Amazon expanding in Israel


Amazon is expanding in Israel, setting up Alexa Shopping teams in two cities.

The company will open research and development groups in Haifa and Tel Aviv with a total of 100 employees at the start, the Israeli business daily Globes reported. Alexa is a digital personal assistant developed by Amazon that allows users to shop online using voice commands.

Amazon said in an announcement that it is seeking to hire scientists, software engineers and product managers for the two offices.

The company recently hired Eyal Itah, former Microsoft Israel development director, as general manager of the Alexa Shopping engineering team, and Yoelle Maarek, who was the former research director at Yahoo! and ran its Haifa development center, as vice president of worldwide research.

Amazon has been active in Israel for the past several years. In early 2015 it purchased the Israeli cloud computing company Annapurna Labs.

Amazon removing Nazi-symbol ads on NY subways for new TV show


Amazon is removing its Nazi-symbol-laden ads for “The Man in the High Castle” television show from a highly trafficked New York subway line.

A spokesman for New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority confirmed to Gothamist on Tuesday that Amazon was pulling the wraparound advertisements featuring a modified Nazi Reichsadler eagle and a variation of a World War II-era Japanese flag from the 42nd Street shuttle.

The ad campaign, which caused a stir on Tuesday, was scheduled to run through Dec. 14.

Earlier in the day, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “While these ads technically may be within MTA guidelines, they’re irresponsible and offensive to World War II and Holocaust survivors, their families, and countless other New Yorkers. Amazon should take them down.”

MTA instituted a policy in April that bans political ads from its subways and buses. Under the resolution, MTA permits only the display of commercial advertising, public service announcements and government messages on its buses and subways.

The Amazon ads do not violate this policy, an MTA spokesman told The Gothamist, which first reported the ad campaign.

“The updated standards prohibit political advertisements. Unless you’re saying that you believe Amazon is advocating for a Nazi takeover of the United States, then it meets the standards. They’re advertising a show,” MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg told The Gothamist.

Evan Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League’s New York regional director, called the ads insensitive, according to The Gothamist.

“Half the seats in my car had Nazi insignias inside an American flag, while the other half had the Japanese flag in a style like the World War II design,” commuter Ann Toback, executive director of The Workman’s Circle, a Jewish organization, told The Gothamist. “So I had a choice, and I chose to sit on the Nazi insignia because I really didn’t want to stare at it.  I shouldn’t have to sit staring at a Nazi insignia on my way to work.”

Brands like Yelp, Amazon and Uber make lousy lovers


What brand doesn’t belong on this list?  Amazon, Uber, Yelp, Hillary.

It’s a trick question. They all belong. In recent days, they’ve all been making it harder for their fans to love them.

I loved Amazon at first sight. Later, when it killed Borders, I forgave it, and called it creative destruction. I vowed to patronize independent bookstores more. I said I’d be glad to pay a premium for knowledgeable staff. Here’s how that worked out: I’d call to see if they had something, and almost always they didn’t, but said it sounds like a terrific book, they’d be more than happy to order it, shouldn’t take much more than a week. And, meanwhile, there, on my screen, calling to me, was Amazon, one click and one day away. Almost always, I did click. It felt like a secret vice.  

What’s hurting my relationship with Amazon’s brand now is its ” target=”_blank”>reports about Uber’s competition with Lyft have dampened my ardor.  Lyft’s systems have been gummed up by thousands of car requests from Uber minions who either don’t show up or who ride for just a few blocks and try to recruit the Lyft driver to Uber for a $500-a-head bounty. So much for the romance of ” target=”_blank”>threw out a case against Yelp alleging economic extortion. When I heard one of the plaintiffs ” target=”_blank”>But in her ruling, Judge Marsha S. Berzon said the plaintiffs hadn’t proven economic extortion.  Here’s the killer in the ruling: Even if owners who refused to buy ads had actually proven that Yelp withheld positive reviews, it wouldn’t matter, because Yelp “has no obligation” to publish them. “It is ” target=”_blank”>review of Henry Kissinger’s new book, “World Order.”  In it she calls him “a friend,” vouches for his “astute observations” and notes that they share “a belief in the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order.” 

I have been her fan since she was the first lady of Arkansas. This tribute to Kissinger won’t be the only test of my fidelity, but I’m not ready to write this one off as a one-off.  Actually, I can think of a few different words to describe him than she did.  Gasbag, narcissist and war criminal come to mind.  

We ” target=”_blank”>leaked to Richard Nixon that a truce was imminent.  This enabled Nixon to torpedo the treaty, telling the Thieu government of South Vietnam that Nixon would give him a better deal than Johnson. Thieu pulled out of the talks, and Nixon, running as the peace candidate, arguably won the 1968 presidential election because of Kissinger’s sabotage. Before the war would end, 20,000 more American troops would die, 100,000 would be wounded, and more than a million Vietnamese would be killed. We also now know that the “just and liberal order” that Clinton and Kissinger agree on didn’t prevent him from backing the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected but inconveniently socialist president of Chile, or from making common cause with murderous despots from Argentina to East Timor. 

I get why she calls him a friend. They were both secretaries of state. Members of that club don’t blow the whistle on one another. I also get that the book review is meant to burnish her hawk credentials. It does. Unfortunately, what it also does is remind us that she is, after all, a politician.  

By now we should know better than to believe any politician is driven more by ideals than by interests. Even so, there are plenty of competing interests for a candidate to pick from. I’d like to believe that if Clinton becomes a candidate for president, when she weighs plutocrats’ interests against the human costs of their wealth, the exigencies of fundraising won’t have a thumb on that scale, just as I’d like to believe that her valentine to Kissinger is just an effort to pre-empt whining from John McCain and Lindsay Graham. But if recent years have taught us anything, it’s that loving any brand is a losing proposition, in politics no less than in commerce. Unfortunately, the business that brands are in is persuading us to confuse their power with our love.


Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Reza Aslan on Jesus, the Jew


Reza Aslan, an author and scholar of religion, has established himself as a familiar face and voice on American television, the go-to guy for commentary on the Islamic world, and he embodies all the right stuff: youthful good looks, depth of knowledge and the kind of media savvy that enables him to answer even the most nuanced questions in measured sound bites. So it was no surprise when Aslan showed up on Fox News last month to talk about his new book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” (Random House, $27).

But the Fox interviewer, Lauren Green, was apparently unaware that Aslan does not suffer fools gladly.

“You’re a Muslim,” the network’s religion specialist said at the start of her very first question. “So why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”

“To be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, with fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origin of Christianity for two decades, who happens to be a Muslim,” Aslan admonished his inquisitor. “Anyone who thinks this book is an attack on Christianity hasn’t read it yet.” When Green pressed the point, Aslan deftly schooled her on the Islamophobia that suffused her questions: “I think it is a little strange that, rather than debating the arguments of the book, we are debating the right of the scholar to actually write it.”