A roundup of the most talked about political and global stories in the Jewish world this week:
After weeks of speculation and debate, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel was tapped as the new Secretary of Defense for what the Obama administration said were "mundane reasons." Others chimed in: "Hagel has incurred the wrath of the same hawkish 'pro-Israel' forces whose influence he was rash enough to acknowledge. He has done, in short, exactly what people who aspire to jobs like secretary of defense in Democratic administrations learn not to do," said Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast. And his reputation isn't accurate, said Jeffrey Golberg at Bloomberg. "There is nothing in Hagel’s record to suggest that he scapegoats Jews and Israel in the Walt manner -- Hagel has argued, in fact, that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was motivated by oil -- and there is nothing in his record to suggest he will try to persuade Obama to separate the U.S. from Israel in any meaningful way," he said. "Hagel, like Obama, is a quiet strong friend of Israel. The movement against him is a relic of a binary with-Israel or against-Israel vision that does not have the true interests of Israel or the United States at heart," Roger Cohen at The New York Times added.
As violence ramps up in Syria's civil war, Israel hopes to build a fence along the border with the neighboring country. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the construction of a 143-mile fence during his weekly address: "We intend to erect an identical fence, with a few changes based on the actual territory, along the Golan Heights. We know that on (the) other side of our border with Syria today, the Syrian army has moved away, and in its place, global jihad forces have moved in." To this point, Fox News noted, Israel has largely stayed out of the conflict. This measure would drastically change things. Stay tuned.
Calling it Palestine
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced this week that his Palestinian Authority will be called the "State of Palestine" from now on, according to reports. All documents will get a new logo and rebranding to mark the change. "So, is the move itself a passport to a new reality for the Palestinians or merely a symbolic gesture?" Al Jazeera asked. "In sum, this is another bit of evidence that the Palestinian Authority is operating in a world of symbolism, threats and public relations stunts which slough off the authority’s obligations and finger-point at Israel, trying to make settlements once again the excuse for not negotiating," a State Department spokeswoman said. Others see a bigger impact here. "The move marks a step towards sovereignty and independence, developments Palestine has long deserved," said Amelia Smith at Middle East Monitor.
'Czech Joe Lieberman'
Is the Czech Republic on the verge of becoming the first European country to elect a Jewish president? It looks possible with Jan Fischer running toward the top of national polls with another former government head. It'll be decided this weekend. "He's like our Joe Lieberman,” said a Jewish leader. “Whether or not you support him, you can't help but be proud he has come this far.” Some are dubious about the chances. "One analyst, Miroslav Mares, says The Monitor pointed out that the polls had been wrong during other presidential elections," according to reports. But Fischer may be up against stiff opposition, reported JTA: "If there is a shadow hanging over Fischer in the eyes of Czech voters, it is not his religion but his former membership in the Communist Party. Fischer says he joined under pressure to keep his job as a public employee and has publicly apologized for the decision."
Ping pong protest
A young Orthodox Jewish girl from New York made national headlines when she decided to opt out of her table tennis tournament when she was scheduled to play one of her matches on the Sabbath. Estee Ackerman chose to sit out once she had advanced at the 2012 U.S. National Table Tennis Championships in Las Vegas. "I advanced in my round robin and then we looked at my schedule and saw the next match would be during Friday night, which is our Sabbath, so of course I'm disappointed," Ackerman told The New York Post. Her father said that the competition's organizers did a "very good job" in spite of Estee's disappointment and handled the situation well. Estee is now hard at work training for the next one.