Move over Bud Lite and GM, SodaStream is coming to the Super Bowl XLVII. While the Israeli-made home soda maker will not be seen in the stands, it will be viewed on TV screens across the country and around the world, making it the first Israeli product to be advertised in a Super Bowl commercial.
With record third quarter revenues and sales increases, it appears that SodaStream is ready to drop something in the environs of $3.8 million on a 30-second spot.
Those who follow the advertising business may be wondering if the company, which has been publicly traded on Nasdaq since November 2010) will change concepts for its Super Bowl ad, given the frustration it has endured recently as a result of its current commercial showing hundreds of soft drink bottles exploding when a person uses a SodaStream machine. The message is obvious—you can save a lot of plastic (2,000 bottles per year, the ad tells us) and a lot of money by buying a SodaStream.
SodaStream claims it is simply “setting the bubbles free,” as it slogan goes, but Clearcast, the organization that pre-approves television advertising in the UK, banned the commercial on the grounds that it “denigrates” the bottled drink industry. In response, SodaStream is investigating its legal options.
Here’s a thought: When you start asking lots of rhetorical questions, chances are you’re failing to understand that such questions often have answers.
In Alan Dershowitz’s criticism of B’nai Jeshurun’s recent endorsement of the UN Palestine (non-member) statehood vote, he asks nine such questions. Here are some answers to them.
Q: Did the rabbis realize that, according to the vote, the Western Wall (the holiest site in Judaism) is being illegally occupied by the Israeli government?
A: I am sure they did. However, as Elisheva Goldberg has pointed out [http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/12/06/why-dershowitz-is-wrong-on-bj.html], this fact did not change with the UN statehood vote. So why mention it?
Q: Did they realize that the decision of the government to set aside the area for Jewish prayer could now be deemed a war crime punishable by the International Criminal Court?
A: The ICC has already deemed Israel’s separation wall a violation of international law (in a ludicrously bad opinion), without any need for Palestinian statehood status. Once again, the UN vote changes nothing.
The saga at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun continues.
Nearly a week after rabbis at the Upper West Side synagogue sent a letter to their congregation, voicing their support for the United Nations’ decision to make Palestine a nonmember observer state, an email was sent on Thursday morning to clarify the impetus behind the statement.
Signed by rabbis Roly Matalon, Marcelo Bronstein and Felicia Sol, the letter claimed there had been clerical errors, but they continued to voice support for their message.
The rabbis wrote that, “through a series of unfortunate internal errors, an incomplete and unedited draft of the letter was sent out which resulted in a tone which did not reflect the complexities and uncertainties of this moment.”
Thursday’s letter does state however that the rabbis, “affirm the essence of our message,” from the original letter, which was sent on November 30.
Two Jewish lawmakers are moving up the ranks in the House of Representatives.
New York’s Nita Lowey won the role of top Democrat on the House Appropriations committee and will be the first woman to ever serve as ranking member on this committee. “It is especially gratifying to be the first woman to lead either party on this powerful committee,” Lowey said in a statement. She beat Ohio’s Marcy Kaptur in a 36-10 vote in the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and was approved by the Democratic caucus. The appropriations committee is one of the most influential committees on Capitol Hill and serving as ranking member will make Lowey a significant player on all issues relating to government spending.
Lowey, 75, will continue, in addition, to serve as ranking member of the appropriation’s subcommittee in charge of foreign aid and State Department budget. This position is key to supporters of Israel because of its role in overseeing U.S. aid to Israel.
Another New York Jewish member, Eliot Engel, is also moving up. Engel will serve as ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a position previously held by Howard Berman, who lost his re-election bid.
The selection of Engel, who is third in tenure among Democrats in the committee, came after California’s Brad Sherman, an early contender for the position, withdrew from the race. Sherman, who had beaten Berman in a heated congressional contest, lost favor among some in his own party after criticizing them during his race. After the elections, several Democrats from the California delegation made clear they will not support his bid for the post of ranking Democrat and Sherman was forced to withdraw and endorse Engel.
Jake Tapper is best known as the senior White House correspondent for ABC News. But he is also the author of two well-regarded nonfiction books, a biography of wrestler-turned-governor Jesse Ventura and an account of the 2000 presidential election. His newest work, “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor” (Little, Brown and Company), is likely one of the most important books to come out of the war in Afghanistan.
“The Outpost” about soldiers stationed at an isolated base in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, with orders to prevent Taliban fighters from passing into nearby Pakistan. The top brass placed the soldiers in a valley surrounded by high mountains, with a single road leading in and out that could barely accommodate a pick-up truck, let alone larger military vehicles. The position was essentially indefensible — as, frankly, was the plan that put them there.
It was only a matter of time before the base was overrun. On October 3, 2009, more than 400 Taliban fighters attacked 53 soldiers at Outpost Keating (named for an officer killed in an accident while attempting to drive along that road). More than 100 Taliban members were killed, as well as eight Americans.
Tapper intended to write a book about that battle, but as he conducted more research and met veterans of the outpost, it became clear there was a larger story there. Tapper spoke to the Forward’s Curt Schleier about how he first learned about the battle, what changed the focus of the book and the lessons he carries with him from the seven years he spent studying at the Akiba Hebrew Academy (now Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy) outside Philadelphia.
Jewish professionals are known to play musical chairs and switch from one organization to another. It’s mostly institutional inside baseball, but some moves are more interesting than others.
Take the switch by Alan Elsner, who until recently was a top official at The Israel Project, a centrist organization devoted to the defense of Israel’s public image. Elsner has moved to the dovish lobby J Street, a group that challenges the notion that American Jews cannot be critical of the Israeli government and its actions.
Elsner, a veteran journalist and author, has been named J Street’s vice president for communications. He told the Forward that the move, which may seem like a sharp political shift, is a “comfortable ideological fit” for him.
“I believe that the way to improve Israel’s image is through reaching a two-state solution,” he said, adding that highlighting the “nice things” about Israel while ignoring the conflict will not get pro-Israel advocates closer to that goal.
Loverboy Bibi is at it again.
Last year we caught Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kissing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Now he’s locking lips with Israeli Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich.
Well, not exactly.
Back in November 2011 Benetton photoshopped the embrace between Bibi and Abu Mazen as part of its controversial UNHATE ad campaign. There were lots of other highly unlikely couples, like President Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the leaders of North Korea and South Korea.
Now, the Israeli leftist party Meretz has produced altered parody images for another campaign — the one for the Israeli elections scheduled for January 23. There is the image of Bibi and Yachimovich. There is also one of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman kissing Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, to draw attention to Lapid’s refusal to pledge that he will not enter a coalition with Netanyahu’s Likud party following the elections and the likely event that Netanyahu will remain prime minister.
“We lost Europe,” was the way one Foreign Ministry official put Thursday morning when Germany announced it would abstain on Palestinian non-member observer state status, rather than vote against it. Indeed, twelve European Union member states elected to abstain altogether — including the United Kingdom, Poland, and the Netherlands — while fourteen voted in favor, amongst them France, Spain, and Italy.
The only nation — not only in the European Union but across the entire continent — to vote with Israel and the United States and against enhanced Palestinian status was the Czech Republic, even while the other nations of eastern Europe abstained.
The Czech Republic and Israel have maintained good relations since the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Dr Seán Hanley, Senior Lecturer in East European Politics at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London, believes that this is the result of an Atlanticist foreign policy outlook where the interests of the United States are also the interests of the Czechs.
Across central and eastern Europe, there is an especial appreciation for the United States’ role in the Cold War and their championing of NATO expansion beyond the Iron Curtain. “This perception is especially strong on the right of Czech politics and among politicians in the centre with connections to the dissident movement,” Hanley explained, and can in part account for Václav Havel’s support for the liberation of Iraq in 2003 and more recent Czech lobbying to host part of the United States’ missile defence shield on their soil.
Washington’s stars came out on Thursday night to bid farewell to retiring Senator Joseph Lieberman, at an event hosted by Israel’s ambassador to the United States Michael Oren.
It was a slate of guests that would make any Washington party organizer envious, including former vice president Dick Cheney, looking in good shape after a heart transplant, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
But the real show stopper was Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate, who turned the otherwise polite set of greetings into a roast for his longtime friend Lieberman.
“I have a major announcement to make,” McCain opened, “I’m converting to Judaism.”
An unprecedented lawsuit against a Jewish non-profit whose programs aim to “convert” gay men could become a “watershed moment” in history, says the head of a national advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Jews.
The case against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), brought yesterday in New Jersey Superior Court, would also “be a moment like in the Wizard of Oz, when the supposed wizard gets exposed as someone who’s not a good, truth-telling leader, but someone who’s destroying his community,” says Idit Klein, executive director of Boston-based Keshet.
So-called conversion therapy programs like JONAH “are destructive to the individuals they serve, and destructive in their message of bias and false claims of ‘curing’ people,” Klein told the Forward. “They clearly do not work, and have no basis in any kind of valid understanding of human psyche and identity.”
For Orthodox Jews who seek some kind of guidance through conversion therapy, results can be especially “devastating”, Klein said.
LISTEN TO A PODCAST WITH GAY ORTHODOX JEWS DISCUSSING THEIR FAITH AND SEXUALITY
“Gay men who grew up Orthodox and got treated by JONAH have talked about self-loathing, degradation, and damage to their sense of self, not to mention profound damage to their relationship with Judaism and the Jewish community,” she said. “It’s particularly painful for someone who grew up in Yeshiva, studies Tanakh, and relates to text as a source of authority in their lives. To be told ‘something’s wrong with you, it’s against Hashem and Torah,’ has driven people to take their own lives.”
My recent interview for The Forward with New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, while she was covering the recent conflagration between Israel and Hamas from inside Gaza, was instigated by a remark I read in one of her Facebook posts. So, obviously, I regarded Rudoren’s providing personal reflection and commentary on the situation beyond what she was writing for publication in the Times to be a positive thing.
However, others took a more negative view of these social media posts and let their opinions be known. Most notably, the blogger Philip Weiss, citing examples of Rudoren’s posts on his Mondoweiss website, took issue with how, in his view, “[Rudoren] seems culturally bound inside the Israeli experience.”
Now, we learn from NYT’s Public Editor Margaret Sullivan that in response to this “problematic” situation, the paper “is taking steps to make sure that Ms. Rudoren’s further social media efforts go more smoothly. The foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, is assigning an editor on the foreign desk in New York to work closely with Ms. Rudoren on her social media posts.”
Here’s Jon Stewart Leibowitz doing his best Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev: Ribono Shel Olom, what the @!*#! are you doing?
The announcement, made by Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, that his government will support the Palestinian Authority’s bid for “non-member observer status” at the United Nations next week is hardly news, but nevertheless newsworthy.
The news, of course, has been in the offing for quite some time. France’s Socialist Party, which has historically enjoyed closer ties with Israel than have the nation’s Gaullist and conservative parties, has long been an advocate for Palestinian statehood. In 1982, shortly after becoming president, François Mitterrand spoke to this very issue in a speech he gave before the Knesset. When he began his own run for the presidency last year, Mitterrand’s disciple François Hollande announced sixty campaign promises: the next to last was that he would support international recognition of a Palestinian state.
There was little surprise, as a result, when Fabius, during an exchange in the National Assembly, affirmed that France, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, would “with coherence and lucidity” vote “oui” at the U.N. This desire for coherence applies not just to past commitments made by Hollande and the Socialists, but also public opinion: according to a recent poll published in the newspaper Le Figaro, nearly 80% of the French believe that Palestinians should have their own nation. As for lucidity, the bloodshed in Gaza, which tragically has burnished Hamas’ image while tarnishing Fatah’s, deeply concerns the Quai d’Orsay (France’s equivalent of our own Foggy Bottom). Mahmoud Abbas is the best hope for peace, they believe, but they fear this frail hope will collapse under the weight of recent events.
When it was announced that the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) had signed contracts with Hyatt Hotels for upcoming conventions — including their signature Consultation on Conscience and L’Taken Social Justice Seminars — many who stood in solidarity with Hyatt workers believed it was moment of truth for the Jewish community.
Would the RAC, one of the most prominent and venerable social justice organizations in the American Jewish community, go ahead with their plans to hold high profile conventions in boycotted hotels? Or would they grasp the critical importance of this moment and opt to hold their events elsewhere?
Some background: When they learned of the contracts, concerned Jewish clergy as well as the Hyatt workers’ union, UNITE HERE, formally asked the RAC and the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) to honor the recently announced global boycott of Hyatt. Last month, the URJ and RAC met with union leaders and Hyatt employees. They learned that Hyatt summarily fired nearly 100 housekeepers from three Boston-area hotels in August 2009, replacing longtime housekeepers with temps at far lower rates of pay. They learned that Hyatt has been undermining the stability of jobs by increasingly subcontracting their workers. They learned Hyatt has been undermining the safety of jobs by increasing housekeeping workloads to dangerous levels. And they learned that Hyatt has been actively thwarting efforts by non-union hotel workers to exercise their fundamental right as workers to collectively bargain.
The RAC and the URJ also heard from high ranking officials at Hyatt. Not surprisingly, Hyatt challenged the union’s claims of unjust treatment of workers. While they admitted there may have been problems at some of their hotels in the past, they insisted that they had now been addressed.
With Congress plunging into talks to avoid the much-feared fiscal cliff, the Jewish community’s umbrella organization for policy is cautiously weighing in.
In a letter to Congress, Rabbi Steve Gutow, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’s president and CEO, urged lawmakers to keep in mind the impact of budget cuts on the poor and needy when sitting down to discuss a compromise.
He pointedly avoided the biggest question of all: whether taxes should go up for the wealthiest Americans.
“We recognize the significant challenges facing our country’s fiscal stability and the immense pressures to reduce the deficit,” the letter to Congress states, “still we call on you to ensure that, in a nation as wealthy and generous as ours, every American is simultaneously provided the opportunity to fulfill his or her potential, and no American must live in a state of destitution.”
Specifically, the JCPA is calling on members of Congress to avoid cuts to anti-poverty programs including food stamps (SNAP), Earned Income Tax Credit, unemployment insurance, nutrition programs for women and children, home energy assistance, and Medicaid. The group also asked that programs providing opportunities for those in need, such as Pell grants, will be spared from cuts.
“We believe that deficit reduction should be carefully calibrated to ensure that the most vulnerable among us are protected, opportunity for all is promoted, and justice is pursued,” Gutow wrote.
While stressing the need to solve the budget deficit in a “bipartisan, civil fashion,” the group, carefully tiptoed around the issue of tax hikes and made no reference to the administration position which proposed raising taxes for those earning more than $250,000 as a crucial measure alongside cuts in government spending. This seems to be in line with the Jewish federations umbrella group which has also avoided taking a stand on the issue of tax increases.
Like many Jewish leaders, I have devoted the majority of my professional life to advocating on behalf of my denomination. Sometimes the need is concrete, other times ideological. From supporting the worldwide network of the 600-plus Conservative kehillot to agitating on behalf of a Judaism that is pluralistic, intellectually compelling and rooted in tradition, my religious identity is often inextricable from my personal Jewish “brand.”
Much of this is unavoidable. Not a month goes by without an invitation to speak about a topic of endless fascination to the Jewish public: the current state of Conservative Judaism. Whether joining together with the heads of my sister organizations to construct a wide lens view or honing on a particular geography — I will be moderating a panel discussion on the renaissance of Conservative Judaism on Manhattan’s East Side in December — I declare myself, time and again, a spokesperson for Conservative Judaism.
But I was reminded of the limits of denominationalism this past week in the course of my hastily arranged Solidarity Tour to Israel on Day 7 of Operation Pillar of Defense. Organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, I joined with a group of North American Jewish leaders from United Synagogue to the Union for Reform Judaism to the Orthodox Union to the Jewish Federations of North America and other Zionist groups.
Together, we visited the mayors of the cities most affected by Hamas missiles, the injured civilians and soldiers, the damaged property, the brave Israeli citizens under threat of extinction every single day. Together we met with Israeli president Shimon Peres. Together we boarded buses from Ashkelon to Beer Sheva to Jerusalem, united as Jews, representatives of our denominations, yes, but stripped of the agendas that occupy us back in our offices in North America.
A week ago, I spent part of the day scrambling in ditches in the south of Israel as rocket alarms sounded when I was on the road. Today, the situation is calm and the children are back at school. But residents are left wondering who will foot the bill.
They aren’t talking about the cost of Operation Pillar of Defense itself, but of the financial cost that they suffered as a result of it. Many families had their homes or property damaged, and while public compensation funds are available, they take a long time and lots of form filling. But even in families where homes and cars are fine, the bank balance often isn’t.
Lots of people missed almost two weeks of work for the military operation and preceding rocket fire, and while some will be getting paid as normal, it depends on their employment arrangements and many won’t. For small businesses, the conflict spells financial woes.
It’s unclear exactly how southerners will be reimbursed for lost income and how long it will take. But the political context is important. Labor, which is the main challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Beytenu list, has just put the issue on the campaigning agenda, releasing a five-point socioeconomic rehabilitation plan for the south. which prioritizes compensation.
The last thing that Netanyahu will want is Labor having poster boys and girls from the south saying they are still suffering economically from the war that he started. The fact there’s an election coming up seems to mean that they stand a better chance than normal of getting things sorted out promptly.
Some news, apparently, is fit to print, but not too boldly. Take, for example, the demure self-censorship on display Saturday in the New York Times’ eye-opening report, headlined “On Island, Largely Blue, an Exception: Trump Tower,” on the handful of New York City neighborhoods that voted for Mitt Romney over President Obama. Overall, the city voted Obama over Romney 81% to 18%.
The headline and the first five paragraphs were about the two isolated election precincts on the Upper East Side of Manhattan Island where Romney won half or more of the vote. It wasn’t until paragraph 7 to find out that the main news began to trickle out: that the “deepest single bloc of Republican support in all the five boroughs” was a four-square-block section of Gravesend, Brooklyn, “dotted with Sephardic temples and yeshivas.”
Finally, well into the jump, we learned that Romney “enjoyed strong support from a range of neighborhoods with large populations of Orthodox Jews.” Many precincts in Borough Park, Kew Gardens Hills and Sheepshead Bay (which is largely Russian, not Orthodox) voted 90% GOP. A note on the accompanying map gave you the money quote: “Mr. Obama’s worst precincts were in Orthodox Jewish areas like Ocean Parkway and Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Kew Gardens Hills in Queens.”
The map shows the city’s 5,286 precincts as a sea of blue and red dots, shaded darker or lighter to indicate higher or lower percentages of partisan leaning. The darkest red voted over 80% for Romney, while pale pink gave him 50% to 65%. In addition to the broad swathes of dark red running down Brooklyn from Hasidic Borough Park down Sephardic Ocean Park to Russian Brighton Beach, there are dark red clusters in mostly Italian-American Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, and mostly Irish-American (and storm-ravaged) Breezy Point, Queens.
By all accounts, it was a nerve-wracking time for the 75,000 Israeli reservists called up in preparation for a ground offensive in Gaza last week.
“The next days were an emotional roller coaster ride,” wrote Marc Goldberg, who reported to duty on November 18, in a blog post for The Times of Israel. “I was prepped to go in and then stood down, only to be prepped to go back in again and stood down again and again…most of the time was spent hanging around waiting for something to happen, waiting for the final decision to get us moving.”
And when soldiers spend their time hanging around and waiting, things happen. Things like a bunch of reservists doing a khaki-clad rendition of the international smash hit “Gangnam Style.” Ariel Maoz, apparently one of the dancing soldiers, posted the video on his Facebook page and it went viral, attracting the attention of the news media.
On a more serious note, Goldberg wrote of arguments among members of his units as to whether the IDF should and would actually enter Gaza. “Then word came down about the ceasefire. Though there many who were angry that we wouldn’t be going in, the sense of relief that slowly swept through the company was palpable,” he wrote.