👋 Good Monday morning!
Arange of Jewish community organizationswrote a letter to President Joe Biden on Friday calling on him to take steps to address rising antisemitic violence, including personally speaking out on the issue; filling key administration posts, including White House Jewish liaison; organizing a meeting between Jewish groups and law enforcement officials; increasing security funding for houses of worship and non-profits; and preserving the Trump administration’s 2019 executive order addressing antisemitism. Read more here.
On the Hill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) announced plans to introduce a bill this week aimed at combating antisemitic hate crimes, while the co-chairs of the bipartisan congressional task forces for combating antisemitism, Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and James Lankford (R-OK) and Reps. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Chris Smith (R-NJ), issued a statement calling on “elected officials, faith leaders, and civil society leaders” to speak out against antisemitism.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken is expected to arrive in Israel on Wednesday to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials in the wake of the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. He is also slated to visit Egypt and Jordan. Biden issued a statement this morning on Blinken’s upcoming trip.
Blinken said yesterday that the recent conflict would not affect upcoming weapons sales to Israel. “We’re committed to giving Israel the means to defend itself, especially when it comes to these indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilians,” Blinken said. “At the same time, any arms sale is going to be done in full consultation with Congress…and we want to make sure that that process works effectively.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced a resolution last week seeking to block an upcoming $735 million weapons sale to Israel. The resolution has little chance of passing the Senate, but Sanders’s office said it intends to force a vote on the legislation, while a similar House bill will likely not be brought to a vote.
Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharibabadiannounced that Iran has agreed to extend a temporary agreement to allow international inspectors access to images of its nuclear sites, as talks in Vienna on the issue continued overnight.
Blinken said yesterday that it remains to be seen if Iran will take the steps necessary for the U.S. to lift sanctions on Tehran.
Bob Dylan at 80
Bob Dylan has never made it easy for those who analyze his music with almost Talmudic fervor. Famously unforthcoming in interviews, the protean singer-songwriter winner has succeeded in keeping listeners guessing over the course of his nearly six-decade career. Dylan, who turns 80 today, remains a mystifying figure in American culture, even as many of his songs feel as relevant today as they did when they were first produced. “Bob Dylan displayed the wit and wisdom of an 80-year-old man from the very first time we heard him at age 21 in 1962,” Seth Rogovoy, the author of Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet, told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. “The point is not so much age as it is timelessness.”
Dylan’s Zionist anthem: “Neighborhood Bully,” from Dylan’s 1983 record Infidels, was released a year after the First Lebanon War and two years after an airstrike in which Israel destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor outside Baghdad. But its themes have clear parallels with the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. The song, a hard-driving rock number, never explicitly mentions Israel, yet it is widely interpreted as a Zionist anthem in the form of a biting satire lambasting those who fault the Jewish state for defending itself.
The neighborhood bully just lives to survive
He’s criticized and condemned for being alive
He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin
He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in
He’s the neighborhood bully
Contemporary: Barry Shrage, a professor in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University and the former president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, said the song is “so right for this moment, with the whole discussion of Israel being totally hypocritical.”
Connection to Israel: Dylan has maintained a connection with the Jewish state throughout his career. He visited Israel a number of times and played a handful of shows there, most recently in 2011. Dylan also celebrated his son’s bar mitzvah at the Western Wall. Still, on a personal as well as an artistic level, Dylan seems to have demonstrated something of an ambivalent relationship with his own Judaism. Born Robert Zimmerman, Minnesota’s Jewish son briefly flirted with born-again Christianity in the late 1970s and early ’80s, when he produced a trio of evangelical albums, the first of which Slow Train Coming, is regarded as a classic of the form.
Jewish roots: But while Dylan’s music has always retained something of a Biblical subtext, he has rarely alluded to his Jewish roots. “For the most part he is not explicit about these themes,” said Elliot Wolfson, a professor of Jewish Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who contributed an essay on Dylan’s “Jewish gnosis” to a new collection, The World of Bob Dylan. Gayle Wald, a professor of English at The George Washington University, echoed that sentiment. “From a certain perspective,” she said of Dylan, “he’s not very satisfying because he’s not intelligible, always, as a Jew.” One gets the sense, though, that Dylan wouldn’t want it any other way.
Inside the new New Orleans museum telling the stories of Southern Jews
When Jewish immigrants first arrived in the U.S. from Europe, their first stop was Ellis Island — or at least that’s how the narrative goes. But for many, their first sighting of American shores was Galveston, Tex., a port city that welcomed thousands of Jewish immigrants who would settle across the American South. In cities and towns from Dallas to Vicksburg, Miss., and Charleston, S.C., Jews created community and became part of the fabric of this complicated region. Now, a new museum in New Orleans wants to teach locals and tourists alike the story of America’s Southern Jews, a story that does not always make it into the collective memory of American Jews in big cities like New York or Los Angeles. Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch took an exclusive tour of the museum ahead of its opening this week.
Beyond black and white: The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE), which opens on Thursday, had originally planned to open its doors last October but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. On a tour of the museum last week, executive director Kenneth Hoffman told JI that the institution aims to fight a common misperception: that people didn’t know there were Jews in the South. The notion mostly comes from “Jews who aren’t from the South,” said Hoffman, who grew up in Baton Rouge, La. “We want to expand people’s understanding of the South,” he explained. “People think of the South in terms of black and white, racially, and that’s understandable. It’s correct. That is the blanket that covers all of Southern history and really all of American history, the racial issues. But they’re not the only stories.”
History in the making: MSJE’s arrival in New Orleans is a long time coming. The museum itself dates back to the mid-1980s, when it started as an exhibit at the Henry S. Jacobs Camp, a Union for Reform Judaism Jewish sleepaway camp outside of Jackson, Miss. The early MSJE began as “a repository for all the small-town congregations that were disappearing,” said Hoffman. People from small towns across the South who had attended Jacobs Camp would ask Macy Hart, the camp’s then-director, “‘I’m the last Jew, we’re selling the building to the Baptist church. What do I do with the Torahs?’” Hoffman, who interned at the museum when it was at the summer camp, recalled. “Macy said, ‘Bring them here. We’ll keep them.’”
Back to the basics: Part of making the museum a universally welcoming experience involved creating an exhibition teaching the basics of Judaism. Titled “What is Judaism?”, the exhibit displays a 19th-century Torah from a Southern synagogue, and recreations of stained-glass synagogue windows hang from the ceiling. An interactive, touch-screen module offers games to visitors, including one that teaches about Jewish holidays and another that quizzes visitors on their knowledge of Yiddish. If you get the question wrong, a Yiddish-inflected voice — spoken by a voice actor clearly meant to sound like your bubbe — says, “Go back to yiddishe school!”
Past, present, future: One important aspect of recent history that the museum wants to convey is that Jews remain in the South, and in large numbers, too; they just might not be in the same places where their parents or grandparents once lived. “Small towns started disappearing because of young people going away to college,” Hoffman said. But that is not something uniquely Jewish. “More often than not, small-town Southern Jews, who left their small towns stayed in the South, but moved to urban areas,” Hoffman said. This is reflected in the museum’s donors, the majority of whom are Jews who still live in cities like Atlanta, Dallas and New Orleans. But the story of Southern Jewish life does not remain in the past. “There are more Jews in the South today,” said Hoffman, “than there ever have been before.”
Mark Kelly condemns vandalism at Gabby Giffords’ synagogue
Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) condemned the vandalism at Tucson’s Congregation Chaverim — where his wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, (D-AZ) is a member — in comments to Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod on Friday.
Speaking out: “This act of vandalism in Tucson is personal for Gabby and me. We continue to keep Arizona’s Jewish community and the members of the congregation in our thoughts,” Kelly said. “Anti-Semitic attacks fly in the face of who we are as a country and as a state. There is no place for hate in Arizona.”
It’s personal: Giffords first spoke out about the incident, in which an individual threw a rock through a window, in a tweet on Thursday. “Yesterday, my synagogue in Tucson was vandalized,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to see such a disgusting act in a place where so many are meant to feel safest. Despite these actions, we will not be shaken. Hate has no place in Arizona.” According to Kelly’s office, Congregation Chaverim’s Rabbi Stephanie Aaron officiated Kelly and Giffords’s wedding in 2007.
Fighting back: Asked what measures Kelly supports to combat the recent uptick in antisemitic violence, which came in response to the intense, 11-day battle between Israel and Hamas, Kelly’s office pointed to the senator’s co-sponsorship of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which was signed into law on Thursday. His office also noted that he signed a letter to President Joe Biden in April urging him to “expeditiously” nominate an ambassador to monitor and combat antisemitism.
No answer: Kelly’s office did not indicate any plans to introduce or support any additional legislation, and did not respond to a question from JI about whether he supports expanded funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP), which provides federal funding to houses of worship and nonprofits to enhance their security. Many House lawmakers have expressed support for doubling NSGP funding to $360 million, while senators who have historically been strong supporters have recently declined to specify their funding target. In 2020, the House voted in favor of significantly greater funding for NSGP than did the Senate.
Jonathan Chait on the Israel debate and left-wing antisemitism
In a recent column for New York magazine, Jonathan Chait examines how antisemitism, particularly on the left, intersects with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The existence of antisemitism makes it easier for Israel supporters to depict criticism of Israel as antisemitic,” he writes. “The existence of Israel hawks using inflated charges of antisemitism as a cudgel makes it easier for antisemites to pose as victims being silenced.” Chait discussed that dynamic and more in a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel.
Jewish Insider: In your column, you hit on a point that is not often made, which is that the left and right seem to change places on the racism debate when Jews are involved. Do you have any thoughts on why the left might be more skeptical about claims of antisemitism?
Jonathan Chait: I think people on the left are very eager to call out antisemitism by conservatives, but I think they’re very skeptical to call out antisemitism by anyone on the left. In that sense, it’s a pretty close parallel to the right, which is happy to call out bigotry on the left and not on the right. It’s easier for them to do that on the subject of Jews, and especially Israel, because sometimes you find that kind of bigotry on the left and sometimes you find people using the existence of bigotry on the left as a pretext to dismiss legitimate criticisms that aren’t antisemitic at all.
JI: You mention Jeremy Corbyn, the former British Labor Party leader who has been accused of antisemitism, in your piece. It seemed as if lot of British Jews associated with Labor felt gaslit by the experience of being told Corbyn’s statements weren’t antisemitic or that he wasn’t an antisemite. What do you make of that?
Chait: I would argue that the kind of radical politics that Corbyn was trying to advance as a Labour Party model not only allowed but maybe even required defending the antisemites. I think Corbyn’s strategy really was, and always has been, “no enemies to the left.” He was just going to open his door to as far left as you wanted to be. He was not going to shut you out. And on the far left, you have some real antisemites. What’s more, you have a mode of discussing the Middle East that just lends itself very, very easily to antisemitism.
JI: Does that carry over to American politics?
Chait: In a weaker and paler way. I think the thing that really excited a lot of radicals about Bernie Sanders, number one, was the fact that he used socialistic language and concepts in his rhetoric, even though he often just meant it metaphorically, not literally — but also that he had this “no enemies to the left” strategy. Bernie himself has always been, I think, pretty mainstream on a lot of these issues. On Israel, he’s certainly much more pro-Palestinian than most Democrats. But he always recognizes the humanity of both sides. However, he does bring in to that coalition a lot of people who are further to the left, and I think maybe a little — or even a lot — less careful about recognizing the humanity of both sides and drawing a line against antisemitic discourse.
JI: Do you think there’s any deeper reason, beyond partisanship, why the left can be dismissive of charges of antisemitism?
Chait: What people said about Corbyn is that, because he’s such a doctrinaire Marxist in his thinking, he really can’t think of Jews as being a category of people who would be on the receiving end of discrimination, because he thinks of them as being wealthy and therefore privileged and therefore in the oppressor category and not the oppressed category. I think it’s a bad idea to divide people into oppressed and oppressor classes, but given that’s what you’re doing, the Jews can wind up on the wrong end of that formula if you’re kind of on the doctrinal left. So I think that is a little bit of a mental block some people on the far left have with recognizing antisemitism.
👨💼 Man in the Middle: A team at NBC News looks at the Biden administration’s efforts to wind down the military conflict between Israel and Hamas, including outreach from the president and his top advisors. “Throughout the conflict, he has found himself navigating territory that was both very familiar and somewhat uncharted. The decisions were his to make, and he was in the leading role, not a supporting one. The outcome would reflect solely on him.” [NBC]
✊ Fight Framing: Washington Post reporters Sean Sullivan and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. explore how the Black Lives Matter movement changed the framing of the U.S. debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Now that a cease-fire has been declared, however, it’s less clear that Black Lives Matter activists and their allies can coalesce around a set of demands that will drive the Mideast debate in the coming months.” [WashPost]
🪖 Deep Underground: The New York Times’s Ronen Bergman takes readers inside the “Fortress of Zion,” the new IDF underground bunker in Tel Aviv that was used during military conflict for the first time this month. “The first noticeable thing one notices upon entering the bunker is the silence. None of the drama and tragedy of war is apparent, and people appear alert, focused and calm.” [NYTimes]
🇨🇺 Havana Nights: With photos from Rachel Wisniewski, NPR’s Picture Show explores the “tiny Jewish minority” in Cuba, where there isn’t a single rabbi in the entire country, and the community is suffering further from the effects of the pandemic. “After Fidel Castro came to power, more than 90% of Cuba’s Jewish population fled, primarily to cities such as Miami.” [NPR]
Around the Web
😷 New Era: Israel plans to lift the vast majority of its remaining COVID restrictions next week and eliminate its “green pass” system for vaccinated citizens as cases remain markedly low.
🛫 Quick Exit: El Al Chairman David Brodet is stepping down after just seven months in the role.
🇦🇪 Helping Hand: UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan said the Gulf nation is prepared to facilitate Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
📰 Push Back: Singer Dua Lipa rejected criticisms of antisemitism made by the World Values Network in a full-page New York Times ad.
🚡 Tragedy: A cable car crash in northern Italy yesterday killed 14 people including five Israelis, leaving just one survivor: a 5-year-old Israeli boy fighting for his life.
🗳️ Race to Gracie: In New York City, all eight Democratic mayoral candidates — Andrew Yang, Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Scott Stringer, Shaun Donovan, Dianne Morales, Maya Wiley and Ray McGuire — addressed the most recent wave of antisemitic violence in the city.
🚓 In Court: Police arrested a Brooklyn man charged with setting fire to a yeshiva last week and assaulting a Hasidic man hours later. A suspect arrested for beating a Jewish man in Midtown Manhattan last week was charged with multiple hate crime counts.
👮 Apprehended: Los Angeles Police announced the arrest of one of the primary suspects in an attack on a group of Jewish men outside a restaurant in the city last week.
🤝 Solidarity: Celebrities including Debra Messing, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Garner shared messages of solidarity with the Jewish community on social media in recent days.
🙅♂️ No Comparison: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) was slammed for televised comments comparing mask mandates to the Holocaust.
⚔️ Kosher War: A lawsuit filed by a Long Island kosher restaurant accuses a local kashrut agency of working to stamp out competing agencies and defame businesses.
🎥 Coming Soon: Israeli-American filmmaker Rama Burshtein is teaming up with Yes Studios on a new fantasy series titled “Fire Dance.”
📗 Not Shelved: Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp said he resisted internal pressure to drop a memoir by former Vice President Mike Pence.
💍 Mazel Tov: Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel is engaged to fashion designer Sarah Staudinger.
🕯️ Remembering: Roman Kent, a Holocaust survivor and chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, died at age 92. Jerome Kagan, a Harvard psychologist who studied child temperament, died at 92. Mark Levitan, who worked in the Bloomberg administration to provide a more accurate measure of poverty in New York, died at 73.
Song of the Day
Israeli singer Ivri Lider and producer Sam Halabi released a new song titled “Sameach” (Happy) to mark the beginning of wedding season.
Professor emeritus at Brooklyn College and painter with works in over 70 public art museums, Philip Pearlstein turns 97… Co-founder of the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, he is written about in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers,” Herbert Wachtell turns 89… Biographer of religious, business and political figures, including Elizabeth II, the Dalai Lama, Nixon, JFK, Billy Graham and Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, Deborah Hart Strober turns 81… Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, Hebrew name is Shabsi Zissel, one of the most influential singer-songwriters of his generation, Bob Dylan turns 80… Santa Fe, New Mexico based marketing consultant, Israel Sushman turns 73… Member of Congress since 2007 and Tennessee’s first Jewish congressman (D-TN-9), Stephen Ira “Steve” Cohen turns 72… Director of planned giving at American Society for Yad Vashem, Robert Christopher Morton turns 70… Former Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs (2000-2003), he is the author of more than a dozen books, Jorge Castañeda Gutman turns 68… First-ever Jewish member of the parliament in Finland, first elected in 1979, in 2011 he was elected as the acting speaker of the Finnish parliament, Ben Zyskowicz turns 67… Constitutional historian, lecturer and writer, Richard B. Bernstein turns 65…
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and short story writer, Michael Chabon turns 58… Former US Ambassador to Singapore, now a partner in the global law firm Reed Smith, David Adelman turns 57… Director of development and alumni relations at Schwarzman Scholars, Debby Goldberg turns 56… Senior development director in AIPAC’s northeast region, Nora Berger turns 54… Founding partner at Rosemont Seneca Partners and former board president of DC-based non-profit 826DC, Eric D. Schwerin turns 52… Ukrainian businessman, Hennadiy Korban turns 51… In 2019 he became the first Israeli winner of an Academy Award in four decades for the Best Live Action Short, Guy Nattiv turns 48… Actor Bryan Greenberg turns 43… Science writer and the executive director of Science Debate, Sheril Kirshenbaum turns 41… Chief of staff at The National September 11 Memorial and Museum, Benjamin E. Milakofsky turns 37… Travel blogger, he has visited 194 countries, Drew “Binsky” Goldberg turns 30…