Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • Orthodox rabbi slated for attending Obama church service

    Simon Rocker
    Jan 21, 2009

    A New York rabbi is under fire from his Orthodox colleagues for having taken part in a service at Washington's National Cathedral to commemorate the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
    According to the JTA, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein joined interfaith representatives in reciting a non-denominational prayer at the National Prayer Service, a traditional post-inauguration event today.
    A spokesman for the Rabbinical Council of America was reported as saying: "The long-standing policy of the Rabbinical Council of America, in accordance with Jewish law, is that participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited."

  • Inauguration Day

    Jenni Frazer
    Jan 20, 2009

    I am sitting here listening to Barack Obama's inauguration speech. My colleagues, as doubtless in other offices around the country, are glued to the screen. If oratory and rhetoric could be bottled, and help to relaunch the economy and even bring peace to the Middle East, then surely this man has the capacity to do it. Very few people have the ability to inspire; for once, let us cast aside cynicism, and pray that President Obama can do the job. We will all benefit if that hope comes true.

  • Just what has Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert got against journalists?

    Daniella Peled
    Jan 20, 2009

    Haaretz reports that the misguided decision to bar all journalists from Gaza during Operation Cast Lead was down to the edict of the Prime Minister’s Office. The High Court itself ruled against the ban; by last week both the IDF and the Defence Ministry said that journalists could be allowed in. But the PMO stood firm.

    Of course, Olmert has got form in this area. During his visit to London last month, he barred JC special correspondent Anshel Pfeffer from all his press briefings. Why? Because seven years before, while Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem, Pfeffer had publicly criticised him over the Versailles disaster, where poor construction led to the collapse of a wedding hall in which 23 people were killed.

    I was also banned from all the media events with Olmert. Why? Because the week before, the JC ran a front-page piece revealing that his visit had been deemed to be entirely pointless by senior officials from both Israel and the UK.

  • Payers not Players

    Daniella Peled
    Jan 19, 2009

    You’ve got to feel sorry for those poor Europeans. They funnel vast sums of money into building the infrastructure of Gaza, only to have it destroyed by the Israelis.

    “We don’t want to go on to reconstruct Gaza every I-don't-know-how-many-years,” said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner this week. “This is not what we want. What we would like to see is a clear sustainable peace."”

    Indeed. But as much as the EU wants to have a significant role in Middle East peacemaking, little has changed since the days of Oslo. Then, too, the Europeans were called upon to stump up the cash without having much say in the decision-making process. Their involvement in the Quartet was supposed to be a sop to their desire to be players rather than just payers.

  • The rise of the four-day working week

    Candice Krieger
    Jan 19, 2009

    News that global accountancy firm KPMG has asked its 11,000 British staff if they would switch to a four-day week or take sabbatical breaks in an attempt to avoid redundancies in the recession raises an interesting question. As the credit crunch continues to bite, might this be the working practice of the future?

    European and British-based companies have already implemented such procedures, putting staff on part-time contracts and asking them to accept lower pay. Car firm Jaguar and construction company Galliford have placed its workers on a four-day week, while Vauxhall is currently in negotiations with unions over a shift to a shorter working week. Firms in Silicon Valley; Cisco Systems, National Semiconductor and Oracle, are also considering it.

    The moves will be viewed by many as a further - and frightening - reflection of the shockwaves rippling through the City. But, would a four-day week really such a bad idea? Companies will save money, keep their talent - and hopefully kick-start the economy - and just imagine what you could do with an extra 52 days off a year.

  • If you liked Jacobson on Jesus…

    Simon Rocker
    Jan 16, 2009

    If you enjoyed Howard Jacobson's Channel Four outing on Sunday to reclaim the Jewish Jesus (see his JC article), then why not take a look at Modern Jews Engage the New Testament. Its author, Rabbi Michael Cook, went down well at the recent Limmud conference and his book was one of the best-sellers at the conference bookstore.

  • In Rafa we trust

    Danny Caro
    Jan 16, 2009

    Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has turned down the latest contract offer made by the club's board. My concerns are growing. I'm a lifelong Reds fan but it doesn't need me to tell you that the team hasn't been in such a promising position for many years.

    I realise that he cannot hold the board to ransom but doubt that he is being totally unreasonable. I sincerely hope that the last few aspects of negotiations can be ironed out in the near future to avoid the repercussions of last season when the club became a laughing stock.

    Top of the league, in the knockout stages of the Champions League and still in the FA Cup, nothing must take away Rafa or the team's focus ahead of two huge derbies against Everton.

  • Has the game gone Kaka?

    Craig Silver
    Jan 16, 2009

    I was absolutely astounded to see what Manchester City are prepared to offer to prize away one of the world’s best football players from AC Milan.

    We’ve known for many years that football is no longer a game, it is quite simply a business. And the deal being discussed this week in Manchester and Milan is utter insanity.

    Is any professional football player really worth £100 million? Of course not. And does any person deserve to get paid £500,000 a week. It just makes me angry when I hear about this simply because we are in a global crisis with the recession and to see this sort of money literally being thrown around quite honestly shocks me.

  • Julia Hobsbawm: tough as odd boots

    Alex Kasriel
    Jan 16, 2009

    I met PR supremo and mother of five, Julia Hobsbawn at The Groucho Club yesterday.

    The exclusive members bar was a fitting place for the interview considering the power woman is best buddies with anyone who is anyone in the media industry.

    We were talking about her new book, The See Saw, which is all about work life balance. Most people I have mentioned this to immediately grimace at the thought. "She just wants to talk about herself" or "She's just showing off!" they say. But maybe we can learn something from her.

  • The performing art

    Jenni Frazer
    Jan 15, 2009

    An extraordinary exchange this morning on Radio 4's Today programme between Israel government spokesman Mark Regev and the programme's resident rottweiler, John Humphrys. The latter, in full attack-dog mode, launched proceedings with a terse "Good morning to you!" and it was all downhill from thereon in.

    Humphrys, in his self-appointed role as the representative of all journalists, everywhere, had two complaints for Regev: 1. why hadn't Regev allowed the BBC into Gaza, and 2. why hadn't Regev taken into account that there were going to be civilian casualties — "you must have known."

    Ok, it is undeniably Mark Regev's job to fend off this kind of interviewing, but even the most casual listener might have congratulated him on his self-restraint. Most people would have lost their temper with Humphrys long before: his sheer snarling rudeness surely went beyond the bounds of tough questioning - of which, incidentally, I am in favour.