👋 Good Wednesday morning!
What is happening at NBC? It’s a question on the minds of some Jewish leaders as a clip from an episode of the Canadian TV drama “Nurses,” which was picked up by NBC last year, made the rounds yesterday.
In one scene, which aired in Canada a year ago and in the U.S. earlier this month, the character of a Hasidic patient is offered a bone graft to heal his wounded leg. The patient’s father refuses: “A goyim leg. From anyone. An Arab, a woman?”
This comes on the heels of a joke that aired on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” this week about Israel’s vaccine distribution, which prompted several Jewish organizations to demand an apology.
What should be done? “They need to overhaul their standards and practices unit or do some serious sensitivity training/education to heighten the unit’s awareness,” a high-ranking executive from a rival network told JI. Paging Maccabiah gold medalist Brian Roberts…
At a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting this morning, Secretary of State Tony Blinken vowed to work to eliminate the forum’s “disproportionate focus” on Israel.
The Senate voted 78-20 yesterday to confirm Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Tom Vilsack was confirmed 92-7 as the secretary of agriculture, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) becoming the first senator in the Democratic Caucus to vote against a Biden nominee.
Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Xavier Becerra, President Joe Biden’s nominees to lead the Department of the Interior and the Department of Health and Human Services, respectively, encountered grillings over their records yesterday and could face close confirmation votes.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) joked with reporters yesterday about how he refers to Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) as “Yossel” and shared his own Hebrew name, Yeshayahu, telling reporters that he’d give the first question at next week’s press conference to whoever remembers it.
Maya Zinshtein trains her lens on an uncomfortable alliance
Israeli filmmaker Maya Zinshtein became something of a celebrity in, of all places, Middlesboro, Ky., while shooting her latest documentary. “It came to a place where we would be recognized — we’d go after filming to buy some food and people would recognize us, saying: ‘Oh, you’re the Israelis!’” Zinshtein told Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro in a recent interview from her home in Tel Aviv. “It’s a small place, and to be there and to be, for most of these people, the first Jewish person they met,” was an eye-opening experience, she said.
Faith and finance: Zinshtein — the director of the award-winning film “Forever Pure,” about the racism controversies that have dogged the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club — and producer Abie Troen took four or five trips to the town in southeastern Kentucky while filming “‘Til Kingdom Come,” a documentary exploring the relationship between Israel and the American evangelical community. The film, which will have its North American premiere tomorrow night, jumps between the streets of rural Kentucky, the hills of Judea and Samaria and the corridors of power in Washington to tell a story of faith, finance and a shaky friendship.
Kentucky to Jerusalem: The documentary focuses on the efforts of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein in the 1980s, which collects close to $130 million a year from Christian evangelicals to support programs in Israel. Through the IFCJ, Zinshtein connected to the Binghamtown Baptist Church in Middlesboro, whose members focus the bulk of their charitable giving on Israel. “When I landed in Kentucky, and when I saw the Israeli flag in front of the church and the Star of David on the cross, I understood that this is the place” to tell the story, said Zinshtein. “Because also I really wanted to tell this story, not only as a political story, but also from the grassroots level. And to understand why people from such a poor place donate their little money to some country that most of them never visited.”
Next generation: That personal story focuses largely on the next generation of seemingly disparate figures: Yael Eckstein, the Jerusalem-based daughter of Rabbi Eckstein, and Boyd Bingham, the Kentucky church’s associate pastor, poised to one day take over for his father, Senior Pastor William Boyd Bingham. The senior Eckstein died suddenly in February 2019 at age 67, while Zinshtein was in the middle of filming. “We had a big interview with him scheduled for two weeks after he died,” she told JI. “I definitely planned to make Rabbi Eckstein my main character, but he constantly pushed me to Yael, and said, ‘You should speak with her. She’s the next generation.’ It’s almost crazy, it’s like he almost knew.”
Awkward moment: Zinshtein explores the uncomfortable questions that lurk in the background of the relationship between Israeli Jews and evangelical Christians. Early on in the film, a presenter on a church-funded radio station proclaims that news of bombings in Israel “should give us all hope” that redemption is on the horizon. And a cringeworthy scene late in the film shows the Senior Pastor Bingham proselytizing to Zinshtein and Troen as they sit in the pews of the church, vowing to “get them saved” before the battle of End Times, where they will be forced to convert or be killed. “We just found ourselves, instead of being the one that’s documenting the situation, we became part of the situation. And that was the first time but not the last time for sure,” said Zinshtein of that moment. “The fact that Abie and I don’t believe in Jesus, this is something that definitely concerns them.”
Newly installed Young Israel board to attempt historic constitutional change
When the National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) was founded more than a century ago, the drafters of its constitution decreed that the council would have the right to take over the assets of any failing member synagogue. At the time, the stipulation was considered necessary for the good of the movement, said Ira Sturm, a lawyer and member of Young Israel of Woodmere on Long Island, whose father served on the national council for 50 years. Sturm spoke with eJewishPhilanthropy’s Helen Chernikoff about the importance of that provision to Young Israel’s history, and why new leaders plan to do away with it.
The backstory: This power was part of what made Young Israel a movement, and not just a loose affiliation of synagogues, Sturm said. It enabled the national body to sell assets and put the proceeds toward a new location for the same community, or, if the community had dwindled, to divide the proceeds among other member congregations.
Planned changes: Yet the national council’s new leadership, elected last week, promised in its platform to pass an amendment that would prevent NCYI from seizing the property of its branches. “If a branch is in a neighborhood whose demographics change or is failing, we will do our best to help them,” said Sturm, a supporter of the new board who will help the legal committee revise the constitution. “That’s what the board is there for. To help, not to dictate.”
Marc Lamont Hill signs with Black News Channel ahead of relaunch
The Black News Channel, relaunching next month, has signed political commentator Marc Lamont Hill and others as it seeks to broaden its reach and broadcast content geared toward the Black community.
What to expect: The network aims to provide programming that looks at the American political landscape from the perspective of Black Americans. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Hill was signed along with New York Times columnist Charles Blow to “provide coverage and analysis the network’s executives and newscasters believe Black Americans aren’t getting anywhere else.”
Past controversy: Hill was fired from CNN in 2018 after saying, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” during a speech at the United Nations. He came under fire the following year for making comments that played upon antisemitic tropes at a conference for progressive activists. “They’re like, I want to work for Fox, or I want to work for ABC or NBC or whoever. I want to tell these stories,” he said at the Netroots Nation summit in Philadelphia. “You have to make choices about where you want to work. And if you work for a Zionist organization, you’re going to get Zionist content. And no matter how vigorous you are in the newsroom, there are going to be two, three, four, 17, or maybe one powerful person — not going to suggest a conspiracy — all news outlets have a point of a view. And if your point of view competes with the point of view of the institution, you’re going to have challenges.”
Current focus: Hill’s latest book, Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics,was released last week. Earlier this month, in a Zoom interview, Hill said that Black Lives Matter “very explicitly is talking about dismantling of the Zionist project, dismantling of a settler colonialist project, and very explicitly embracing BDS on those grounds.”
Elsewhere: Al Jazeera announced that it is launching Rightly, a new digital platform aimed at conservative audiences and led by a Fox News veteran. The media company, which is backed by the Qatari royal family, has been a consistent target of scrutiny, particularly from Republican lawmakers. The Justice Department ordered a U.S.-based subsidiary, AJ+, to register as a foreign agent in 2020. Al Jazeera has claimed that the Justice Department decision was made at the behest of the United Arab Emirates — which has lobbied aggressively against Al Jazeera — as a concession linked to the Abraham Accords.
🍪 Cookie Crumbles: New York Times columnist Bret Stephens blasts the “apotheosis of Woke” that led Bon Appetit to apologize for and edit a 2015 article titled “How to Make Actually Good Hamantaschen.” He laments that “no charge of cultural insensitivity is so far-fetched that it won’t force a magazine into self-abasing self-expurgation.” [NYTimes]
🪨 Stepping Stones: AFP’s Berlin correspondent, Deborah Cole, tells the story about how she connected with the sister of a Jewish woman who once lived in her building and was murdered in the Holocaust. After Cole wrote about the “stumbling stone” memorial to Lotte Ibermann on her street, Lotte’s sister, Sonja, 97, reached out, “years later, like a message in a bottle tossed in the sea.” [AFP]
👷 Common Goal: Israeli, Palestinian, Qatari and European interests have come together to inject new life into a plan to bring a natural gas pipeline to Gaza through Israel by 2023, report Reuters’s Ari Rabinovitch and Nidal al-Mughrabi. “We are talking about Gaza having 24 hours of electricity, providing a basis for major economic growth and a contributor to peace and stability,” said Ariel Ezrahi of the Quartet. “Recent events have constituted a real breakthrough.” [Reuters]
Around the Web
🧱 Face Lift: Conservators are working to repair the stones in Jerusalem’s Western Wall by injecting limestone grout into gaps and cracks in the stone with a syringe.
⏪ Rewind: J Street, the New Israel Fund and other progressive groups sent a letter to Biden asking him to halt a Trump administration initiative to label settlement goods as “Made in Israel.”
☢️ On Notice: Fifteen Republican members of the House Homeland Security Committee sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him not to lift sanctions against Iran.
⚖️ Free and Clear: Polish prosecutors have dropped a legal case against a journalist who wrote an article discussing Polish participation in the Holocaust.
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: A group of British MPs is urging Bristol University to take action over a professor who has made a series of antisemitic remarks about Jewish students.
🏫 Scrutiny: Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, a religion professor at Oberlin College, is under fire for comments on Israel he made in 1988 and 1989 while Iran’s ambassador to the U.N.
🏈 Passing the Ball: Jeff Bezos may be exploring buying the Washington Football Team, as the team’s minority owners work to push out scandal-stricken majority shareholder Dan Snyder.
🥛 Got Milk? Vegan milk producer Oatly, backed by actress Natalie Portman and other celebrities, is eyeing a $10 billion IPO.
🏢 Real Estate: A Times Square property owned by Kushner Cos. is reportedly inching closer to foreclosure.
📺 Laser Focused: “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert joked last night about the cancellation of a CPAC speaker with a history of antisemitic comments: “Conservatives would never doubt the existence of Jewish people. Otherwise, who’s operating the space laser?”
💻 Tune In: The 2015 Israeli series “The Wordmaker,” starring Shira Haas and Lior Ashkenazi, was picked up for North American distribution by the streaming service Topic.
😋 Tis the Season: The New York Times’s “Front Burner” column spotlights the apricot, raspberry and Nutella-filled hamantaschen at Upper East Side establishment Butterfield Market.
Former U.S. senator and Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000, Joe Lieberman turns 79… Chairman of Safir Intelligence and Security, previously NYC’s fire commissioner and later the city’s police commissioner, Howard Safir turns 79… Former chairman and CEO of Warner Bros and then at Yahoo, Terry Semel turns 78… Professor of mathematics at Yale University, Grigory Margulis turns 75… Faye Gail Waldman turns 73… Rabbi and author of a book about chocolate and Judaism, Deborah R. Prinz turns 70… President of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Clifford D. May turns 70… Minority leader of the New Jersey General Assembly, Jon M. Bramnick turns 68… Head coach of Ironi Nes Ziona in the Israeli Premier League, Brad Greenberg turns 67… Public relations executive, Howard Bragman turns 65… Former member of the Knesset for the Likud party, Nurit Koren turns 61… Founder of the Baltimore Center of Advanced Dentistry, Gary H. Bauman, DDS turns 61…
Member of the Knesset for the Labor-Gesher-Meretz party, Nitzan Horowitz turns 56… Explorer, survival expert and TV host, Josh Bernstein turns 50… Founder of WhatsApp, Jan Koum turns 45… Member of the Knesset for the Likud party, now serving as minister of environmental protection, Gila Gamliel turns 47… Professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and best-selling author, Yuval Noah Harari turns 45… Rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester in Rye, N.Y., Howard Goldsmith turns 43… NYC-based independent filmmaker, co-directed the 2019 film “Uncut Gems,” Benjamin Safdie turns 35… Property controller at Rockrose Development Corp., Robin Katz Bausk turns 34… Principal and director of investments at MizMaa Ventures, Aaron Applbaum turns 30… Israeli actress and model, Dar Zuzovsky turns 30… YouTube beauty guru, Rachel Claire Levin turns 26… Managing director of Hasbara Fellowships, Robyn Frum… Quentin Hill… Mitchell Brown…