Archive for March, 2009
The Onion does its thing to Holocaust deniers:
Self-acknowledged 1906 Earthquake Denier and radical seismologist Dr. William Pletcher rebuffed angered historians by stating that the goal of the conference was neither to prove nor deny the earthquake of 1906. Rather, said Pletcher, it was held to “facilitate an appropriate atmosphere in which the hidden and unhidden angles of the most important geological issue of the 20th century could become more transparent.”
Williamson made clear he does not plan to comply immediately, and rejected a suggestion that he might visit the Auschwitz death camp, the weekly Der Spiegel reported.
“Since I see that there are many honest and intelligent people who think differently, I must look again at the historical evidence,” the British bishop was quoted as saying.
“It is about historical evidence, not about emotions,” he added, according to the report. “And if I find this evidence, I will correct myself. But that will take time.”
Headline from the Wall Street Journal:
Plots? Really? I understand the need to save space in a headline, but “plots” is a little ominous, no? They could have gone with “plans” or “mulls.”
(I did a quick search of the word “plot” as it appeared in WSJ headlines over the past few months. Most of them refer to criminal or nefarious schemes, but in fairness there were more benign references to venture capitalists’ plans in India, a bank merger in France, and this one: “U.S. Plots New Phase in Banking Bailout.”)
I feel vindicated: I doodle during meetings and lectures, and for years have insisted that it improves my concentration.
Now a small study confirms “doodling aids concentration.” The author hypothesizes that “doodling may have reduced daydreaming by selectively loading central executive resources” — our visuospatial “sketchpad” — and keeping us from sliding off into random thoughts (or reaching for our Blackberries?).
Here’s my experiment — during a weekday meeting, sketching little cartoons and such on a notepad, I’m fully present . But in synagogue on Shabbat, where writing is a no-no, there is always a moment during a sermon where I’ve drifted off, no fault of the speaker (okay, sometimes the fault of the speaker).
And I never concentrate so well as when I am doing the dishes and listening to a podcast. Take away the dishes and my mind’s a butterfly, flitting from here to there. But give me a mindless physical task, and suddenly I can focus on such snooze buttons as “margin debt” and “mortgage-backed securities.”
JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, comments on Chas Freeman’s withdrawal from consideration for the the chair of the National Intelligence Council.
What’s weird (or at least interesting) about the statement is, in the midst of a debate over the degree to which the pro-Israel community fueled criticism of Freeman, how JINSA simultaneously reminds supporters that they were “one of the few Jewish organizations” that advocated against him, and denies the very existence of a pro-Israel “lobby” (which will be news to folks at AIPAC). Besides, they say, there’s no need for a pro-Israel lobby because the “relationship between the United States and Israel is based on shared values and shared security requirements.” Which, if true, raises the question: Why do we need groups like JINSA?
Excerpts from their statement:
As one of the few Jewish organizations that took a public position on the issue, we’d like to know if Amb. Freeman believes JINSA is part of a powerful and dishonorable lobby that distorted his record. We don’t think so.
The directorship of the NIC is not a confirmable position. The vetting process was internal – no one but Director Blair and President Obama had to be satisfied with his credentials, and clearly Adm. Blair was satisfied. So why did he withdraw? Because once he aroused public and then Congressional interest and knew he would have to explain himself outside his cozy circle, he had neither the desire nor the ability to defend being paid by Saudi Arabia and sitting on the Board of a Chinese state oil company.
It would have been illuminating to watch him try….
JINSA is an unabashed supporter of the State of Israel – though not all the policies of all of its governments – and we believe the relationship between the United States and Israel is based on shared values and shared security requirements. Lots of people stand where we stand – we don’t need a “lobby.” [You want a good lobby? Try the tobacco lobby - there is a "willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth" - and the stuff is still legal.]
In this case, however, we think Israel and any presumed “lobby” had far less effect on the outcome than the common-sensical belief that the person who is the gatekeeper of intelligence information for the President of the United States should be unencumbered by payments from foreign governments.
Maybe the problem is a definition of lobby. The government defines “lobbyist” as “any individual who is employed or retained by a client for financial or other compensation for services” that include ”communication (including an electronic communication) to a covered executive branch official or a covered legislative branch with regard to” the formulation of legislation, federal regulations or policies, or the the nomination or the confirmation of a person for a position subject to confirmation by the Senate.
There are certainly pro-Israel lobbyists under this definition. And there’s a less formal definition, one that includes the vast array of interest groups and nonprofits, like JINSA, that seek to influence public debate but limit their activities so that they are not required to register as lobbyists.
I think JINSA chafes at the way some, like Freeman, use ”lobby” when they mean “cabal” — the way Freeman takes the perfectly democratic and necessary act of lobbying and turns it into a synonym for “conspiracy“ — one orchestrated by a foreign government, yet. As Jake Tapper opined:
What’s perplexing about [Freeman's exit speech] is that so much of what critics objected to were Freeman’s statements, in full context. His record was picked apart like that of any other controversial nominee — sometimes fairly, sometimes not so — but only in Freeman’s case does the nominee make an allegation that a foreign power was lurking nefariously somehow behind it all.
So, to sum up: The pro-Israel community had a problem with Freeman, spelled out by JINSA:
What he has written about Israel, and reprinted from Walt and Mearsheimer, is suspect because of his financial ties to the Saudis and appalling in its inability to differentiate between a Western democratic ally under siege from a combination of terrorists and the states that harbor and support them, and those very states and terrorist organizations.
However, not every pro-Israel activist agreed with this assessment. And he had other critics who cared less about Israel than they did about his views on other subjects. But the critics won, which is what critics set out to do.
If Freeman wants to pin it all on a cabal “intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government,” that reveals why he was unfit to lead the NIE in the first place.
But Jews need to own the fact that they have power in Washington — and thank God. We know what it looked like, 60 years ago, when we had none. We can’t have it both ways. Jewish groups can’t advocate for the security needs of the United States and Israel — as JINSA describes its mission — and then distance themselves from the consequences of that advocacy, good and bad.
I love Yeshivish, the Hebrew-Yiddish-English patois you hear mostly in the Orthodox community. I found a great example today while fact-checking an article about the Purim gifts known as mishloach manot:
The Binyan Tzion, Rav Yaakov Etlinger, is Misupak if you are Yotzei the Mitzva of Mishloach Manos if you present it yourself, since Mishloach implies that you must send it with a shaliach. Others like the Eishel Avrohom and Rav Shlomo Kluger hold that you are certainly yotzei if you bring it personally.
And the thing that scares me is that I understand every word! To wit: A legal authority known as the “Builder of Zion” doubts that you fulfill the commandment of delivering Purim gifts if you do it personally — because the Hebrew for such gifts implies that it must be sent by an emissary. Two other authorities say it counts if you do it yourself.
Takeh, I need to lie down.
For the past few years the NJJN has celebrated Purim with a news quiz. For each of the questions below, there is a correct answer based on an actual news story. Enjoy, and hag sameach!
1. In December, a New Jersey couple made news because their local supermarket wouldn’t…
a/ inscribe a birthday cake with the name
of their son, Adolf Hitler Campbell.
b/ accept Confederate currency.
c/ stock the shelves with their favorite
German snack food, “Eva Braunies.”
2. A study suggested Israeli children suffer fewer peanut allergies
a/ the smog in Tel Aviv masks most allergy symptoms.
b/ kids are raised eating Bamba, a peanut-flavored snack food.
c/ parents declared attempts to ban peanut butter in schools as “a namby-pamby American import.”
3. Seven young artists from Berlin made news at an Israeli museum by…
a/ living there for three weeks with lice in their hair.
b/ dressing as the Seven Dwarves and digging a coal mine in
c/ turning all the abstract paintings upside down – which wasn’t discovered
for three weeks.
4. How did Syrian President Bashar Assad disrespect Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert during an EU summit in Paris?
a/ He kept referring to him as “Elmer.”
b/ He studiously avoided eye contact with the Israeli leader.
c/ He offered his outstretched hand, then quickly ran it through his hair before Olmert could grasp it.
5. What political gaffe did congressional candidate Kevin Powell
make before a group of Satmar hasidim in Williamsburg, Brooklyn?
a/ He promised to “bring home the bacon.”
b/ He hugged the rebbe’s wife.
c/ He tasted a plate of cholent and immediately spit it into his handkerchief.
6. What was the dying request, honored by local Jewish authorities, of a Soviet immigrant living in Karlsruhe, Germany?
a/ He asked the local Lubavitcher rabbi to “please get off my
b/ He asked to be buried with a bottle of vodka.
c/ He asked that his tombstone be carved in the shape of a
7. An Israeli woman from Ra’anana was quoted as saying, “What is
this? Are we in Iran?” To what was she referring?
a/ The El-Al jet she was on, which was forced to make an emergency landing
b/ A two-story campaign poster of Benjamin Netanyahu hanging from the
building across the street.
c/ The new dress code at the local religious high school requiring boys to
wear “long, respectable trousers” and “a real kipa.”
8. After Barack Obama visited Israel in August, Israel’s attorney general was asked to investigate…
a/ the theft of the prayer Obama had stuffed into a crack in the Western
b/ the botched pruning of a pine sapling Obama planted in a JNF forest.
c/ the $2,715 unpaid charge Obama racked up on his rented Israphone.
9.Why did a Lebanese trade union plan to sue Israel?
a/ To win back wages for laborers who missed work days during the 2006
Israeli war with Hizbullah.
b/ To win intellectual property rights to the phrase “cedars of Lebanon,” which appears in the Book of Judges, among other texts.
c/ To prevent Israel from marketing falafel and hummus as “Israeli”
1: A; 2: B; 3: A; 4: B; 5: A; 6: B; 7: C; 8: A; 9: C
In case you were asking (and admit it, you were asking), The Times reveals the religious background of Jonathan Krohn, the 14-year-old conservative author and wunderkind: His mother is Jewish, but “decades ago” became a Baptist. Krohn is home-schooled, but attends a Christian academy on Fridays.
“Before I got into politics,” Jonathan said as he sat with his parents in the study of their home, “I wanted to be a missionary to people in the Middle East. I thought it would be better to speak with them in their own language.” The family are active members of Peachtree Corners Baptist Church in Norcross, Ga….
Last spring, as the presidential campaign was in full roar, Jonathan decided the term conservatism was so misused that he needed to write a book explaining it. He received a computer from his maternal grandfather for his 13th birthday. “In the Jewish culture in which my mom was raised, 13 is a big deal,” he said. “But since I’m a Jewish Christian, I don’t do a bar mitzvah.”
Signs we need moshiach now, via Ynet:
Jerusalem: Haredi riots prompt switch to metal trash cans
The Jerusalem Municipality has replaced dozens of plastic garbage bins with noncombustible metal ones, this after recurring ultra-Orthodox riots in protest of the annual Gay Pride Parade have cost the city more than a million shekels over the past five years.
During the past few weeks the new garbage bins have been dispersed throughout the haredi neighborhoods of Mea Shearim, Geula, Kerem Avraham and Shmule Hanavi, where extremist Jews have held violent demonstrations against the municipality and the local police’s decisions, including the authorization of the gay parade.
I finally got around to seeing Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman’s rapturously received animated documentary about Israel’s first Lebanon War. It was a tremendously upsetting experience, on a number of levels.
The much-celebrated technique of the film is indeed astonishing . It lends a haunting beauty even to images of horror and destruction. And the story it tells is horrific — a middle-aged Folman’s attempt to recover his memories of the war and, specifically, his — and by extension, Israel’s — culpability in the Sabra and Shatilla massacre.
The film raises questions, for me at least, about the internal and external conversations we hold about Israel — the ones we hold in the family, vs. the ones we hold for the “outside” world. Of course in the Internet and cable news age those distinctions become almost meaningless, and yet we still cling to them, as if we can get away with “talking amongst ourselves.”
Folman’s film is unassailable as an internal Jewish and especially Israeli conversation. Israeli’s have been having this conversation since the Christian militia slaughtered the Palestinian residents of Sabra and Shatilla as Israeli soldiers stood by– and especially after Israel’s official Kahan commission found Israel “indirectly responsible” for the massacres. According to a Foreign Affairs Ministry summary:
[The]Commission asserted that Israel had indirect responsibility for the massacre since the I.D.F. held the area, Mr. Begin was found responsible for not exercising greater involvement and awareness in the matter of introducing the Phalangists into the camps. Mr. Sharon was found responsible for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge when he approved the entry of the Phalangists into the camps as well as not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed.
“Bashir” resurrects the pain and disillusionment of this era in a way no straight-forward documentary could. Folman stands in as a member of a wounded generation, one that hasn’t healed from the scars of what Israel regards as its first unheroic war. As a contribution to an internal dialogue about Israel’s specific traumas, and perhaps to an external conversation about the wages of war, the film — like “Born on the Fourth of July” or “The Burmese Harp” — is a classic, powerful and above reproach.
But “Bashir” was burning its way through movie-houses and award ceremonies just as Israel entered into yet another searing war against a Palestinian terrorist adversary, fought yet again in a maze of crowded cities and “refugee camps.” While American editorial pages remained largely supportive of Israel’s efforts to repulse Hamas rockets, the war sparked a spasm of anti-Israel press and activity around the world that still smolders. Into this maelstrom drops Folman’s film, whose subjects include conscience-ridden Israeli recruits, indifferent commanders, Palestinian corpses, and the director’s own epiphany involving his parents’ internment at Auschwitz.
These are the subjects of a great work of art. But I watched the film gripped by the anxiety that they would also become fodder for diabolical propaganda. I can imagine this film being screened for two groups, one pro-Israeli, the other pro-Palestinian. The first would applaud its honesty and self-scrutiny, and note how the Israeli government’ s support for the movie and the impulse behind its creators is a testament to the humanity of Israel’s citizen soldiers and the country’s willingness to interrogate itself. The pro-Palestinian group, meanwhile, might see the film as evidence of Israel’s long-standing indiffference to Arab lives (see the indiscriminate night-time shooting! Watch those “smart bombs” go astray!).
For Jewish audiences, the film might be Israel’s “Red Badge of Courage.” For Palestinians, it’s the Zionists’ “The Battle of Algiers.”
Truth be told, “Bashir” hasn’t been enlisted in any Palestinian propaganda efforts that I know of. And the Palestinian cause doesn’t need an Israeli cartoon to whip up anti-Israel hysteria — not while bombs are falling on Gaza and Al Jazeera is doing its job. On that count, I can’t agree with Israeli film director Katie Green, who writes in the Jewish Week that she is relieved “Bashir” didn’t win the Oscar, despite its nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category:
We will be debating over the next decade whether Ari Folman has, with his film, done his country a great service or caused it irreparable damage. My vote is for the latter. With all due to respect to him as the gifted filmmaker he is, it would have been better for him to deal with his Lebanon ghosts in the psychotherapist’s office…. But if I could meet him in person I would ask him if the artistic expression of his feelings on film are worth all the rage and hatred that will be stirred up against Israel as a result.
Again, how much has that rage to do with “Bashir”? It’s not even being shown in Arab countries, which bans Israeli films, no matter how self-critical.
Green’s discomfort, and in truth, my own, is as personal a story as Folman’s. A few weeks ago I argued for a wide open conversation and Jewish debate on the Gaza war, as a way for us to fully engage with Israel beyond the propaganda and talking points generated by our side. But those conversations are more comfortably held around a Shabbos table or in a West Side coffee shop than on CNN or the local multiplex.
But to what degree is an artist responsible for my “comfort,” or Green’s, or anybody’s? I squirmed through Folman’s amazing film. I left with a deeper understanding of the experience of Israeli soldiers and veterans than I have ever gotten from a fundraising appeal or an anodyne prayer said in synagogue.
Am I grateful to Folman? Am I angry? That’s something I have to work out on my own, off-camera.