Burning man

Burning man

Blame the heat, or the long Independence Day weekend, but my attention span is shot. Indulge me while I offer a few quick takes.

The repudiator-in-chief?

When was the last time you gave a thought to Louis Farrakhan, or considered his cultural or political significance, or thought of him as the leader of anything more important than a cultish group of bow-tie-wearing newspaper salesmen?

Which is why I can’t imagine anything less helpful than the Zionist Organization of America’s demand that President Obama “condemn Farrakhan’s New Anti-Semitic Letter/Threats to ZOA, AIPAC, ADL & Others.”

In case you missed it, Farrakhan wrote a letter last month to leaders of several Jewish groups accusing Jews of “anti-Black behavior” and calling for dialogue to “repair” the damage. “[Y]our history with us shows you have been our worst enemy,” Farrakhan wrote, according to a copy of the letter I obtained.

It’s vile stuff. But why should Obama get involved, according to ZOA? Well, why else: Didn’t Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, award Farrakhan a “lifetime achievement” award? Didn’t Obama attend Farrakhan’s “Million Man March” in 1995 (and end up repudiating it, in fact, although the ZOA press release doesn’t say so)?

But it’s not all about, yet again, trying to establish an ideological kinship between Obama and Farrakhan (although I suspect that was the main motivation for the ZOA’s news release). No — ZOA’s Morton Klein thinks this is an opportunity for racial “healing,” or something. “Who better than to do that than a black president who has spoken about healing racial divides, including that between Jews and African-Americans, and reducing the anti-Semitism that comes from some sectors of the African-American community?” he writes.

So the best way for Obama to heal the nation’s racial divides is to call national attention to an obscene anti-Semitic letter that barely made it into the media in the first place? Raising Farrakhan’s latest crackpot missive to a matter of presidential urgency is exactly what Farrakhan is looking for — the kind of visibility he hasn’t had in years.

That’s a pretty high price to pay just because you think the president has it wrong on Israel. The ZOA ought to stick to critiquing Obama’s Mideast policy, and stop issuing disingenuous litmus tests.

A tax on both your houses

On Monday, The New York Times published a nearly 5,000-word investigation on tax-exempt groups in the United States, like Ateret Cohanim and Shuva Israel, which fund Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank. Much of the $200 million in tax-deductible gifts went to legitimate expenditures like schools and synagogues, but also to “more legally questionable commodities” like guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes, and security vehicles.

The first response I saw came from the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, which JTA describes as “a watchdog group that reports on groups critical of Israel.” NGO Monitor accuses the Times of only telling “half” the story. According to its president, Gerald Steinberg, “There are at least as many organizations that use U.S. tax-exempt status to demonize and wage political war against Israel.”

NGO Monitor names the Ford Foundation, New Israel Fund, and the Open Society Institute among such “opposition groups.”

This sounds like a “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” argument. But the logical extension of Steinberg’s argument is that the U.S. should crack down on the tax-exempt status of all groups, Right and Left, who may be violating, as the Times puts it, “American tax rules [that] prohibit the use of charitable funds for political purposes at home or abroad.”

Groups on the Left may have publicly cheered the Times expose, but quietly they, and even non-ideological groups that raise funds for Israeli causes, must be worried about new scrutiny from the IRS.

Don’t ask

Every news account on the Elena Kagan hearings quoted her charming response when Sen. Lindsey Graham asked her, after briefly raising the issue of the Christmas bomber, “Where you were at on Christmas?” Kagan replied, to loud guffaws, “You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.”

A great line, but nobody, as far as I can tell, asked why Graham wanted to know in the first place. In fact, I have a source deep in the Senate Judiciary Committee who leaked me four other questions Graham had intended to ask had he not run out of time:

1) Now, Ms. Kagan, I’d like to talk about terrorism detainees. But first: Do you have plans for Easter?

2) As dean of Harvard Law School you opposed military recruitment, which I thought was inappropriate. Hanukka, I understand, celebrates a great military victory. Do you give presents on all eight days?

3) The question is: Can you make sure that you’re not channeling your political agenda when it comes time to render decisions? Another question is: Do you know where I can get a good bagel in Washington? I thought you might know.

4) On the war on terror, you could provide the court with some real-world experience about what this country’s facing. Is Larry David funny to you? He just makes me uncomfortable.

read more: