Forward Thinking

Jewiest Dog in Show

By Abigail Jones

Westminster Dog Show
The Canaan dog is the only native dog of Israel.

I have spent my entire life avoiding dogs. They make me sneeze, wheeze and itch, and please, don’t start with the hypoallergenic dog argument; I’m indiscriminately allergic to all of them. Also, when I was five years old, the dog next door — a gigantic, snarling, barking, brown fuzzy beast — chased me halfway around our yard, leaving me with an intense, irrational fear of all canines that took me longer to get over than I’d like to admit. And so it was against my better judgment that I decided to tune into the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Annual All-Breed Dog Show. Suddenly. Everything. Changed.

Last night, the Westminster Dog Show kicked off its two-day competition a mere 2.5 miles from my couch in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Over 2,700 dogs in 187 breeds are set to compete for best in show, and OM-FREAKING-G have you ever seen anything cuter than a Chow Chow? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not into dogs that look more put together than I do (ahem, little Maltese and little Lhasa Apso) but I would happily fill my entire home with ten of these faces. (Assuming they don’t shed. DO THEY?)

Amidst the perfectly pathetic Basset Hound and the ridiculously manicured Standard Poodle, I almost missed a somewhat unremarkable, medium-sized, square-bodied, white and brown pooch strutting across the stage during the Herding group competition — until the announcer introduced him as the Canaan Dog, Israel’s only native dog.

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4 Jewish Things in the SOTU

By Nathan Guttman

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It will be President Obama’s first State of the Union address in his second term and White House leakers are already promising an aggressive speech, designed to push Republicans ahead of the upcoming battle over budget sequestration cuts. It will also be a chance for Obama to outline a vision for his second term and to introduce two key issues which were largely ignored for four years: immigration reform and gun control.

Here are some of the Jewish issues you might want to look for in Tuesday night’s speech:

Guests: When camera’s cut to the balcony, take a good look at the invited guests and chances are you’ll see some Jewish faces. Each member is allowed to invite one guest to the speech and the First Lady traditionally invites several more. The idea is to bring to the event people whose life story demonstrates some of the themes in the President’s speech. This year, gun control is one of the key issues and among the guest will be many involved in the battle.

Democrats have invited families of Sandy Hook survivors and first-responders, as well as other key figures in the fight against gun violence. Republicans will have at least one pro-gun guest: musician and NRA member Ted Nugent. Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who has recently emerged as the leading voice for gun control legislation, will be sitting in the gallery alongside her husband Mark Kelly. This week, Giffords released the first video ad for her gun control super-PAC. “Take it from me. Congress must act. Let’s get it done,” she said, facing the camera.

Other Jewish gun violence victims will also be in attendance. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a leading voice in the gun control debate, invited Joshua Stepakoff, who in 1999, was shot in the attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center. Stepakoff, who was six at the time, was attending a summer camp at the JCC. He is now a student at California State University Northridge.

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Losing a Dad, Gaining a Voice

By Beth Kissileff

youtube
Sami Rahamim

When I found myself having a long and enjoyable phone conversation with one of my daughter’s peers and former classmates, it was with a sense of genuine surprise and delight. But it was bittersweet as well.

I was speaking with Sami Rahamim of St Louis Park, Minn., who was in my daughter’s class at Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School. He has become an advocate for gun-violence victims in the months since his father, Reuven Rahamim, was shot and killed along with five others at the business he founded on September 27, 2012, the day after Yom Kippur. The gunman was a disgruntled just-fired employee who later turned the gun on himself, authorities said.

Rahamim told me that on the day his father was shot, he was on a bus to the University of Wisconsin at Madison to see his then-girlfriend. When the bus arrived, his girlfriend and family friends who are students there, knew of his father’s fate but didn’t tell him until they drove halfway back to Minneapolis to meet up with Rabbi Avi Olitzky of Beth El Synagogue. Rabbi Olitzky also works as a chaplain with the Plymouth, Minn., police department doing notifications of death. But having to tell his congregant this news was difficult.

All the rabbi could muster about the occasion to say to a reporter was “It’s a tough one. There’s more silence than words and the silence speaks louder than the words.”

If the event was traumatic for the notifier, it was all the more so for the young man affected. In the weeks immediately after his father’s death, Rahamim says he was all but frozen.

“A while, for months, I couldn’t get through a single newspaper article, even sports, my mom couldn’t finish a crossword puzzle,” he said. “Stuff you normally do becomes more difficult.’”

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Two Ways To Die

By Jane Eisner

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The stories of Ariel Sharon and Happy Fernandez are a study in contrasts.

Sharon, as we all know, is being kept alive in an Israeli hospital seven years after suffering a massive stroke. He was prime minister at the time, had just dramatically pulled Israel out of Gaza and founded a new centrist political party, Kadima. The man who once was feared and reviled as a ruthless military leader had begun to look and act like, well, a statesman.

And then his body stopped.

Sharon, who is now 84, lies in an Israeli hospital through the wishes of his two sons, who are in charge of his care. A couple of weeks ago came a flurry of stories suggesting that doctors were able to detect “significant” brain activity when he heard familiar voices and was shown family photographs. In an interview last year, Gilad Sharon said that his father sometimes responds to requests and, even though he is fed intravenously, has put on weight.

But the chances of him regaining any sort of normal human function are, his doctors say, very, very slim.

Contrast that with the way Happy Fernandez’s family dealt with her massive stroke.

Fernandez was an extraordinarily brave and smart woman known to just about everyone in Philadelphia for a long life of service, first as an education and peace activist, then as a city councilwoman, and finally as president of Moore College of Art & Design. Though deeply wedded to her Christian faith, and married to an ordained minister, a celebration of her life was held in a large synagogue, reflecting her family’s interest in religions beyond their own faith.

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The Gun Lobby's Jewish Enemies List

By Nathan Guttman

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Barbra Streisand

The National Rifle Association compiled a list of its enemies and it reads like a Jewish who’s who list. The list, prepared by the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action includes 506 individuals, organizations, media outlets and corporations that “have lent monetary, grassroots or some other type of direct support to anti-gun organizations.”

The groups listed by the NRA as enemies of the gun-rights cause could easily populate a Conference of Presidents meeting room. They include major Jewish national organizations, including the Anti Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith, and the Jewish Labor Committee; two major Jewish women organizations: Hadassah and National Council of Jewish Women; and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which is the Reform movement’s rabbinical arm.

Reform Jews, the list suggests, are among the NRA’s worst adversaries. The list includes not only their national rabbinical group but also names specifically the Union for Reform Judaism’s former president Eric Yoffie and David Saperstein, director of the group’s Religious Action Center, as individuals fighting for gun control laws.

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Shaul Mofaz, Israel's Unlikely Kingmaker

By Nathan Jeffay

Could a politician who almost disappeared in to obscurity be poised to take up one of the most powerful positions in Israel?

It is safe to say that as chairman of the Kadima party Shaul Mofaz hasn’t been the greatest of successes. It’s hard to believe but Kadima was actually the biggest party in Knesset after the last election, yet in the poll 16 days ago it almost failed to pass the electoral threshold, and in the final reckoning scraped in with two seats.

To Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is busy building his coalition, every mandate counts, and ever since the election he has apparently been keen to get Kadima on board. Now, with US President Barack Obama set to visit Israel and focus attention on the peace process, wooing Kadima has become more attractive for Netanyahu — and he may well be prepared to make him Defense Minister.

Kadima has a reputation as centrist and pro-peace, and can help with the challenge of giving international credibility to his government on issues of peace. Though the party only has two lawmakers, it’s a pro-peace name on the list of coalition parties, which will allow him to present his government as more centrist. If he also persuades the six-seat Tzipi Livni Party to join, as expected, he will have notched up two pro-peace factions in his coalition — despite the fact that their smallness would compromise their ability to promote a diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

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Will Obama Israel Trip Be Lapid Love-In?

By Nathan Jeffay

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Is Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel going to turn into a Yair Lapid love-in?

The Israeli daily Yedioth Araronoth, suggested in its editorial yesterday that Obama decided to come because Netanyahu is currently weak — because of the staggering success of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. The administration is working on the premise that “Netanyahu won, but he really lost, and therefore, he will do what is demanded of him,” Yedioth estimated.

So, as a result of Lapid-the-centrist’s success “Obama is coming to press Netanyahu’s weak point after the Israeli people have had their say and partly disproved the American concern over an Israeli lurch to the right.”

For a further Yair Lapid-related aspect of the trip, some are suggesting that it will compel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to his Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party in his coalition. Take, for example, this Haaretz article which reports:

One [Israeli] source even argued that Obama’s visit, scheduled for late March, is so close on the heels of the Israeli election as to constitute “inappropriate interference” in local politics, and that it would pave the way for Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid into the Israeli coalition.

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Mon Dieu, C'est Le Forverts!

By Forward Staff

The Forward’s new Yiddish site has certainly taken off with a bang.

In the days since the launch of the yiddish.forward.com site was announced, several major media outlets have run stories on it, and what it means for the future of the Yiddish language.

We hoped the new site might get a lot of attention in the U.S. But we had no idea there would be interest from the four corners of the globe.

As proof, we offer a link to the French news site l’Express, which ran an article in French on the Yiddish site from the Agence France Presse wire service.

Read it and enjoy, nos amis!


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Siegelmania's Greatest Hits, Ed Koch Edition

By Gal Beckerman

getty images

The death of Ed Koch reminded us that in our archives we have a couple of poems about the mayor by the late, great poet of the Forward, Stanley Siegelman.

These are too charming not to share again, so without further ado, we offer a special reissue of Siegelmania’s greatest Koch hits.

Ed Koch’s Grave Decision

The mayor thoughtfully explains
He wants his bodily remains
To rest within the burg he loves.
Should we extend him Mazel Tovs?
In past, both shul and church he shunned,
But looking toward the moribund
It’s all the same, the lines get blurred
The moment that one is interred!
With thought the mayor chose his spot,
A carefully considered plot,
A plot that’s deep (for what it’s worth)
And seriously down-to-earth.
This latest news has cast a pall
On not-too-distant City Hall.
Detractors there, who wished him ill,
Assumed of him they’d had their fill.
But now his spirit will be free
To haunt them for eternity.
His fans, who number more than few,
Applaud this brash, no-nonsense Jew.
But what got into Koch’s head
To mingle thus with goyish dead?
We’ll term his future burial
A triumph ecumenical!
Let’s all salute, on his behalf,
His “How’m I doin?” epitaph.

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Let Her Sing!

By Avram Mlotek

Ophir Ben-Shetreet

I held my seven month old daughter Ravi on my lap as we watched the video of Ophir Ben-Shetreet sing. The 17 year old alto gave a soulful performance on Israel’s The Voice, garnering the judge’s acclaim, and inducing some leg bopping on Ravi’s part. Recently, Ben-Shetreet has been the center of much controversy as the religious all-girl school she attends in Ashdod has temporarily suspended her for singing in public.

As a husband, father, feminist and Modern Orthodox rabbinical student, I am appalled. How can a religious school punish its students for their God given talents? How can its strict adherence to kol isha, the challenging prohibition of listening to a woman’s singing voice, blind the school leadership to the obvious kiddush haShem, the sanctification of God’s name, that took place in having a religious student talk openly about her faith to a largely secular Israeli audience and world?

A year ago, the Jewish community was discussing the attacks young Modern Orthodox girls faced as they walked to school in Ramat Beit Shemesh getting spit on by Haredi miscreants. Rabbi Dov Linzer, the dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, wrote then in The New York Times that: “The Talmud tells the religious man, in effect: If you have a problem, you deal with it. It is the male gaze — the way men look at women — that needs to be desexualized, not women in public.” A year later, the quest for religious tolerance lives on, as modesty patrol committees run rampant in Borough Park and Women of the Wall continue their uphill battle.

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Where are the Women? (Again)

By Jane Eisner

Last December, as we at the Forward were putting the finishing touches on our fourth annual salary survey of Jewish communal leadership, the Chronicle of Philanthropy asked me to write about why I have become so committed to reporting and writing about the gender imbalance in nonprofit leadership.

The short answer: Because it persists!

The longer answer is described in this essay which was published in print last month and was widely distributed online last week. In it, I explain how stunned I was when, in assuming my position at the Forward in 2008, I encountered only men running major Jewish organizations. So eager was I to meet other women leaders that I literally wrote notes to women I saw quoted in articles and asked to meet with them. (Some, happily, have become good friends.)

My personal query became a journalistic assignment: To find out who is running our communal organizations, men or women. And what do they earn?

As devoted readers know, our now-annual survey shows a persistent gap in the number of women leading the largest federations and educational, advocacy and religious institutions across the country, and a gap in what those women earn compared to men in leadership positions. This sorry situation extends from the legacy organizations that experience very little turnover to the newer progressive groups that have sprung up in the last couple of decades. And, of course, the federation system, where only one woman currently runs any of the 18 largest federations in the United States.

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Yiddish 4.0

By Boris Sandler

nate lavey
Boris Sandler

What mazel! Last week, Yiddishists round the world woke up to find an article by Joseph Berger about the Forverts — in the New York Times, no less — entitled: “For Yiddish A Fresh Presence Online”.

The next day, a Hebrew translation of the article appeared in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, with a slightly different headline: “Will Yiddish be Revived through the Internet?” Basically the same story, but with a more skeptical twist.

Reuters and the Columbia Journalism Review also published pieces about the new daily Forverts, which you can find online at yiddish.forward.com.

So what’s the big deal? After all, the Forverts has had a website since 1999. In fact, the Yiddish language has felt very much at home on the web for years, coining new terms for the electronic revolution (e.g. blitspost for email). Even Hasidic users have set up a haymish Yiddish-language community on the internet.

In other words, the virtual world has been hearing Yiddish for quite some time.

On the other hand, let’s enjoy this moment in the limelight — especially since discussions about Yiddish tend too often to veer towards eulogies. For the past 60 years, Yiddish writers have had to contend with the cliched question: “So how long do you think that Yiddish will survive?”

Often, these are the same people whose knowledge of Yiddish literature extends to just two or three writers, and their fluency in the language to roughly five or six words, like latkes, gefilte fish and … schmuck.

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Syria Defense Belt Eyed To Defend Golan Heights

By J.J. Goldberg

Israeli news media are citing a London Sunday Times report that claims Israel is considering establishing a security zone along its border with Syria to protect itself against attacks by jihadist forces following the expected fall of the Assad regime. The zone would extend 10 miles into Syria and would have two infantry brigades and a tank battalion patrolling it.

The territory to be protected, the Golan Heights, was seized from Syria in June 1967 and has been declared an essential asset since then because it serves as a security zone to protect Israel from Syrian attacks. The new security zone is apparently intended to protect the old security zone. Israeli military sources told the Times it will be modeled after the security zone Israel maintained in south Lebanon between 1985 and 2000.

The anomalous role of the Golan has been a source of tension since the mid-1970s between Israel’s politicians and military strategists. Politicians from across the map see the heights as inseparable from Israel and promote civilian settlement there. Military planners complain that Golan civilian settlements undercut its value as a security buffer by adding a new vulnerability. This first arose during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel lost valuable time evacuating civilians before it could mount an effective counterattack against Syria’s armored advance into the Golan.

The Assad regime has kept border quiet since the 1975 Israeli-Syrian separation of forces agreement, but the civil war threatens to loosen the regime’s hold.


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Dinner with Ed Koch

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

When Ed Koch died this morning, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released a statement. “I will miss his friendship,” the 55-year-old governor said.

Former Mayor, Ed Koch

Ed Koch thought that Andrew Cuomo was a schmuck.

He said so on election night in 2010, in a conversation preserved in a new documentary about Koch’s life.

Koch said what he meant. That’s not to say he always meant what he said.

Back in July, Koch said he had plans to organize a rally of 50,000 people against the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics.

“We’re going to turn City Hall Park into Tiananmen Square, Tahrir Square, and Moscow Square,” the 88-year-old former mayor told me, citing three iconic uprisings.

That didn’t quite happen.

Photo: Karen Leon

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My Early Days with Ed Koch

By Jane Eisner

The first thing I learned about Ed Koch is how unusually accessible he was.

It was September, 1977, and I was a new, eager student at the Columbia School of Journalism, passionate about city news and interested in learning photography. The school published a weekly newspaper at the time, and I wanted to be the one to photograph Ed Koch during his mayoral campaign. He seemed to be the most interesting candidate, and the one most likely to win.

Wikicommons
Ed Koch, circa 1989

I figured the best way to get the assignment was to prove that I already had an established relationship with the Koch campaign. Which I didn’t. So I needed to create one, quick.

Koch was a member of Congress then, and his phone number was listed in the phone book (an ancient precursor to online directories, for those who weren’t alive then.) So I called him. He picked up after a few rings, and with only a little irritation in his voice told me the address of his campaign office. No handlers or press representatives. And he was in line to run the biggest city in America? Who was this guy?

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You're the Rabbi; What Would You Do?

By Susan Armitage

Thinkstock

When traditional Jewish law, or Halacha, hampers observance for congregants with disabilities, rabbis face tough questions. At a recent conference, Orthodox rabbinical students in Manhattan grappled with disability-related dilemmas.

What would you decide? Step into the rabbi’s shoes and let us know what you think in the comments section.

Question 1 Your impoverished and shrinking synagogue has 10 steps up to the entrance. You don’t know that you have any congregants who can’t climb steps, and you’ve already taken a pay cut of 10% this year after Hurricane Sandy damaged the building. You’re the rabbi; what do you do?

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Can Labor Turn Defeat Into Victory?

By Nathan Jeffay

The leader of Israel’s Labor party, Shelly Yachimovich, met with President Shimon Peres, and reiterated her resolve to sit in opposition. “Our commitment to the national interest comes before all else, we are thinking of the good of the country and re-starting the peace process,” she told Peres, adding: “That support we will be able to provide from the opposition, and without being in the coalition.”

And so, as Labor settles down for a stint in opposition, it is worth asking whether Labor has succeeded in this election or not. It never expected to win, but the question is whether it came out of election season well or badly.

Some of the polls ahead of the election predicted that Labor would win far more than the 15 Knesset seats it ended up with — and so it should have. It emerged from the last election in 2009 with 13 seats and everyone said it was dismal, and yet four years on only has two more seats. These were four years, it should be added, in which the national agenda played into Labor’s hands — the social protests were the perfect chance for the party to make itself relevant again.

Yachimovich actually did quite well at branding Labor as the party taking up the agenda of social justice that brought people out on to the streets. But she simply couldn’t compete with Yair Lapid., leader of Yesh Atid. She is viewed as prickly and aloof while he is seen as smooth and approachable. And he managed to steal her thunder when it came to the frustrations raised by the social protests. Lapid doesn’t want the far-reaching welfare changes that Labor wants and has far gentler demands, yet he managed to harness the momentum from the movement more effectively than Yachimovich.

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4 Jewish Things at the Chuck Hagel Hearing

By Nathan Guttman

Chuck Hagel will step into the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday morning to face what is expected to be the toughest grilling any Obama nomination has yet to encounter.

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Chuck Hagel

It will be long, grueling, and could easily draw some sweat from the Vietnam veteran sitting across the room from his former Senate colleagues. But at the end of the day, if Democrats have done their math right, Hagel will be confirmed by the committee, and later by the entire Senate. Democrats believe they’ll have all of their caucus on board, which will provide for 55 votes, and some more votes from the Republican side, to make sure filibuster attempts, like the one suggested by Senator Lindsey Graham, do not succeed.

Here are few things to watch for as the Senate Arms Services Committee begins the confirmation process.

Jewish senators.

There are two of them on the committee: chairman Carl Levin from Michigan and Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and both have made clear they back Hagel. As chairman, Levin gets to ask the first round of questions and he could use this privilege to defuse the contentious Israel-related issues by throwing Hagel some soft balls. Hagel’s critics will, of course, get their chance to pose tough questions on these issues, but Levin could help set the tone at the outset of the hearing.

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Hamas Accepts 2 States, '67 Borders: Report

By J.J. Goldberg

Zvi Barel, Haaretz’s impeccably cautious Middle East commentator, reports (might be paywall; here is the Hebrew original) that Hamas secretary general Khaled Meshaal has agreed to accept a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state alongside Israel based on the 1967 borders. This follows talks in Amman this week between Meshaal King Abdullah of Jordan. Barel cites a Saudi newspaper, A-Sharq, which in turn cited “Jordanian sources.”

He said Meshaal had authorized Abdullah to pass the new Hamas position along to President Obama.

The report continues:

The meeting is also said to have covered Palestinian reconciliation and relations with Jordan. So far neither Hamas nor Jordan has officially verified the Saudi report, but Meshal’s public statement after the meeting, in which he said, “Jordan is Jordan, and Palestine is Palestine, and any talks about relations between a Palestinian state and Jordan will only be held after the establishment of a Palestinian state,” more than hint at an essential change in Hamas’ position.

To date, Hamas has rejected the two-state solution, although it welcomed the Arab peace initiative whose core was the existence of two states based on the 1967 borders. In the past, however, Meshal has stressed that the 1967 borders are only a first step in the ultimate liberation of all of Palestine. This change in position is an extension of a previous shift in orientation in which Hamas, after fierce opposition, decided to support Mahmoud Abbas’ effort to gain international acceptance of Palestine as a non-member observer nation in the United Nations.

No official confirmation from Jordan or Hamas, but Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator with Israel, seems to take the report very seriously:

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The Cartoon and Anti-Semitic 'Mission Creep'

By Eddy Portnoy

When it comes to cartoons, it’s usually Muslim fundamentalists that throw hissy fits. But, in a turn of events, some of our storied communal defenders, Abraham Foxman and Marvin Hier among them, have been taking the lead. Indiscriminately tossing around accusations of anti-Semitism, our fearless leaders have attacked at least three editorial cartoonists over the past few months on charges that they have defamed the Jewish people.

Representing important institutions, you’d think that Foxman, of the Anti-Defamation League, and Hier, who represents the Simon Wiesenthal Center, might have figured out how to differentiate an anti-Semitic cartoon from an editorial cartoon that criticizes Israeli policy. Although both are undoubtedly experts on anti-Semitism, they both seem to take leave of their senses when it comes to criticism of Israel. And yet both claim to be ardent supporters of free speech. Except when it comes to that one thing, that Israel thing.

So when the London Times published a cartoon showing Benjamin Netanyahu cementing Palestinians between bricks of a wall, it was a perfect opportunity for Foxman to pipe up, accusing the cartoonist of evoking the blood libel. Britain’s Chief Rabbi opined that the cartoon caused “immense pain to the Jewish community in the UK and around the world.” The Israeli ambassador to Britain, who also chimed in on behalf of the International Jewry, argued that the cartoon added insult to injury, as it was published on European Holocaust Memorial Day.

Okay, so the cartoon and its timing were a bit ham-handed, for which Acting Editor of The Sunday Times Martin Ivens apologized. Gerald Scarfe, who has been visually excoriating British politicians since the late 1960s, was the artist behind Pink Floyd’s, The Wall. It appears, walls are, when all else fails, his fallback metaphor.

Sure, his cartoon wall dripping with Palestinian blood references the separation wall, which incidentally, isn’t particularly newsworthy right now, so it doubles as a symbol of Netanyahu’s recalcitrance vis-à-vis the peace process and how it crushes Palestinian life. Netanyahu comes in for some harsh criticism here, but so do all the other public figures Scarfe has drawn over the years. In fact, compared to Margaret Thatcher, Bibi gets off easy. It’s an obnoxious cartoon, but it’s not anti-Semitic. It’s also been removed from the Times website.

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