Netanyahu’s office says his attack on Rohani’s based on bad translation


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office blamed an erroneous translation for his earlier call on westerners who believe Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani is a moderate to abandon their “illusion.”

Netanyahu’s office late Friday removed from the Twitter social media website tweets reflecting the statement and told the BBC that it was “based on a Reuters report with an erroneous translation.”

Netanyahu had reacted earlier in the day to statements picked up by wire services and originally attributed to Rohani by Iran’s semi-official ISNA and Mehr news agencies, which quoted him as saying, “The Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed.”

Netanyahu’s original statement said that Rohani had “revealed his true face sooner than expected.”

“This statement should awaken the world from the illusion some have taken to entertaining since the elections in Iran,” his statement said. “The president was replaced but the goal of the regime remained obtaining nuclear weapons to threaten Israel, the Middle East and the safety of the world. A country which threatens to destroy Israel must not have weapons of mass destruction.”

A number of news sites, quoting Rohani directly, rendered his statement differently, without the call for removal. ISNA soon retracted its original report.

“The day of Quds, which is one of the mementos of the Imam [Khomeini], may he be admitted to God’s paradise, is the day that the people display the unity of the Islamic world against any form of tyranny and aggression,” Rohani said, according to a New York Times translation. “In any case, in our region, a sore has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years, in the shadow of the occupation of the Holy Land of Palestine and the dear Quds. This day is in fact a reminder of the fact that Muslim people will not forgot their historic right and will continue to stand against aggression and tyranny.”

Netanyahu’s blast could be seen as being aimed at U.S. President Obama and a number of U.S. lawmakers who have said Rohani’s expressed willingness to make Iran’s nuclear program more transparent should be tested.

A number of pro-Israel groups that had attacked Rohani in social media based on the misstatement, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the American Jewish Committee and The Israel Project, did not retract their attacks by midday Friday. One group, the AJC-affilaited U.N. Watch, corrected its statement.

International Quds Day, held annually since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, drew hundreds of thousands of participants in Tehran, according to news agencies.

Rohani, who is scheduled to be inaugurated in two days, is believed to have garnered the votes of Iran’s more reform-minded voters, although he is a veteran of the ruling clerical establishment and his candidacy was authorized by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In his own Quds Day remarks, Khamenei vowed that “Palestine will be free” and predicted the emergence of a new “Islamic Middle East.”

Last year, Ahmadinejad used a Quds Day event to call for the elimination of the “insult to all humanity” that is Israel, and said that confronting it constitutes an effort to “protect the dignity of all human beings.” He too expressed confidence in the emergence of “a new Middle East” with no trace of Americans or of Zionists.

Jewish masters of magic materialize at Skirball


Prestidigitation as a Jewish vocation? Could there be such a thing as Yiddeshe legerdemain? Pulling an answer out of its hat, the Skirball Cultural Center is set to open two shows: a traveling exhibition that originated at the Jewish Museum in New York, “Houdini: Art and Magic,” and a new show organized by the Skirball, “Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age.”

The shows, which will run concurrently from April 28 through Sept. 4, 2011, conjure up a world of mystery and mastery, a little-known world of Jewish magicians.

We find that Harry Houdini, the son of a rabbi, born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary, in 1874, though a great escape artist, did not try to escape his Jewish identity.

“Coming to America, Houdini’s family faced a lot of the same issues that other Jewish immigrants faced, including anti-Semitism,” said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, guest curator of the Houdini show.

Houdini in chains, 1903, photograph. Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections.

“I never was ashamed to acknowledge that I was a Jew, and never will be,” Houdini is quoted as writing to a friend in the show’s sepia-toned and well-documented catalog.

According to the exhibition wall text written by Rapaport, Houdini’s escapes “had particular resonance for those who sought liberation from political, ethnic or religious persecution.”

Houdini, who Rapaport considers “the most famous magician who ever lived,” died Oct. 31, 1926, of peritonitis that resulted from a ruptured appendix.

“He really was involved with the new media of this time. He was a savvy marketer,” Rapaport said. With more than 160 objects, the show includes advertising posters and broadsides that Houdini used to promote his shows.

Houdini’s Straitjacket, c. 1915, canvas, leather, and copper. Collection of Arthur Moses, Fort Worth, Texas. Photo by Robert LaPrelle

Also on display will be magic apparatus Houdini made famous: handcuffs, shackles, a straitjacket, his Metamorphosis Trunk and a milk can that Houdini squeezed himself into. Contemporary works by artists influenced by Houdini will be on view as well.

New to the show is a finely crafted reproduction of Houdini’s famous Water Torture Cell created by illusion designer John Gaughan; the cell will be on view only at the Skirball stop of the show’s tour.

In addition, with a deftly shuffling sleight of hand, the “Masters of Illusion” show puts on display an entire deck of Jewish magicians — kings, jacks and jokers.

The show skillfully reveals the careers of several influential Jewish magicians, including the Great Leon, who created the Death Ray Gun, as well as several generations of two magical dynasties: the French Herrmanns and the Dutch Bambergs.

According to Richard Hatch, an expert on magic who consulted with the Skirball on the show, the Herrmanns — Carl “Compars” (1816-1887) and brother Alexander (1844-1896) — helped to popularize the “Mephistophelian appearance,” the devilish pointed beard and mustache, as well as the stage wit and charm that influenced generations of magicians.

Even up close, Minkin’s illusions are magical


If you closed your eyes, it sounded like soft rain falling in the dimly lit wine cellar. The sound gradually grew in intensity as two-dozen hands rubbing against one another switched to rapid snapping, then to clapping, creating the auditory illusion of a rainstorm.

David Minkin then turned the illusion into reality — he conjured water out of thin air, standing a few feet away from his awestruck audience.

It took Minkin, an accomplished close-up magician, four years to develop this signature piece. The rain trick was inspired by a Temple Ahavat Shalom weekend retreat, where the 12-year-old Minkin sat among other Jewish adolescents and learned to mimic the sound of water falling from the sky with his hands.

“The sound was magical,” said Minkin. “And it always stayed with me.”

The rain trick, more complex and wondrous than can be adequately described in words, is the grand finale of Minkin’s mesmerizing magic performance, “Evening of Enchantment,” which he will reprise at Malibu’s Beau Rivage restaurant on Aug. 24. The evening combines wine tasting and magic in an intimate setting where seating is limited to 28 guests per show, an ideal venue for the magician to perform his highly personal and nuanced repertoire of close-up magic tricks.

The soft-spoken, self-assured Minkin plunged into the world of magic relatively late in life but has already succeeded in levitating to the top of the field, winning first place in the International Brotherhood of Magicians’ Gold Cups Competition in 2007 and a gold medal in the Magic Castle’s Strolling Olympics in 2002. He was in the midst of earning a master’s degree in physical therapy at Cal State Northridge in 1997 when a classmate and part-time magician awed him with a Chop Cup routine and inspired him to hit the books — well, the magic books.

Minkin learned the craft the old-fashioned way, from titles such as “The Mark Wilson Course in Magic” and “The Royal Road to Card Magic,” and fine-tuned his inherent knack for creating illusions by practicing them anywhere he was permitted, and not permitted. He once strolled into a Chili’s restaurant unannounced and rehearsed a new coin trick on table after table until he finally had it perfected.

“Twelve years of college education down the drain,” joked Gary Minkin, the magician’s doting father and an avid fan, at a recent Sunday evening performance at Beau Rivage. In addition to physical therapy, Minkin also studied music and business and took up real estate for several years before turning his growing passion for magic into a full-time career.

“I’m unusual, and lucky,” said Minkin, dressed in an elegant black suit and sipping a mojito. “I had to develop social skills before I learned magic.” Many magicians and amateur hobbyists get into magic as young boys, he explained, perhaps even using their hobby as an outlet for their social awkwardness. Hence the stereotype of magic enthusiasts being shy, reclusive and even nerdy.

Minkin, however, is hardly a geek. Nicknamed the “rock star of magic” by fellow illusionists at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Minkin is in his late 30s, handsome and exudes a subtle confidence in and out of the spotlight. He injects his performances with an easy-going charisma. His sleight-of-hand coin and card tricks are interspersed with witty banter, personal anecdotes and playful interaction with audience members.

“Until an audience likes you, they’re not going anywhere with you,” he said. Minkin takes audiences time traveling, using a marble that he turns into an hourglass filled with sugar; into a world of lucid dreams, where driver’s licenses become butterflies flitting through the air, or through summer rainstorms in the middle of a cozy wine cellar.

Minkin’s theory is that there is a hierarchy to magic — a puzzle is at the very bottom, then a trick, a mystery, and finally transcendence. A magic routine that reaches transcendence reflects the human experience, touching upon concepts such as the passing of time, immortality and dreams.

“I want to make people think and feel a range of emotions — wonder, surprise, nostalgia, delight,” said Minkin, who strives to create a one-of-a-kind experience for each audience by improvising, playing off their unique energy and using their differing reactions to change the flow of the show.

Minkin prefers the face-to-face contact of close-up magic and cozy settings such as Beau Rivage’s cramped wine cellar or the Magic Castle’s intimate close-up theater. He says he doesn’t aspire to perform in the cavernous theaters of Las Vegas or marketing himself to achieve superstar status.

“I really just want to focus on performing,” said Minkin, who has been invited to appear in upcoming conventions in Italy, Sweden, England and Israel. His audience has included Hollywood celebrities such as Johnny Depp and Rob Reiner, politicians, Fortune 500 executives and even one Saudi Arabian prince.

Minkin got a taste for working in television in 2007 as a writer and performer on the MTV horror-prank show, “Room 401.” In the first episode, Minkin brought an unwitting crime-scene cleaner to tears as he rose, ghostlike, from a murder victim’s body. Minkin is hoping to pitch a series of television specials featuring original magic done on location with real people and everyday objects.

Whatever the medium, Minkin strives to elevate his magic to an art form that is both entertaining and enlightening. He is constantly reworking his act, developing new material and putting his theories about magic on paper, which he hopes to develop into a book. For Minkin, magic is an ancient and noble craft that is in danger of losing its luster in an age where people don’t believe in much of anything anymore.

“Regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen in reality,” he said, “the effect on people is magical.”

The next “Evening of Enchantment” is Aug. 24 at Beau Rivage, 26025 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu.

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