The recent fall in Israeli Arab birth rates is unremarkable. What is remarkable is the rise in Jewish fertility.
In Eichmann before Jerusalem, Bettina Stangneth analyzes the Nazi official’s interviews and writings from the time he spent in Argentina between the end of World War II and his capture by Israel’s Mossad. Besides decisively refuting Hannah Arendt’s celebrated thesis that Eichmann was a mindless bureaucrat, Stangneth uncovers his burning admiration for the Islamic world, and his belief that it would pick up where the Nazis left off. Douglas Murray writes:
Eichmann [wrote in his unfinished memoir] that if he himself were ever found guilty of any crime it would only be “for political reasons.” He tries to argue that a guilty verdict against him would be “an impossibility in international law” but goes on to say that he could never obtain justice “in the so-called Western culture.” The reason for this is obvious enough: because in the Christian Bible “to which a large part of Western thought clings, it is expressly established that everything sacred came from the Jews.” Western culture has, for Eichmann, been irrevocably Judaized. And so Eichmann looks to a different group, to the “large circle of friends, many millions of people” to whom this [memoir] is aimed.
That “‘large circle of friends’” comprised, in Eichmann’s words, “the 360 million Muhammadans” whose Quran he much preferred to the Jewish and Christian scriptures. And here, writes Murray, we confront “the only strain of Nazi history which really remains strong to this day.” He concludes, quoting Stangneth,
Eichmann refused to do penance and longed for applause. But first and foremost, of course, he hoped his “Arab friends” would continue his battle against the Jews who were always the “principal war criminals” and “principal aggressors.” He hadn’t managed to complete his task of “total annihilation,” but the Muslims could still complete it for him.
On the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the uprising that overthrew Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, it seems to a casual observer that little has changed. In fact, writes Eric Trager, the years of upheaval have further eroded Egypt’s fragile social and political system; yet, for the time being, Egyptians prefer the continued rule of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the alternatives:
[P]erhaps the most important reason for Sisi’s staying power is the popular mood, which is a cocktail of weariness and relief. Egyptians are exhausted after four years of tumult, but at the same time satisfied that their country hasn’t suffered the devastating chaos of Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. So while many of the economic and demographic problems that caused the 2011 uprising haven’t been resolved, a critical mass of Egyptians now prefer their broken state to spinning the wheel again and risking further collapse.
That narrative, of course, flies in the face of the dominant narrative in Washington, which sees the “Arab Spring” as a democratizing moment that Egyptians betrayed when they rallied behind the military’s ouster of an elected president in July 2013. And, to be sure, that disappointment has merit: there is nothing democratic about Egypt’s post-Morsi trajectory, and the current regime’s severe repressiveness is a proper target for condemnation. But Washington should bear in mind that the romantic hopes that many Americans had for Egypt from 6,000 miles away entailed a great deal of pain for the Egyptians who lived with consequences of the January 2011 uprising. And four years later, the uprising’s ultimate impact is that many Egyptians are now too cautious to ask for more than they already have.
Toward the end of his career as a much-lauded historian of 20th-century Europe, the late Tony Judt made a name writing scathing condemnations of American foreign policy and of Israel’s existence as the nation state of the Jews. Reviewing a recently-published collection of these essays, entitled When the Facts Change, Adam Kirsch finds Judt’s ideas both devoid of “novelty or originality” and disconnected from reality. Moreover, writes Kirsch, they bespeak a deep-seated pathology, perhaps best exemplified in a 2003 article calling for Israel’s dissolution, that has seized hold of many on the American-Jewish left:
[The article] is . . . a dramatization of the crisis of conscience that many liberal Jews now find themselves suffering with regard to Zionism. For Judt, Zionism is an ethnic nationalism, and if there is one thing 21st-century liberals pride themselves on, it is their rejection of ethnic nationalism. As Judt writes, we live in an age “when that sort of state has no place”: “In a world where nations and peoples increasingly intermingle and intermarry at will; where cultural and national impediments to communication have all but collapsed; where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel falsely constrained if we had to answer to just one of them; in such a world Israel truly is an anachronism.”
What is striking about this is how deeply unhistorical it is, coming from a historian. For of course, we do not live in such a world—not in 2003 and still less in 2015. What may be true of the more cosmopolitan quarters of Europe and America is far from true in the Middle East, where Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, and Kurds are now engaged in a massive sectarian war stretching from Lebanon to Turkey. And as the rise of anti-immigration and nationalist parties in Europe suggests, even there the appetite for multiculturalism is dwindling. For the Jews of Israel to stake their future on joining a multinational state, just at the moment when all such states in the Middle East are unraveling in civil wars, would be madness.
Just as there were numerous instances of Christians rescuing Jews during World War II—sometimes at great risk to their own lives—there were also instances of Muslims doing the same. Robert Satloff recounts the story of a Tunisian bathhouse-proprietor who rescued his Jewish friend Joseph Naccache when the Nazis occupied their country:
Hamza Abdul Jalil knew that it was a dangerous moment for the Jews of his neighborhood. When the roundup of Jews began, Hamza told Joseph [Naccache] that if he ever needed a place to hide, he should come to the hammam (Turkish-style bathhouse). When Joseph began to fear that the German dragnet was closing in, he took Hamza up on his offer. For two weeks, Hamza protected him deep inside the labyrinth of the hammam, providing refuge and food, so that Joseph could evade his pursuers. Hamza neither requested nor accepted any payment.
After he left the hammam for another hiding place, Joseph was eventually captured by the Germans and sent to labor camps in the Tunisian hinterland. A lifetime later, he still remembered the kindness of the proprietor of the local hammam.
Archaeologists have uncovered a handful of synagogues from the talmudic period (ca. 70 – 600 CE), mostly in the northern parts of Israel. Some of these synagogues contain elaborate mosaics, with representations of various religious symbols and objects, as well as biblical scenes. Surprisingly, some also have depictions of the signs of the zodiac and, in at least two cases, of a pagan deity. Mike Rogoff analyzes various theories of why this was not seen as a violation of the Second Commandment (which seems to prohibit making any “graven image” or “likeness” of terrestrial or celestial bodies), and puts forth his own conclusions (free registration required):
What is astonishing at [two of the best-preserved synagogue mosaics] is the large centerpiece, depicting the wheel of the zodiac, a blatantly Hellenistic-Roman device. It is populated with human figures, seemingly in defiance of the Second Commandment. Four female figures, representing the four seasons of the year (often with their season’s bounty at hand), inhabit the corners of the square frame. Several of the twelve signs of the zodiac are human, with two in [the synagogue at] Hammat Tiberias—Libra and Aquarius—fully naked.
But the real surprise lies at the center of the wheel. Here, in the very heart of the synagogues, is a representation of Helios, the Greek sun god, in the form of a charioteer, whip in hand, riding his four-horse quadriga across the sky. What is the image doing here? . . .
Jews recognized . . . that the universe is entirely in the hands of the Creator; but since any representation of Him was the most severe prohibition of all, they adopted and adapted a long-popular Mediterranean design to convey the idea. There was no veneration of the pagan deities or celestial bodies—after all, the congregation routinely tramped over them—and thus no violation of the second part of the Second Commandment [which states of images:] “…thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them.”