Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
He was probably the greatest chess player the world has ever seen. He also was virulently anti-American and anti-Semitic, odd because he was born in Chicago to a Jewish woman. Bobby Fischer, who had been living for years in exile, died Thursday.
He had emerged briefly in 1992 from a mysterious seclusion that had lasted two decades and defied an American ban on conducting business in wartorn Yugoslavia to play a $5 million match against his old nemesis, the Russian-born grandmaster Boris Spassky.
After he won handily, he dropped out of sight again, living alone. He avoided arrest on American charges over his Yugoslavia appearance and stayed in touch with his few friends in the United States by telephone, compelling them to keep his secrets or risk his rejection.
He lived in Budapest—and possibly the Philippines and Switzerland—and emerged now and then on radio stations in Iceland, Hungary and the Philippines to rant in increasingly belligerent terms against the United States and against Jews.
Genius was certainly too much pressure for Fischer, whose appearance, when he made it, was constantly on the wane and prone to outburst. Often on the radio, the most telling of these was his Sept. 11, 2001 reaction to the terrorist attacks:
“This is all wonderful news,” he announced. “I applaud the act. The U.S. and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians, just slaughtering them for years. Robbing them and slaughtering them. Nobody gave a sh—. Now it’s coming back to the U.S. F—- the U.S. I want to see the U.S. wiped out.”
Fischer added that the events of September 11 provided the ideal opportunity to stage a long-overdue coup d’Ã©tat. He envisioned, he said, a “Seven Days in May scenario,” with the country taken over by the military; he also hoped to see all its synagogues closed, and hundreds of thousands of Jews executed. “Ultimately the white man should leave the United States and the black people should go back to Africa,” he said. “The white people should go back to Europe, and the country should be returned to the American Indians. This is the future I would like to see for the so-called United States.” Before signing off Fischer cried out, “Death to the U.S.!”
When Fischer was released from detention in Japan two years ago, he was confronted at a press conference by Jeremy Schaap, the ESPN broadcaster whose father had befriended a young Fischer.
“I knew your father,” he drawls to the young, dark-haired Schaap. “He rapped me very hard. He said I didn’t have a sane bone in my body. I don’t forget that.”
I ask about chess; a Russian TV crew asks about Kasparov; the Icelanders ask whether Fischer likes herring, but the Schaap affair won’t go away. Fischer insists on returning to it, and things suddenly turn ugly. “Let me get back to this guy,” says Fischer, pointing at the young, dark-haired Schaap. “I hate to rap people personally, but his father many years ago befriended me, took me to see Knicks games, acted kind of like a father figure, and then later like a typical Jewish snake he had the most vicious things to say about me.”
Schaap snaps at that, says “I don’t know that you’ve done much here today really to disprove anything he said,” and walks out. All on camera. Maybe it’s a made-for-TV set-up, maybe not, but it certainly chills the air: Fischer groans and there is a half-minute silence before the woman from Icelandic radio can can things back on track with another question about herring. The human being starts to emerge from under the baseball cap, then bang, he’s off again with another lengthy exposition of his intricately wrought, completely bonkers theories, usually rounded off with: “It’s all on the internet! Why don’t you go look it up?”
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January 17, 2008 | 3:51 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
The Forward has a story on problems at the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for Jewish umbrella organizations.
Adding to the tension, an anonymous, apparently insider blog has begun to attract attention among leaders nationwide, airing charges of UJC indirection and low staff morale.
UJC has been criticized as ineffective and inefficient almost since its formation in 1999 through a merger of three predecessor agencies, the United Jewish Appeal, United Israel Appeal and Council of Jewish Federations. UJCâs current president and CEO, Howard Rieger, has attempted, since taking office in 2005, to restructure and streamline the agency, but his tenure has been marked by turmoil. A number of senior professionals have left UJC since Riegerâs arrival; the local Detroit federation is in rebellion over its dues to UJC, and several other federations have protested the dues formula. Meanwhile, the annual fundraising campaign has stagnated, and allocations to overseas beneficiaries, the charitiesâ signature cause, have been dropping.
The organization has also been accused of being closed and resistant to criticism. Now, however, long-rumored internal complaints are being aired in the new blog.
âNotwithstanding the hopes of the federation system and the merging organizations that created United Jewish Communities in 1999, any fair review of its âaccomplishmentsâ since its founding would have to conclude that UJC has been a costly bust,â said the opening post to the blog, which calls itself Disunited Jewish Communities. âWhat UJC is today is nothing more than a stumbling bureaucracy that canât get out of its own way.”
I don’t cover national Jewish organizations, so I don’t know if it’s true. But I’m not sure even Stanley Gold speaks that bluntly.
January 17, 2008 | 3:21 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Remember the sad story of Megan Meier, the 13-year-old girl who killed herself after being ridiculed by a fictional “friend” on MySpace? A grand jury in Los Angeles is investigating charges that the mother who created or helped her daughter, a former friend of Megan’s, create the Josh Evans identity committed fraud against the Beverly Hills-based company.
This story was, not surprisingly, at the top of the headlines across the country in November. For a better view, The New Yorker sent Lauren Collins to Dardenne Prairie, Mo. Here’s her story.
Teen-age identities mutate so quickly online, and can be masked so easily, that by the morning after Megan was pronounced dead Josh Evans had vanished from MySpace. It wasnât until a month after her death that a neighbor named Michele Mulford told the Meiers that Curt and Lori Drew, who lived four houses down, had created âJoshâ in concert with their thirteen-year-old daughter, a longtime friend of Meganâs. (An eighteen-year-old girl who worked for the Drews was also involved.) The two thirteen-year-olds had recently quarrelled. Mulfordâs own daughter, also thirteen, had been given the password to the account, and had sent at least one unkind message to Megan in Joshâs name. Megan had accompanied the Drews on several vacations, and they knew that she was taking medication.
For nearly a year, on the advice of the police, the Meiers had kept quiet about the Drewsâ involvement in Meganâs death. After investigators determined that the Drewsâ actions, if cruel, had not broken any laws, the Meiers spoke with Steve Pokin, a columnist at the local paper, the Suburban Journals. Pokin revealed the ruse in his column, âPokinâ Around,â on November 13th of last year. âI know that they did not physically come up to our house and tie a belt around her neck,â Tina Meier told Pokin. âBut when adults are involved and continue to screw with a thirteen-year-oldâwith or without mental problemsâit is absolutely vile.â
In the three weeks since Steve Pokinâs article appeared, public opinion against the Drews had been harsh, verging on violent. Much of the outrage was directed at Lori Drew as an exemplar of the micromanaging âhelicopter parent,â a familiar image at least since the Wanda Holloway case. In Channelview, Texas, in 1991, Holloway, a homemaker, attempted to hire a hit man to eliminate a neighbor, Verna Heath, the mother of a girl, Amber, who had twice been elected cheerleader over Hollowayâs daughter, Shanna. But Channelview and Dardenne Prairie, where teen-agers still have after-school jobs, are not type-A parent/overscheduled kid kinds of towns. Like Wanda Holloway, Lori Drew may not have represented a helicopter parent so much as a more ancient archetype: the resentful neighbor.
Lori Drew has shown little remorse, contending, through a lawyer, that she is the undeserving victim of an âavalanche of criticism.â Her statement suggests that she may have been less an overbearing parent than an indifferent one:
Although she was aware of the account, Lori Drew never sent any messages to Megan or to anyone else using this MySpace account. . . . Lori Drew was not aware of any mean, nasty or negative comments made by anyone against Megan until after Megan took her own life. . . .
Pam Fogarty, the mayor, had two hundred unanswered e-mails in her in-box. âPeople are shocked, and theyâre pissed as hell!â she told me. Fogarty
January 17, 2008 | 9:58 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
You’ve heard the slander before, no doubt. But what if it wasn’t a denigration? What if that was the point?
In a recent column on the religion Web site On Faith, Jonathan Sarna talks about how younger Jews have returned to a 100-year-old movement, that which marries Judaism with secularism. But these are often amorphous philosophies, as much social and political as spiritual, not non-theistic religious communities.
That is, however, the case with Jewish Humanists, whom Manya Brachear checks in on.
When Rabbi Adam Chalom stands before the Sabbath flames and sings the Hebrew blessing to welcome Shabbat, there is no mention of God.
Chalom believes there are no prophets. He preaches that only hard work yields miracles. And until science unlocks life’s mysteries, his most honest answer to why people are here and where they go when they die is, “I don’t know.”
God has nothing to do with it.
At 32, the north suburban rabbi is the new face of the world’s youngest and most provocative Jewish movement, Humanistic Judaism. These Jews celebrate the faith’s historic culture, but revere compassion and generosity instead of God.
Chalom steps up to carry the movement at a turbulent time, when American society is increasingly polarized about God, and Humanistic Jews are still mourning Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the larger-than-life personality who founded the iconoclastic movement in 1963. Wine died last year in a car crash.
Chalom argues, and surveys support him, that a majority of American Jews embrace the humanists’ emphasis on culture and ethics, independent of God. Many Jews buy tickets for High Holiday services and utter prayers to a supreme power they don’t believe exists, he contends. Others simply abandon Jewish traditions.
For these Jews, Chalom says, the humanistic movement offers an authentic alternative, allowing them to celebrate rites of passage without compromising their beliefs.
“Honestly, we’re keeping people Jewish,” Chalom said.
January 16, 2008 | 4:57 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Winehouse’s producer, Mark Ronson, told Rolling Stone magazine this week that the two had discussed an album of Hanukkah and Christmas songs.
“We’re talking about making a holiday record, with Christmas songs on one side and Hanukkah songs on the other,” Ronson told Rolling Stone. “She’s got songs called, like, Kosher Kisses and Alone Under the Mistletoe.”
According to Ronson, the idea came as the two were bemoaning the lack of “cool” Jewish songs for Hanukkah.
“She was kind of f**king around, but I was like, ‘You have all these amazing records to play for Christmas, like Motown and Carla Thomas and the Charlie Brown Christmas, and unfortunately, us Jews have nothing that cool to listen to. So we should do something,” Ronson told the magazine.
Yeah, that should go over really well with Christians. Not to mention, Jews have a cool Chanukah song. It’s called “The Chanukah Song,” and it comes in three versions
January 16, 2008 | 9:02 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Not long ago, in a decrepit prison in Iraqi Kurdistan, a senior interrogator with the Kurdish intelligence service decided, for my entertainment and edification, to introduce me to an al-Qaeda terrorist named Omar. âThis one is crazy,â the interrogator said. âDonât get close, or heâll bite you.â
Omar was a Sunni Arab from a village outside Mosul; he was a short and weedy man, roughly 30 years old, who radiated a pure animal anger. He was also a relentless jabberer; he did not shut up from the moment we were introduced. I met him in an unventilated interrogation room that smelled of bleach and paint. He was handcuffed, and he cursed steadily, making appalling accusations about the sexual practices of the interrogatorâs mother. He cursed the Kurds, in general, as pig-eaters, blasphemers, and American lackeys. As Omar ranted, the interrogator smiled. âI told you the Arabs donât like the Kurds,â he said. Iâve known the interrogator for a while, and this is his perpetual theme: close proximity to Arabs has sabotaged Kurdish happiness.
Omar, the Kurds claim, was once an inconsequential deputy to the now-deceased terrorist chieftain Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Omar disputed this characterization. By his own telling, he accomplished prodigies of terror against the pro-American Kurdish forces in the northern provinces of Iraq. âYou are worse than the Americans,â he told his Kurdish interrogator. âYou are the enemy of the Muslim nation. You are enemies of God.â The interrogatorâI will not name him here, for reasons that will become apparent in a momentâsat sturdily opposite Omar, absorbing his invective for several minutes, absentmindedly paging through a copy of the Koran.
During a break in the tirade, the interrogator asked Omar, for my benefit, to rehearse his biography. Omarâs life was undistinguished. His father was a one-donkey farmer; Omar was educated in Saddamâs school system, which is to say he was hardly educated; he joined the army, and then Ansar al-Islam, the al-Qaedaâaffiliated terrorist group that operates along the Iranian frontier. And then, on the blackest of days, as he described it, he fell prisoner to the Kurds.
The interrogator asked me if I had any questions for Omar. Yes, I said: Have you been tortured in this prison?
âNo,â he said.
âWhat would you do if you were to be released from prison right now?â
âI would get a knife and cut your head off,â he said.
At this, the interrogator smacked Omar across the face with the Koran.
Omar yelped in shock. The interrogator said: âDonât talk that way to a guest!â
Now, Omar rounded the bend. A bolus of spit flew from his mouth as he screamed. The interrogator taunted Omar further. âThis book of yours,â he said, waving the Koran. ââCut off their heads! Cut off their heads!â Thatâs the answer for everything!â Omar cursed the interrogatorâs mother once again; the interrogator trumped him by cursing the Prophet Muhammadâs mother.
The meeting was then adjourned.
In the hallway, I asked the interrogator, âArenât you Muslim?â
âOf course,â he said.
âBut youâre not a big believer in the Koran?â
âThe Koranâs OK,â he said. âI donât have any criticism of Muhammadâs mother. I just say that to get him mad.â
He went on, âThe Koran wasnât written by God, you know. It was written by Arabs. The Arabs were imperialists, and they forced it on us.â This is a common belief among negligibly religious Kurds, of whom there are many millions.
âThatâs your problem, then,â I said. âArabs.â
âOf course,â he replied. âThe Arabs are responsible for all our misfortunes.â
âWhat about the Turks?â I asked. It is the Turks, after all, who are incessantly threatening to invade Iraqi Kurdistan, which they decline to call âIraqi Kurdistan,â in more or less the same obstreperous manner that they refuse to call the Armenian genocide a genocide.
âThe Turks, too,â he said. âEveryone who denies us our right to be free is responsible for our misfortunes.â
We stepped out into the sun. âThe Kurds never had friends. Now we have the most important friend, America. Weâre closer to freeing ourselves from the Arabs than ever,â he said.
So goes the opening of Jeffrey Goldberg‘s amazing cover story for this month’s Atlantic and the hope of Iraqi Kurds who believe the American-led ouster of Saddam Hussein was the beginning of the new nation of Kurdistan. In his article, Goldberg imagines a new map of the Middle East, seen above, which he says could be the greatest consequence of the war.
It used to be that the most far-reaching and inventive question one could ask about the Middle East was this: How many states, one or twoâIsrael or a Palestinian state, or bothâwill one day exist on the slip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River?
Today, that question seems trivial when compared with this one: How many states will there one day be between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates River? Three? Four? Five? Six? And why stop at the western bank of the Euphrates? Why not go all the way to the Indus River? Between the Mediterranean and the Indus today lie Israel and the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Long-term instability could lead to the breakup of many of these states.
These new nations would largely be drawn along racial and ethnic lines, which certainly would lead to lots of bloodshed, probably like what we saw in Iraq before the sectarian violence slowed toward the end of the year. In fact, many in the Middle East and some pro-Palestinian American academics think this was the goal: an American plot to Balkanize Arab countries for the benefit of Israel. Seriously. The article is so ripe with choice nuggets that I can’t possibly mention them all, but here is a poignant one made by a long-quite voice.
The neoconservativesâ big idea was that American-style democracy would quickly take hold in Iraq, spread through the Arab Middle East, and then be followed by the collapse of al-Qaeda, who would no longer have American-backed authoritarian Arab regimes to rally against. But democracy has turned out to be a habit not easily cultivated, and the idea that Arab political culture is capable of absorbing democratic notions of governance has fallen into disfavor.
In December of 2006, I went to the Israeli Embassy in Washington for a ceremony honoring Natan Sharansky, who had just received the Medal of Freedom from President Bush. Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident, had become the presidentâs tutor on the importance of democratic reform in the Arab world, and during the ceremony, he praised the president for pursuing unpopular policies. As he talked, the man next to me, a senior Israeli security official, whispered, âWhat a child.â
âWhat do you mean?â I asked.
âItâs not smart â¦ He wants Jordan to be more democratic. Do you know what that would mean for Israel and America? If you were me, would you rather have a stable monarch who is secular and who has a good intelligence service on your eastern border, or would you rather have a state run by Hamas? Thatâs what he would get if there were no more monarchy in Jordan.â
After the ceremony, I spoke with Sharansky about this critique. He acknowledged that he is virtually the lone neoconservative thinker in Israel, and one of the few who still believes that democracy is exportable to the Arab world, by force or otherwise.
âAfter I came back from Washington once,â he said, âI saw [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon in the Knesset, and he said, âMazel tov, Natan. Youâve convinced President Bush of something that doesnât exist.ââ
January 15, 2008 | 9:38 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
As leaders of the Jewish community, none of whose organizations will endorse or oppose any candidate for President, we feel compelled to speak out against certain rhetoric and tactics in the current campaign that we find particularly abhorrent. Of particular concern, over the past several weeks, many in our community have received hateful emails that use falsehood and innuendo to mischaracterize Senator Barack Obamaâs religious beliefs and who he is as a person.
These tactics attempt to drive a wedge between our community and a presidential candidate based on despicable and false attacks and innuendo based on religion. We reject these efforts to manipulate members of our community into supporting or opposing candidates.
Attempts of this sort to mislead and inflame voters should not be part of our political discourse and should be rebuffed by all who believe in our democracy. Jewish voters, like all voters, should support whichever candidate they believe would make the best president. We urge everyone to make that decision based on the factual records of these candidates, and nothing less.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, Founder and Dean, Simon Wiesenthal Center
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean, Simon Wiesenthal Center
William Daroff, Vice President, United Jewish Communities
Nathan J. Diament, Director, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
Abraham Foxman, National Director, Anti-Defamation League
Richard S. Gordon, President, American Jewish Congress
David Harris, Executive Director, American Jewish Committee
Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Phyllis Snyder, President, National Council of Jewish Women
Hadar Susskind, Washington Director, Jewish Council for Public Affairs
January 15, 2008 | 1:53 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
I have no idea why Mike Huckabee thinks the Constitution is un-Christian, a statement he made last night that only makes me more wary of his candidacy.
I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that’s what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.
This is really ridiculous. And it is exactly the kind of politicking the Constitution sought to prevent. Huckabee keeps selling his conservative Christian creds like a used-car salesman, but this time it might backfire.
I can see how support for a human life amendment and a federal marriage amendment can win votes among some politically conservative evangelicals. But honestly, I’m thinking that this quote probably cost Huckabee more evangelical votes than it won him. The strongest supporters of those amendments have made the case on pragmatic grounds, not theological ones. James Dobson, for example, doesn’t say the federal marriage amendment is necessary to bring the Constitution in line with God’s standards. He says it’s necessary to keep marriage from being redefined legally and culturally.