Any hopes that Avigdor Liberman had for a quick trial in time to become part of Israel’s new government were dashed today, when his trial opened in Jerusalem and looked set to become a slow affair.
Yisrael Beytenu party head Liberman, who was Foreign Minister until he resigned to face his charges shortly before the election, is accused of fraud and breach of trust. He allegedly promoted an Israeli diplomat in gratitude for information in to a police investigation against him.
He pleaded not guilty and denied all charges against him. But Liberman will pay a heavy price for the trial whatever its outcome, as the timescale under discussion is lengthy, to May and beyond — long after the new government is in place. This means that there’s no way he’s going to be cleared and ready to take up his old job in the Foreign Ministry by the time the new government takes office later this month or next month.
For Liberman this is the ultimate frustration. His party was at an historic juncture — it ran the election on a joint ticket with the ruling Likud party bringing it closer than ever to the real power it has longed for since he set it up in 1999. He had taken Beytenu from a niche Russian speakers’ party to a mainstream party of the right, and this was his big break. Plus, ironically the investigation that had dogged him for years — the one about which the diplomat allegedly gave him information — has been dropped.
As if things can’t get worse for Liberman, his former right hand man in the party and the Foreign Ministry Danny Ayalon is expected to be one of the key witnesses and seems to have lots to say even before he appears in court. The Jerusalem Post reports that he has said that Liberman shouldn’t go back to the Foreign Ministry even if cleared, that the “world treated him like a leper,” and that while the diplomatic appointment in question was appropriate, he “put pressure [on the selection committee] to appoint certain people to the Foreign Service, which I succeeded in blocking, because I convinced him that they were not worthy.”
An investigation out today from the Jewish Week sheds more light on apparent Orthodox abuse of the E-Rate subsidy program, which the Forward first reported on last week.
E-Rate, a federally mandated subsidy program, funds internet and telephone connectivity for schools and libraries. The Forward investigation revealed that Orthodox institutions that didn’t actually qualify as libraries were nonetheless receiving large E-Rate subsidies.
The Forward’s story also showed that these Orthodox libraries had received far more in subsidies than the average library in New York, and that experts questioned the size of the allocations.
The Jewish Week story focuses on Orthodox schools’ use of E-Rate. The newspaper reports that 22% of all New York State E-Rate allocations in 2011 went to Jewish schools, which constitute just 4% of the schools in the state.
That amounts to $30 million in E-Rate subsidies in 2011. Much of that money went to ultra-Orthodox schools that don’t allow Internet use in the classroom, according to the Jewish Week. The story demonstrates that a handful of large Jewish schools received disproportionately high amounts of E-Rate subsidy.
The investigation is the first in a three-part series, according to the paper.
The new star of the Israeli right may be heading for the opposition benches. Israeli media are reporting that Naftali Bennett and his religious-Zionist Jewish Home party have rejected an offer that would have made it part of the government with control of the Education Ministry and other prominent positions.
To Bennett’s irritation Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud-Beytenu alliance and convener of the new government, informed them of the offer via the media, so he rejected it via the media.
In addition to the education portfolio the Likud offer would have reportedly given the staunchly pro-settlement Jewish Home a socioeconomic portfolio and a deputy defense minister who would deal with settlements.
This is undoubtedly part of a bargaining game by Netanyahu and Bennett, along with a working through of bad blood that has existed been them since Bennett’s stint as his Chief of Staff, a position he left in 2008.
But it does appear that beneath all the negotiating talk, Bennett truly is unhappy with the offer, which is interesting. In years gone by the National Religious Party, the faction which rebranded to become Jewish Home, was excited at talk of holding the Education Ministry. One of its key priorities was impacting Jewish identity in the state, and it saw the educational realm as an important route for doing this.
The difference is that the NRP was focused on its religious-Zionist ideology and putting it in to action, and wanted the ministries that would best help it to do that. The Bennett Revolution in Jewish Home keeps largest of the ideology, but it’s all about making the party a contender to become the biggest mainstream right-wing faction in the country — he hopes bigger than Likud. Which is why, unlike most of his predecessors he sniffs at the Education Ministry and is desperate for a post where he feels that he can prove his ability to lead the nation. Can he bargain his way to what he considers real power? Well, let’s just say that nobody really believed that the leader of the formerly-niche immigrant party Yisrael Beytenu, Avigdor Liberman, could become Foreign Minister, and he held the position for the last Knesset session.
As it transpired, the brouhaha surrounding Brooklyn College’s BDS event was a good deal of hullabaloo over not a lot. Roughly 300 people turned up to listen to Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti speak about the need to boycott and divest from Israel, while outside the hall 150 protested either in favour of or against the event and the movement. In the end, those proposing that the event be shut down were made to look rather foolish.
Far better, perhaps, that Alan Dershowitz and others sought to negate their right to speak redirect their efforts and energies into cautioning against BDS’ even tacit acceptance by those liberal Zionists who earnestly wish to see the end of the occupation of the West Bank and the coming about of two states for two peoples. BDS, it has become apparent, has no interest in this – indeed, as a movement and an idea, it is fundamentally incompatible with Zionism.
That much is evident from its manifesto. For, in addition to advocating an end to the occupation, the dismantling of the Security Barrier, and the recognition of full rights for Arab Israelis, BDS demands “the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.” At present, there are five million Palestinians – one third residing in villages and camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and surrounding states – who are refugees according to the UNWRA standard.
Setting aside the impracticality of the proposition — would the Israeli authorities evict Jewish families from their homes in Haifa and Yafo? — permitting the influx of that many Palestinian exiles would only serve to undo and end the Zionist project. Instead of there being one Jewish and one Arab state between the river and the sea, there would instead be two Arab-majority states, and with time, one state. As such, and as Yair Rosenberg has argued, the right of return and BDS is “antithetical to the two-state solution, the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict accepted by majorities on both sides and the international community.”
As far as Sami Rahamim knows, the seating at the State of the Union address is random. He told the Forward that there “were couples invited who were separated.” His seat, as the guest of his congressman, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was “up in the gallery, facing the President on the left side.”
The man he was seated next to was Ruben Reyes, a district director for the Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the congressman from the district bordering that of former representative Gabby Giffords. While waiting for the president’s entrance, Rahamim chatted with his seatmate and found that they were “aligned” on many issues and spoke about being an immigrant and “what it takes to make it in this country.” Another coincidence is that Reyes shares a first name and the same initials as Sami’s late father Reuven, who was fatally shot at his workplace, Accent Signage in Minneapolis, the day after Yom Kippur, September 27, 2012.
Sami was at the State of the Union along with 120 other survivors of gun violence sponsored by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns They are spending the day after the address in small groups, “visiting our members of Congress, particularly the swing votes, to show what we really mean in this fight,” he said.
He had met many of the other survivors at a press conference sponsored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on December 17 in New York, and says of the others that even though they have only met a few times “we are a close community, and share something extremely powerful.” In a dvar Torah he gave at his synagogue, Beth El in St Louis Park, Minn., on January 5, he wrote of how being with other survivors, there was a “profound lump sum of grief” and “yet, there was an immense feeling of strength and unity among us” because “we were all there to stand for something together.”
‘I’m sorry’ never felt so good — nor paid so handsomely.
Jonah Lehrer, the disgraced New Yorker writer who quit his job in July after it was discovered he was recycling his own work, for blog posts, acknowledged his plagiarism and fabrications at a February 12 talk in Miami.
It wasn’t just any talk. It came during the Knight Foundation’s prestigious annual Media Learning Seminar, and was accompanied by all the trappings of a big-name performance on the lecture circuit.
And it paid a cool $20,000, Poynter reported.
Lehrer opened his speech by candidly describing himself.
“For those who do not know who I am, let me give you a brief summary: I’m the author of a book on creativity that contained several fabricated Bob Dylan quotes. I committed plagiarism on my blog, taking without credit or citation an entire paragraph from the blog of Christian Jarrett. I plagiarized from myself. I lied to a journalist named Michael Moynihan to cover up the Dylan fabrications,” he said.
Five thoughts on President Obama’s State of the Union address:
• Obama called for “smarter government” but, as many noted, he also called for a bigger government – or, more precisely, a federal government with bigger ambitions to educate, protect and defend. (More on this in a moment.) But that expansive vision did not translate to the world outside our shores. Foreign affairs, especially concerning the Middle East, wasn’t merely put in the back seat of this address — it was locked away in the trunk.
Obama didn’t mention Iran until just a few minutes before 10 pm (EST). He promised to stand by a safe and secure Israel, a promise delivered in one sentence. He never even mentioned the Palestinians. And his description of the brutal civil war going on in Syria, which threatens the stability of the entire region, was dramatically downplayed.
The president is probably right in reading the public. His pledge to pull out of Afghanistan next year drew huge applause. Clearly, America’s global footprint is going to shrink. Which is good if that makes way for a major upgrade at home…
• Honestly, I couldn’t keep track of all the new federal programs he proposed. Promoting clean energy. Building high-tech manufacturing hubs. Something about fixing bridges and reducing housing payments. Reforming high schools. And the really big deal — extending pre-school opportunities to all young Americans.
As long as there is a way to responsibly pay for these programs (and I realize that is a gigantic if) I found it refreshing to hear a president dream big, especially when his goals are not to build more weapon systems but better schools and new factories.
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.
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.
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.’”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.