Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
In a kiss-off op-ed published in today’s New York Times, Greg Smith, now a former executive director at Goldman Sachs, blasted the investment bank for what he called its “toxic and destructive” environment in which “ripping off” clients is commonplace.
And in addition to dropping bombs about managing directors calling their clients “muppets,” Smith also left this bagel lying amid the wreckage:
My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from South Africa to Stanford University, being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national finalist, winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.
Yep, it would appear that Smith, the I-banker with a conscience, the Jerry Maguire of Wall Street, is also a Yid. One has to wonder if there’s a rabbi or a teacher or a youth director somewhere in South Africa who’s shepping a little nachas right now. (In all seriousness, if anybody knows how to get in touch with this guy, send info my way.)
11.25.13 at 7:43 pm | Chalk it up to Thanksgivukah.
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10.9.13 at 6:56 am | Thanksgivukah, sure -- but Hanukkahgiving?. . .
9.17.13 at 7:25 am | Yes, argues historian Jack Wertheimer.
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11.25.13 at 10:00 am | What the interim agreement means, and why even. . . (98)
11.25.13 at 7:43 pm | Chalk it up to Thanksgivukah. (67)
10.9.13 at 6:56 am | Thanksgivukah, sure -- but Hanukkahgiving?. . . (13)
March 8, 2012 | 9:55 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
In an evening characterized by optimism and not political disagreements, Israeli President Shimon Peres told an audience in Beverly Hills on March 8 that he saw broad agreement between the United States and Israel about what the immediate next steps should be regarding Iran.
“I don’t think anyone would suggest you start by shooting,” Peres told the over 1,000 Jews who gathered at the Beverly Hilton to welcome him on the first day of his four-day trip to Los Angeles.
Peres served three times as Israel’s Prime Minister before taking on the largely ceremonial post of president in 2007, and today he is both elder statesman and head of state. But if media coverage before and after his private meeting with President Obama on March 4 focused on how his message to the American leader might differ from what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be saying, Peres batted away any talk of a gap between the U.S. and Israel when it came to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
“While everybody is looking for differences, the basis is common and agreed,” Peres said, noting that there was support around the world for the current regime of sanctions against Iran, and said they should be given time to work.
“If we have to choose, let’s start with the nonviolent, [with] no war beginning, but saying very clearly that all other options are on the table,” Peres said, sounding—at least in those general terms—very much like both Netanyahu and Obama.
For one hour, Peres answered gentle questions from TV reporter and anchor Campbell Brown. In his remarks, the 88-year-old Nobel Laureate painted in broad strokes his hopes for peace with the Palestinians, his optimistic predictions about the future of the Middle East and his vision for the future of the Jewish people in a rapidly changing world.
“The problem of the Middle East is poverty more than politics,” Peres said, noting that while the upheavals in the region over the last year might bring short-term tumult for Israel, the trend would eventually bring the Arab world into alignment with the rest of the world’s countries.
Peres received a very warm welcome from the crowd at the event, which was jointly sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Israeli Consulate, with help from various other groups.
Peres is the highest-profile Israeli official to visit Los Angeles on a standalone trip in at least a decade.
“Not only is he coming, but he’s coming for four days,” said Rabbi Lawrence J. Goldmark, executive vice president of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, on Thursday. “We matter. It’s not just the Jews of New York.”
Los Angeles is the last stop for Peres on a nationwide tour. In New York City, he appeared on stage before a large audience for a conversation with Charlie Rose. In Washington, D.C., he met with President Obama and addressed the thousands who attended the American Israel Political Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. And on Wednesday, Peres was in the Bay Area, where he created his own Facebook page at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park. The social media company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was reportedly the first to “Like” the Israeli president’s page.
Story continues after the jump.
In the days leading up to Peres’s meeting with Obama, there was much speculation in the Israeli and U.S. media about what the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his work in concluding Oslo Accords would tell the man who was awarded the same prize in 2009 “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
In Los Angeles, Peres said that on the matter of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, he trusted Obama’s assurances.
“I think the President made it clear that he will not compromise on the issue of Iran,” Peres said. “It’s a danger to all of the world, not just to Israel.”
The crowd on Thursday night included leaders of organizations spanning across the political and denominational spectrum, as well as many political dignitaries.
The evening’s edgiest moments came courtesy of Jason Alexander, who served as master of ceremonies. The actor cracked jokes about the security around the event, made a few crude gestures at the audience in a bit about Prime Minister Netanyahu and mocked his own hairpiece.
Otherwise, those who introduced the Israeli president, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Israeli Consul General David Siegel, made it clear that the evening would not feature any hard-hitting questions or controversial statements.
“We are here tonight as one people, united in our support, of you Mr. President and of the State of Israel,” said Federation Chairman Richard Sandler.
So when Brown asked Peres what it meant for Americans to be “pro-Israel,” the Israeli president offered a comment about how the United States and Israel were both “promised lands.”
He did make a gentle dig at the audience, though.
“Half the Jewish people live in the United States,” he said.
“The smaller half,” he added, with a smile.
Peres’s itinerary in Los Angeles includes a visit to the DreamWorks Animation studio on Friday and a Sunday morning breakfast with Jewish and Latino leaders.
March 1, 2012 | 11:15 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
“We must be patient and realistic in our expectation regarding the Middle East,” Sen. George Mitchell told an audience at the University of California, Los Angeles, on March 1.
Mitchell delivered this year’s Bernard Brodie Distinguished Lecture on the Conditions of Peace, and he struck a tone that was appropriately—but not overwhelmingly—pessimistic about the dim prospects for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
The architect of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that paved the way for an end to the conflict in Northern Ireland, Mitchell spent two and a half years as President Obama’s Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, starting in 2009, trying and ultimately failing to help the Israelis and Palestinians reach a similar breakthrough in their halted peace negotiations.
While he acknowledged on Thursday evening that there were “many reasons to be skeptical” about the possibility of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis—first and foremost among them, the uncertainty that has been brewing in the Arab world since the revolutions that deposed the dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011—Mitchell also presented an outline for what he believes has to happen in order to resolve the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
It’s familiar stuff. What needs to happen in the Middle East, Mitchell said, is akin to what happened in Northern Ireland. There, courageous political leaders “made principled compromises that put at risk their careers, their lives and the safety of their families.”
In the case of the Israelis and Palestinians, compromises must be made in order to achieve what the Palestinians’ goal—“a viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps”—and the Israeli goal—“a Jewish state, with secure, recognized, and defensible borders.”
Those overarching goals, Mitchell said, are the very same ones mentioned by President George W. Bush in a 2009 speech he delivered in Jerusalem, just before leaving office. Mitchell quoted from the speech at length on Thursday:
The point of departure for permanent status negotiations to realize this vision seems clear: There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognized, and defensible borders. And they must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent. It is vital that each side understands that satisfying the other’s fundamental objectives is key to a successful agreement. Security for Israel and viability for the Palestinian state are in the mutual interests of both parties.
Mitchell’s speech was diplomatic—that’s to be expected—but it was also very clear-minded. After his talk, NPR host Renee Montagne asked Mitchell a few questions, including one about whether he had difficulty with Israelis who thought that he might be biased against them because he (a) called, in 2001, for an end to construction of Israeli settlements, and (b) is the son of a woman who emigrated to the United States from Lebanon.
Mitchell first politely dismissed the idea of hyphenate Americans (“I have never felt or been anything other than an American”) and then pointed out that when it came to Israeli settlement construction, “the position [he] took was actually consistent with the view of every American government that has ever expressed a position on the subject.”
Mitchell’s opening—a long description of how he came to be a senator and what happened when he first got there—was hilarious. And though the words on the page aren’t quite the same, through a bit of googling, I found the text of a similar speech by Mitchell that he delivered in January in Washington, D.C. It’s worth reading.
March 1, 2012 | 8:34 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Andrew Breitbart, a Republican media mogul from Los Angeles has died. He reportedly collapsed while walking near his home in Brentwood shortly after midnight early Thursday morning. He died, of natural causes, in the hospital. He was 43 years old.
Breitbart, who once proudly called himself a “biased journalist,” worked at the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post before starting his own family of conservative web-based media outlets. He is best known for publishing the damning photographs in 2011 that forced Anthony Weiner, then a Democratic congressman from New York, to resign.
Breitbart was adopted as a child and raised as a Jew, and he enjoyed needling the Jewish community for what he saw as its liberal leanings. At a Republican Jewish Coalition event in June 2011, Breitbart gleefully regaled the audience with the story of his being kicked out of Hebrew school at University Synagogue as a child.
“That’s where the battle started with the liberal Jewish community,” he said.
In an interview conducted shortly after the event, Jay I. Frailich, who has been the synagogue’s cantor for 37 years, remembered Breitbart fondly.
“I remember him,” Frailich said. “He was a nice kid.”
Frailich disputed Breitbart’s story about being kicked out of Hebrew school, though,
“I certainly don’t remember kicking him out,” the cantor said. “He had a bar mitzvah here. We don’t kick kids out.”
“I think it was just a nice story; he was trying to make a point to a Jewish audience,” Frailich added.
On his websites, including Big Government, Big Hollywood and Big Journalism, Breitbart did stretch the boundaries of the truth, and never more so than when, in 2010, he circulated misleadingly edited footage of a speech given by Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod. The video, which appeared on BigGovernment.com, inaccurately portrayed her remarks as racist. She was forced to resign, but later received an apology from the Secretary of Agriculture and was offered a new position.
An ally of the Tea Party, Breitbart’s passing was mourned in messages tweeted on Thursday morning by conservative politicians and media personalities from across the nation.
“Andrew Breitbart was the most innovative pioneer in conservative activist social media in America,” Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich wrote. “He had great courage and creativity.”
Gingrich was also on hand at the Republican Jewish Coalition event where Breitbart spoke, and at the time, Breitbart called the former House speaker “a very smart man, a very wise man,” but added that he did not want to see Gingrich become the Republican nominee, preferring instead “someone from the Tea Party.” “I hope that he [Gingrich] becomes the top adviser to the future President of the United States,” Breitbart said.
Presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum also tweeted in Breitbart’s memory.
Breitbart’s media creations included the website Big Peace, which focused on foreign policy and national security, and frequently addressed Israel-related affairs.
Speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition event In 2011, Breitbart said journalistic objectivity, when covering Israel, was misplaced.
“You cannot be objective when it comes to right and wrong,” Breitbart said. “And Israel is in the right. So I’m a biased journalist, and I’m having a great time doing it.”
According to a tweet by Dave Weigel of Slate.com, Breitbart’s “Big” websites would continue their operations.
Andrew Breitbart speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition in June of 2011.
February 28, 2012 | 2:35 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
It’s Israel Apartheid Week, when college campuses across America are overtaken by paper-mache walls, cardboard tanks and a whole lot of criticism of the Jewish state. Do you know where the voices speaking up for Israel are?
They’re all over the map.
Tonight, a film called “Israel Inside” is having its premiere at the Writers Guild of America theatre (7000 West 3rd Street, 7pm). The film follows a former Harvard professor who moves back to Israel and explores all that is good about his country.
The film was produced by Rabbi Raphael Shore, formerly of Aish HaTorah and the founder of The Clarion Fund and directed and edited by Wayne Kopping. Judging from the trailer, “Israel Inside” seems like a bright and happy companion piece the Clarion Fund’s earlier films about radical Islam. Think “Start-Up Nation” with a brightly surging soundtrack. Expect a lot of talk about high tech innovation and little about conflict—any conflict.
One day later, a few miles to the West and occupying the opposite end of the pro-Israel spectrum, Uri Zaki, the director of the United States arm of the Israeli human right group B’Tselem, will be speaking to the UCLA chapter of J Street U (Dodd Hall, Room 146 from 4:30-6 PM). According to a flyer for the event, he’ll explain “how human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza undermine Israel’s democracy and its future.”
Self-described pro-Israel Jews working to support the Jewish state in radically conflicting ways? Maybe Apartheid week isn’t all that different from the rest of the year.
“Israel Inside” is also airing on KVCR at 8:00 pm on Thursday, March 1.
February 8, 2012 | 3:22 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Something about the description of the American Phoenix Super PAC made me all but certain that the person behind it had some Jewish connection. It was two things, actually, both included in the Super PAC’s 23-item “statement of purpose”:
2. Ban circumcision before the age of 18 and declare the practice mutilation.
3. Declare Islam a hostile political party, not a religious organization.
An anti-Muslim intactivist pushing the boundaries of election law?
Sure enough, Michael Benjamin of Hialeah, Fla., who founded American Phoenix in order to raise money and independently support candidates who align with his agenda, is half-Jewish.
Benjamin’s Super PAC got the attention of, among others, a writer at Foreign Policy, who pointed out that his “views are a little hard to pin down on the right-left spectrum.”
No kidding. In addition to banning circumcision of boys under 18 (“it’s a choice that should be made by the man and not by his father,” he said), Benjamin’s Super PAC advocates for the revocation or revision of all American free trade agreements, the elimination of toll roads and red light cameras and doing away with pensions for all elected officials.
But he’s most concerned about what he sees as the forces of Islam that are threatening the United States.
“They have already taken over Europe,” Benjamin told me over the phone. “They are already working on the African Americans.”
“Imagine,” he continued,” if one percent of these people become radicalized.”
Benjamin grew up in Iran in a household with one Jewish parent and one Muslim one. He lived in Israel for a few years, and he now runs a company dedicated to providing deep-sea burials. The company reportedly runs the Super PAC, and some have raised questions about whether it’s legal for a corporation, even a nonprofit one, to do so. But at least the connection helps explain the first item on the American Phoenix agenda:
1. Ban cremation as a polluting, energy wasting form of departure and replace it with deep-sea burial in an effort to re-nourish the sea.
The amount of energy it takes to cremate one body, Benjamin said, could power a train from Miami to Jacksonville. And deep-sea burial provides fish and other undersea wildlife with the food they need to survive.
“I’ve seen how fish use the protein,” Benjamin said. “They would use 100 percent of it. Nothing is wasted.”
Benjamin hasn’t raised any money yet, the result, he says, of a concerted attack on his websites by his Islamic enemies.
“It shows you the level of the involvement of these people,” Benjamin said. “It’s easier to hack the pentagon than Gmail.”
February 3, 2012 | 5:35 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
A popular music teacher at Hamilton High School is facing multiple allegations of sexual abuse.
For 17 years, Vance Miller taught in the magnet music academy at the public high school, which is located near the Pico-Robertson neighborhood and attracts many Jewish students. Miller, 59, had been teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) since 1978, and was removed from the classroom in September 2010. He had been named Southern California’s Outstanding Music Educator of the Year earlier that year.
Coming in the wake of another veteran teacher’s dismissal from Miramonte Elementary School after being charged with multiple counts of lewd conduct, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy told the Los Angeles Times that the district could commence dismissal proceedings against Miller as early as next week.
But for the lawyer representing two of Miller’s alleged victims, the district’s response is too late, and insufficient.
“Why has the school not reached out to potential victims, to parents to inform them?” asked Anthony De Marco, a lawyer who specializes in civil litigation of abuse cases. “That to me astonishing.”
De Marco represents two adult men who were students of Miller’s in the 1990s, both of whom allege the teacher sexually abused them over an extended period. Both allege that Miller began by giving them hugs, kisses on the lips and massages, and later escalated their relationship into a sexual one.
De Marco filed a lawsuit (pdf) on behalf of one client in April 2011 naming Miller and LAUSD as defendants, seeking damages for negligence and sexual battery. In November 2011, De Marco filed a claim for damages (pdf) against LAUSD on behalf of a second former student of Miller’s, and said he expects to file a lawsuit in that case soon.
In the lawsuit the first client alleges that Miller brought him to his home. The second client alleges the music teacher took him to the YMCA in Westwood where they would work out together and occasionally shower naked together. De Marco, who has interviewed many former students of Miller’s and heard stories corroborating those his clients have told, said the teacher also took students to his church, Knox Presbyterian.
Still, De Marco pointed out, it wasn’t until the story about Miller appeared in media reports that the began to move toward dismissal.
“The school district has known about my clients’ complaints since July 2010,” De Marco said in an interview on February 3, “and they have known that there are multiple others for a full year.”
According to KPCC, when Miller was removed from his classroom in 2010, he was not placed on administrative leave, and “[p]arents weren’t told why the head of the orchestra was gone and a substitute was in his place.”
Attempts to contact members of the LAUSD School Board on Friday were unsuccessful.
February 3, 2012 | 3:35 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Unlike Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who is coyly flirting with a run for a Congressional seat in New Jersey, Jewish comedienne Roseanne Barr appears to be “quite serious” in her quest to be the Green Party’s nominee for President of the United States.
She’s running on a platform that is anti-war, pro-hemp, pro-women and anti-bull____.
Many wonder if Barr, who sang Hatikvah on camera last year because Jewish Journal Arts and Entertainment Editor Naomi Pfefferman asked her to, might just be doing it for the publicity. After all, she did just sell a pilot to NBC.
“This could just be a preshow blitz for her,” a Republican campaign strategist told the Christian Science Monitor. “After all, the big reward for aspiring politicians these days is not a slot on the ticket, but a TV show. Just look at Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.”
Barr is no fan of Palin’s—see “ten million bitches march”—but she might conceivably be taking a page out of that politician-turned-reality-TV-star’s handbook. After all, when Barr first outlined her platform on her website in 2010, she said she would also run this year for prime minister of Israel. On the “green tea party ticket.”
Again: Barr says she’s 100 percent serious.
“I will barnstorm American living rooms,” Barr said in a candidate questionnaire submitted to the Green Party, the Associated Press reports. “Mainstream media will be unable to ignore me, but more importantly they will be unable to overlook the needs of average Americans in the run-up to the 2012 election.”