June 17, 2011
Heilman’s Week in Review: Weiner, Burning man, Syria revelations
Why Weiner was different: In his story this week on the resignation of the congressman from New York, JTA’s Ron Kampeas asked top Democratic leaders what made Anthony Weiner’s transgressions more resignation-worthy than those of Bill Clinton or Sen. David Vitter, the Virgina Republican who remains in office after the public learned he frequented prostitutes. In the Weiner scandal, Democrats said, there was the “ick” factor of the photos making their way around the internet, the novelty of Weiner’s transgressions and his indignant lies about it.
But Clinton’s transgressions also were arguably novel (even JFK probably didn’t do THAT in the Oval Office), icky and obfuscated by lies.
The difference with Weiner is that it served pretty much everyone’s political interests to call for his ouster from Congress. It gave the Republicans an opportunity to burnish their credentials as the party of values, and the more the media talked about Weiner the better the Republicans looked by contrast. That’s why the Democrats wanted Weiner out, too. As Kampeas notes, Democratic party leaders wanted Washington to move beyond Weiner and back to the issues, like health care. For the Democrats, that was exactly the opposite of the circumstances in 1998, when Clinton’s ouster from the presidency would have devastated the Democratic agenda.
There were two more elements that doomed the Jewish congressman from Brooklyn to a different fate than many other sex scandal protaganists working in Washington: One, a dream name for tabloid headlines (kudos to The New York Post for coming up with some blush-worthy doozies over the last few weeks). Two, Weiner’s residency in the media capital of the world; if Weiner were from Idaho and not Brooklyn, would the Boise press have gotten this excited?
Plus, we never actually saw any pictures of Clinton with his pants down.
Trouble in (Palestinian) paradise? There are some signs of trouble in the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah, which leads the Palestinian Authority. Fatah wants Salam Fayad, the P.A. prime minister who is a favorite of the West for his technocratic approach to building the institutions of future Palestinian statehood, to stay on as prime minister, but Hamas, the terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip, sees Fayad’s security cooperation with Israel as a no-go.
Meanwhile, there are some signs of progress in the U.S. effort to get the Israelis and Palestinians talking again to head off a potentially disastrous confrontation at the United Nations in September over a vote on statehood recognition. Palestinian leaders reportedly are considering changing plans for September to avoid losing their U.S. support, and this week Dennis Ross, President Obama’s senior Middle East adviser, and David Hale, the top U.S. envoy to the Mideast, visited the region to try to get things moving again.
On the high seas, Israel is warning that another violent confrontation may be in the offing if a planned flotilla sets sail for Gaza and passengers on the boats resist the Israeli military’s calls to surrender. On May 31, 2010, nine Turks died in violent clashes when they refused to let Israeli commandos intercept their boat, the Mavi Marmara. This time, Turks are considering dropping their plans to join the flotilla due to regional turmoil. It seems they’re too busy trying to deal with the flood of Syrian refugees pouring across the Turkey-Syria border to escape the deadly violence Syrian troops are using to suppress anti-government demonstrations.
Things have gotten so serious that Angelina Jolie has been dispatched to the region. The famously big-lipped actress visited the Syrian refugees on Friday in her capacity as a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. She reportedly was greeted by a banner that read “Goodness Angel of the World, Welcome.”
Syria border breach orchestrated by Damascus: On another Syrian border, newly leaked documents obtained this week by the U.K. Telegraph offer evidence that the May 15 border breach of the Syrian-Israeli frontier on the Golan Heights was orchestrated by the Syrian government. Our Jerusalem bureau reports:
According to one document, the regime ordered 20 buses to cross the border into Majdal-Shams in the Golan Heights to set up a clash between the Palestinians and Israeli soldiers, thus shifting international attention from the Syrian revolution.
One document calls on the group of buses to “infiltrate deep into the occupied Syrian Golan Heights” and orders all military people accompanying the buses not to carry their military identifications in order to keep “a strict emphasis on the peaceful and spontaneous nature of the protest.”
Read the Syrian government memo here.
Burning man—New Square edition: The Orthodox Jewish man from New Square, N.Y. who was severely burned last month for allegedly going to the wrong shul is suing the town’s rebbe, David Twersky, leader of the 7,000 Skverer Chasidim who live in that eponymous village. The burn victim, Aron Rottenberg, is seeking an $18 million judgment against Twersky and the alleged arson perpetrator, Shaul Spitzer. Rottenberg blames the rebbe for directing and condoning a campaign of harassment against Rottenberg for, among other things, choosing to pray at a synagogue other than Twersky’s. For more on this, read JTA reporter Alex Weisler’s story on the subject, “In New York shtetl where arson attack occurred, the rebbe’s word is law.”
When is a Jew not a Jew? When he coverts to the faith in America and then moves to Israel.
Israel has come up with a new formula to deal with the problem of converts to Judaism from the Diaspora who move to the Jewish state. Until now, anyone converting under a recognized denomination (Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox) was eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return (which guarantees the right of immigration to any quarter-Jew, including converts to Judaism). But once in Israel, there is no guarantee the Rabbinate will recognize them as Jewish for the purposes of marriage, divorce or burial.
A few months ago, however, the Israeli Interior Ministry began turning away Orthodox converts from the Diaspora because the Rabbinate had determined their conversions were invalid.
Why, you ask, would the Rabbinate nix Orthodox conversions and not ones from the more liberal movements? Hafuch al hafuch, the new Jewish Agency spokesman in New York, Barry Speilman, told me this week, using a Hebrew term that translates as “Upside down atop upside-down.” Because, Speilman explained, the Rabbinate wasn’t involved in reviewing the applications for aliyah of non-Orthodox converts to determine whether or not they met the Rabbinate’s standards for being Jewish. The Rabbinate simply wrote them all off as being not Jewish.
When it came to Orthodox converts, however, the Rabbinate reviewed the cases. Any convert whose presiding rabbi didn’t pass muster was nixed—and their aliyah petition was subsequently denied by the Interior Ministry. This infuriated Modern Orthodox rabbis in the United States, who saw the Rabbinate trying to undermine their credibility.
Under the new system, made public this week in a letter to the Knesset from the Interior Ministry, the Jewish Agency will determine for the Interior Ministry who is and isn’t eligible for aliyah under the Law of Return; the Rabbinate will have no involvement unless the Jewish Agency asks for its help.
That will clear up problems for converts who want to move to Israel, but it won’t be much help once they arrive. Like the quarter-Jews who immigrate but are not technically Members of the Tribe according to Jewish law (at least 300,000 Russian-speaking immigrants, at last count), converts whose Jewishness is not recognized by the Rabbinate will not be able to marry, divorce or get buried in Jewish cemeteries in Israel.
Maybe once a Palestinian state is created they’ll be able to do those things in Palestine instead of having to fly to Cyprus.