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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 23, 2011 PAGE 1. A. WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Christopher Hitchens, the atheist and iconoclast who discovered in adulthood that he was of Jewish descent, has died. Vanity Fair, where much of Hitchens' work appeared, announced his passing late Dec. 15 on Twitter. Hewas 62 and suffering from esophageal cancer. Hitchens, born in Britain but more recently natural- ized as an American citizen, emerged from the British left in the 1970s, joining the New Statesman as a journalist. Hitchens had a complicated and evolving relationship with Israel and Judaism. Regard- ing Israel, he allied himself in the 1970s and 1980s with Palestinian nationalists and called himself an anti-Zionist. As an atheist, he engaged with Judaism as he did with Hitchens, who battled religion and embraced his Jewishness, dies other faiths--with disdain for what he saw as a corrupt- ing, malign irrationalism. Yet in later years it was his inclination against religion that seemed to moderate his views on Israel. He developed a grudging appreciation for a democracy in a region he saw as ridden with radical theocrats. He also detected among some of his fellow Israel critics a tendency toward anti-Semitism, going so far as to suggest that it was an element driving the thesis of overweening pro-Israel influ- ence in "The Israel Lobby," the 2007 book by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. - "Mearsheimer and Walt be- long to that vapid school that essentially wishes that the war with jihadism had never started," he wrote in Slate in 2006 of the essay that was the basis for the book. "Their wish is father to the thought that there must be some way, short of a fight, to get around this confrontation. Wishful- ness has led them to seriously mischaracterize the origins of the problem and to produce an article that is redeemed from complete dullness and medi- ocrity only by being slightly but unmistakably smelly." Hitchens was 38 when his maternal grandmother re- vealed to his younger brother, Peter, that she was Jewish. Christopher Hitchens told The Observer in 2002 that the revelation "thrilled" him-- living in Washington, he had acquired a passel of Jewish friends. Moreover, he had a dream of being on the deck of a ship and being asked to join a minyan. Despite his rejection of religious precepts, Hitchens would make a point of telling interviewers that according to halachah, he was Jewish. Hitchens' willingness to wade into an argument and take on both sides was evident this summer when his target was a small grou p of pro- Palestinian activists aiming to breach Israel's hlockade of the Gaza Strip. The activists' effort was tied to the anni- versa-ry of the Israeli raid on another flotilla that claimed the lives of nine Turks and earned Israel international opprobrium. Hitchens could not resist tweaking Israel for a tendency to blunder into confrontation. "Since Israel adopts a pos- ture that almost guarantees a reaction of some sort in the - not-too-distant future, and since there was such a frisson of violence the last time the little fleet set sail, there's no reason for it not to become a regular seasonal favorite," he wrote in Slate. But then he went on to note the activists' ties or sympathies with the Hamas- led government in Gaza, also pointing to Hamas' embrace of"The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." "This disgusting fabrica- tion is a key foundational doc=i L ument of 20th-century racism, and totalitarianism, indelibly linked to the Hitler regime in theory and pract!ce,"he wrote. "It seems extraordinary to me that any 'activist' claiming allegiance to human rights could cooperate at any level with the propagation of such evil material." He continued, "The little boats cannot make much dif- ference to the welfare of Gaza either way, since the materi- als being shipped are in such Christopher Hitchens negligible quantity. The chief significance of the enterprise is therefore symbolic. And the symbolism, when examined even cursorily, doesn't seem too adorable." Palestinians released in second stage of Shalit swap JERUSALEM (JTA)--Some 550 Palestinianswere released from Israeli jails in the second stage of the prisoner swap for captured soldier Gilad Shalit. The prisoners, including six women, were handed over by Israel on Sunday night. They left from the Ayalon Prison near Tel Aviv and were bused to four separate crossings in order to be released to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, eastern Jerusalem and Jordan. Family members of the pris- oners reportedly clashed with Israeli soldiers at the Beitunia crossing near Ramailah in the West Bank. As they waited for their relatives to go free, the family members threw rocks and firebombs at Israeli secu- rity services. None of the prisoners re- portedly belongs to Hamas or Islamic Jihad, or was con- victed of crimes involving the murder of Israelis, according to reports. Oren slams Friedman lobby jibe as 'dangerous' WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Israel's U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren said New York Times columnist Tom Fried- man "strengthened a dan- gerous myth" when he said Congress was "bought and paid for by the Israel lobby." "This allegation is pro- foundly disturbing," Oren told JTA. "The term 'Israel lobby' implies the existence of a Zion- ist cabal wielding inordinate economic and political power. Unintentionally, perhaps, Friedman has strengthened a dangerous myth." Friedman's Dec. 13 column outlied concerns he said he shares with other American Jews about Israel's direction. He listed a number of anti- democratic indicators, but it was an aside in which he warned Prime Minister Ben- jamin Netanyahu not to take seriously standing ovations he enjoyed during his address to Congress last May, saying the applause "was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby," that sparked outrage. A number of Congress members decried Friedman's allegation, and Oren said Friedman missed the real Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA Charles Haynes/Wikimedia Commons Did The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman strengthen 'a dangerous myth?' admiration Israel has in the body. "The 29 standing ova- tions that Prime Minister Netanyahu received from both houses of Congress, and from representatives of both parties, reflected the deep sup- port of the American people for the State of Israel," Oren said. "That commitment is not--and never has to be-- purchased." Obama to Reform Jews: Don't let anyone challenge my Israel bona tides NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (JTA)--President Obama told a gathering of Reform Jewry not to let anyone challenge his record of support for Israel, which he said was "unprec- edented." After a brief d'var Torah-- "It never hurts to begin a speech by discussing the Torah portion," Obama said--the president listed several areas of close cooperation with Israel and the Jewish community, including missile defense and Iran sanctions. Of the sanc- tions, he said they were the "hardest hitting" ever. He repeated his pledge that he would take "no options" off the table when it comes to forcing Iran to back down from its suspected nuclearweapons program. Obama peppered his speech with Jewish references, joking about his daughter Malia's eagerness to attend bar and bat mitzvahs. His speech was based on tte story of Joseph's declaration "Hineni"--"Here I am"--to his father, Jacob. To repeated applause, Obama ran through his do- mestic policy achievements on health care, and women's and gay rights, among others. Knesset committee advanc- es marriage bill JERUSALEM (JTA)--A Knesset committee has ap- proved a bill that would allow couples wishing to marry to register with any rabbinate in the country. The bill, which is sponsored by the Yisrael Beiteinu party, was approved Sunday by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation and advanced to a vote in the full Knesset. The measure must pass three readings before it becomes law. Jewish couples now must register with the rabbinate in the city or region of residence of one member of the couple. Egypt's gas pipeline to Israel attacked for 10th time JERUSALEM (JTA)-- Egypt's gas pipeline to Israel was attacked for the 10th time since the beginning of the year. Sunday's attack did not stop the flow of gas on the line near El Arish in the Sinai Peninsula because it had not yet been restarted following an attack on Nov. 28. The explosion reportedly was detonated by remote control. Gas between Israel and Egypt has flowed for only two days since June, lccording to the Israeli business daily Globes. No group has claimed responsibility for the series of attacks. Woman pressured to back of bus spurs Israeli probe JERUSALEM (JTA)mls- rael's transportation minister ordered an investigation into an incident in which a woman was pressured to move to the back of a public bus by a haredi Orthodox man. Yisrael Katz on Sunday ordered an investigation into the incident, which occurred two days earlier on a public bus running from Ashdod to Jerusalem. Tanya Rosenblit, 28, was told by the haredi man to move to the back of the bus, according to reports. The man refused to allow the bus, operated by Egged, tomove for about 30 minutes, until police arrived and asked Rosenblit to move to the back, which she refused. The man then got off the bus. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday con- demned the incident. "Israeli society is a mosaic composed of Jews and Arabs, secular and ultra-Orthodox, and until todaywe have agreed on peaceful coexistence and mutual respect among all sectors. Recently we have wit- nessed numerous attempts to unravel this coexistence," he said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting. Netanyahu added, "I think that marginal groups cannot be allowed to dismantle our common denominator, and we must maintain the public space as an open and safe for all Israelis. We need to look for what unites and bridges, not what divides and separates, and this is how we will act." The Transportation Min- istry maintains a voluntary segregation plan for public buses, underwhich riders may sit separately if they desire, but fellow passengers cannot be pressured to sit separately. The plan was approved by Israel's Supreme Court. Egged said itwas investigat- ing the incident. Canadian imam says re- marks were misinterpreted TORONTO (JTA)--A Ca- nadian imam who compared the treatment of Muslims in the country to that of Jews in the Nazi era says his remarks were misinterpreted. Calgary-based Syed Sohar- wardy, president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, in trying to clarify his earlier comments said last Friday that he did not mean to compare Ottawa's new policy banning Islamic face veils at citizenship ceremonies to the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. " Rather, he said, Muslims in Canadaare starting to feel as if they are under attack much as Jews were in the years leading up to the Holocaust. "I said the current situa- tion of Muslims that we are facing is trending towards a situation that will be very, very horrible, " he told a news conference. "I created a simi- larity just to make a point, not to insult, not to be unrealistic or insensitive or incorrect." Soharwardy said he meant to compare the rising hostility facing Muslims in Canada to the genesis of anti-Semitism decades before the Holocaust. Allen, Spielberg grab Golden Globes nominations LOS ANGELES (JTA)-- Famed directors Woody Allen and Steven Spielberg led the list of Jewish nominees for Golden Globe Awards. Allen with his "Midnight in Paris," a critical and com- mercial success, was rewarded with three nods: best motion picture (musical or comedy), director and screenplay. Spielberg's "War Horse" was nominated for best mo- tion picture (drama) and "The Adventures of Tintin" for best animated feature film. The Golden Globe nomina- tions, which were announced Dec. 15, are seen as a predictor for the Oscar races. "Footnote," which was the best screenplay winner at the Cannes Film Festival for Israeli director-writer Joseph Cedar, did not make the Golden Globes cut. However, Israel could take some pride in the strong showing of the American television series (drama) "Homeland," based on the Israeli hit "Hatufim," or Pris- oners of War. The American version, produced by Howard Gordon, earned nominations as best in its category, as well as acting nominations for its stars, Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. Other notable Jewish talent is also in the running, accord- ing to Danielle Berrin, the "Hollywood Jew" blogger for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. In film nominations, Jonah Hill of"Moneyball" and Albert Brooks of"Drive'will compete in the best supporting actor category. Up for best screen- play honors is Aaron Sorkin, co-writer of "Moneyball." Television picks included HBO's "Game of Thrones," created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, in the best drama TV series category. "Modern Family," created by Steve Levitan (with Chris- topher Lloyd) received nods for best television series (musical or comedy). Evan Rachel Wood was nominated for best supporting performance in the miniseries "Mildred Pierce." Alien West likens Dems to Goebbels WASHINGTON (JTA)--U.S. Rep. Allen West likened Demo- crats to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister. "If Joseph Goebbels was around, he'd be very proud of the Democrat Party because they have an incredible propa- gandamachine,'West (R-Fla.) told a group of reporters who on Dec. 15 asked him about polls showing Congress is unpopular, and that voters tend to blame the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Politico first reported the remarks. The National Jewish Dem- ocratic Council called on West--an Iraq War vet who represents a South Florida district with a large Jewish population--to apologize. "As we have said repeatedly, invoking the Holocaust to make a political point is never accept- able and should be condemned by all for the sake of the memory of those who were lost," it said in a statement. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee joined in the condemnation. Havel, revolution leader and ex-Czech president, dies at 75 PRAGUE (JTA)--Vaclav Havel, who as Czechoslovakia's first post-Communist presi- dent repeatedly denounced anti-Semitism, has died. Havel died Sunday at the age of 75 after a long illness. The dissident playwright and human rights champion helped lead Prague's 1989 "Velvet Revolution" and was a hero in the Cold War struggle for democracy in Soviet- dominated Eastern Europe. The European Jewish Con- gress called Havel a "great friend of the Jews" who "did much to confront anti-Semi- tism and teach the lessons of the dark chapter of the Holo- caust during his two terms in office."