will be causing some concern in Labor. Second-place is psychologically very important for Labor — for many in the party it’s a sign that the faction has been restored from the sidelines to its prominent status in the country.
The polls give Likud-Beytenu 32 and 34 seats respectively — a comfortable win, but far less than the alliance originally hoped for.
Israel has the PETA stamp of approval.
Animal rights advocates are kvelling over a new law that bans animal testing on all cosmetics or toiletries produced, imported to or sold in Israel.
Kathy Guillermo, a top official at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, told The Forward that her organization is “just over the moon” about the new Israeli law.
“Israel has already been at the forefront in this area, so this is not unexpected. But it is a wonderful example,” she said.
If you happen to have bought cosmetics or toiletries made in Israel since 2007, you may have already have noticed a statement on its label that it was made without animal testing. As of January 1, its reach is being extended to include any products sold in the Jewish State.
The ban has actually been on the books since 2010, but only went into effect at the beginning of 2013. MK Eitan Cabel, head of the Knesset’s animals rights lobby spearheaded efforts to get the law passed. “Animal testing in the Cosmetics Industry inflicts horrific suffering on these animals. Each product requires between 2,000-3,000 tests, and animals die in agony,” he was quoted as saying. Cabel called the newly enforced law “a true revolution in animal welfare in Israel. We’ve come a long way in the last Knesset term and this law in the pinnacle of our efforts.”
The insulting remarks about Jews made by Mohamed Morsi in 2010 have been replayed enough that they don’t need to be repeated here. Morsi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood then, and probably never thought he’d become president of Egypt in just a few years. That may explain his remarks. It doesn’t excuse them.
Beyond lamentation and condemnation, how else should good people respond?
When asking myself that question, I thought back to the Forward’s January 9 meeting with Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States. Most of our discussion was off-the-record (his request, not ours), but I thought it was interesting that at only one point during the hour-long talk did he specifically say we could quote him. Oren is a very adept diplomat, an articulate, American-born historian with a command of language and nuance. He knows how to talk to the press. He wouldn’t go on-the-record unless he meant to.
And so he clearly wanted to get across a message about Morsi.
The Donald is backing Bibi.
Trump, the flaxen-haired publicity hound last seen pushing birther conspiracy theories in the U.S. presidential race, made what he likely considered a major announcement this afternoon (then again, he thinks everything he says is a major announcement).
He’s backing Benjamin Netanyahu in the January 22 Israeli elections.
“Vote for Benjamin. Terrific guy. Terrific leader. Great for Israel,” Trump said in a web video published January 15.
The endorsement is short on policy but high on praise for the incumbent prime minister. “You truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu. There’s nobody like him,” Trump said. “He’s a winner.”
Trump is a real estate and casino mogul who is also the star of the TV reality show The Apprentice. He toyed with making a Republican run for president last year, punctuated by his latching onto discredited questions about President Obama’s birth certificate.
Netanyahu is projected to come out on top in next week’s electoral contest, though he’s facing pressure on his right flank from the settler candidate Naftali Bennet and frustration from the religious Sephardic party Shas over his alliance with the Russian party Yisrael Beitanu.
What does Trump think of all this? He hasn’t said. He sure does like Netanyahu, though.
“He’s highly respected,” Trump says of Netanyahu. “He’s highly thought of by all.”
We know Jack Lew’s signature wouldn’t win any gold stars for penmanship. President Obama even joked that if he’d known Lew’s John Hancock was so loopy, he would have reconsidered his nomination for Treasury secretary.
But self-proclaimed handwriting analyst Donald Trump says Lew’s signature isn’t just bad. Rather, it tells the real estate mogul-turned-wannabe Republican political leader something about Lew’s innermost thoughts.
It’s “extremely secretive,” Trump told Fox News (via Politico).
“It shows he’s a very, very secretive person, unbelievably secretive, which of itself is interesting,” Trump asserted.
And what might “secretive” Lew have to hide? Trump thinks his 2011 testimony to Congress on Obama’s economic plan was “probably false and probably knowingly false.”
Hmmm. Wonder what some Democrats might say about The Donald’s combover hair-do. Maybe he didn’t get enough love as a child.
Let’s face it. Unless you send your child to a Jewish day school, Camp Ramah or Brandeis University, there is a high chance that he or she will become romantically involved with a non-Jew. While I appreciate Jane Eisner’s concerns in For 2013, A Marriage Agenda, she does not address some of the fundamental issues as to why non-Orthodox American Jews choose to marry non-Jews or do not get married at all.
Intermarriage is a deeply personal affair for American Jews, as most of us have a close relative or friend who has married out of the faith. If Eisner takes a look at the personal lives of major non-Orthodox Jewish donors and lay leaders in the United States, she will find that many of them are themselves married to non-Jews, or have children who are married to non-Jews.
How can she expect American Jewry’s “so-called leadership” to fight the battle against intermarriage when many of them have married out of the faith or have intermarried children? We are talking about people’s lives here, so a Jewish leader aggressively fighting against intermarriage will most likely risk hurting their intermarried children, friends and relatives. Like it or hate it, it is much easier to focus on Israel than to discuss an issue which so personally affects each and every one of us.
One major reason that only 50% of non-Orthodox Jews are married by age 31 for women and by 34 for men is that it has become prohibitively expensive for the middle class to raise children in the United States. A recent government report found that on average, it costs $235,000 for a middle-income family to raise a child from birth to age 17, excluding college, which can cost another few hundred thousand dollars. This figure does not take into account sending one’s child to a Jewish day school, synagogue membership, Jewish summer camp, Hebrew school, bar/bat-mitzvah, and so on.
It could come down to a tale of two Chucks.
Chuck Hagel’s chances of getting confirmed as Pentagon chief could hinge on whether Sen. Chuck Schumer is satisfied with Hagel’s stance on Iran.
Schumer, perhaps the most influential Jewish senator, is not pleased with Obama’s choice of Hagel for Secretary of Defense and has yet to decide whether to vote in favor of the nomination, Politico reported. Supporting Hagel, Schumer reportedly said, would be “very hard.”
Schumer, according to the report, expressed his misgivings about Hagel in private conversations and in discussions with Jewish leaders. But the New York senator would not make any direct comments on the issue and has pointedly refused to commit to supporting Hagel.
Given his position as the third ranking Democrat in Senate and his standing in the Jewish community, a refusal by Schumer to back Hagel could set the tone for other Jewish and pro-Israel Democrats in the Senate and potentially derail the nomination.
“There are two things that cannot be made without closing your eyes — love and peace. If you try to make them with open eyes, you won’t get anywhere,” Shimon Peres tells Ronen Bergman in an illuminating interview in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine.
While the 89-year-old President of Israel tells the journalist he “asks foolish questions,” Bergman gets frank answers from Peres on Obama, Iran and the path to peace in the Middle East. Throughout the piece, a theme of challenging relationships — between Peres and Netanyahu, Israel and the U.S. and Israel and Iran — emerges:
It’s no secret Peres and Netanyahu don’t see eye to eye on diplomacy. In the interview, Peres speaks out on the harsh consequences he believes will come from the Prime Minister’s approach:
If there is no diplomatic decision, the Palestinians will go back to terror…the silence that Israel has been enjoying over the last few years will not continue, because even if the local inhabitants do not want to resume the violence, they will be under the pressure of the Arab world…Most of the world will support the Palestinians, justify their actions, level the sharpest criticism at us, falsely label us a racist state. Our economy will suffer gravely if a boycott is declared against us. The world’s Jews want an Israel they can be proud of and not an Israel that has no borders and that is considered an occupying state.
You’ve seen it. President Obama has seen it. Now you get to try it out yourself.
We at the Forward are proud to present the Jack Lew signature widget, which allows you to recreate the wonderful, amazing, crazy curlicues of the first Orthodox Jew to be nominated as treasury secretary.
Go ahead, test it out (Hat tip to Yahoo News). You know you want to.
Does Jack Lew need to tighten up his penmanship if he’s going to be treasury secretary?
The Orthodox Jew whose signature is going to be on every single dollar bill in the land has a pretty weird — actually, an incredibly, startingly weird — signature.
And it seems to be the main thing the world is noticing about the man who’s President Obama’s choice to take over from Timothy Geithner.
See how YOUR own signature would look if you wrote just like Jack Lew
“A lesser-known but extremely pertinent fact about Lew is that he has the world’s worst signature,” writes Kevin Roose over at New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer blog. “And pretty soon, that signature could be on every single one of your dollar bills,” he writes with horror.
Roose notes that Geithner had to neaten up his already somewhat legible signature before it could be printed on dollar bills. If so, then Lew is going to have to do a complete overhaul of his John Hancock.