Israel’s Jewish Majority

October 14

Far from threatening Israel’s survival as a Jewish state, long-term demographic trends point to a strong Jewish majority not just in the state of Israel, but also in the land of Israel.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Demography, Israel, Palestinians, West Bank


Hamas and Its Tunnels of Terror

October 23

In a series of interviews with Vanity Fair, Israeli intelligence officials have revealed the extent of Hamas’s complex system of tunnels and its (temporarily) thwarted plans for a series of violent attacks on civilians. No less informative in their way are the vigorous denials of Khaled Meshal, Hamas’s leader. But Hamas’s tunnels are not the end of it. Israel must also contend with the threat of a nuclear Iran, spillover from the Syrian civil war, and this:

Tensions have also escalated on Israel’s other northern border—with Lebanon. In the past week a member of the Syrian opposition was quoted as telling CNN that Hizballah appears determined to flex its military muscle on the Israeli border. IDF troops have fortified their positions there. And Israel has other worries as well. Sources in these northern neighborhoods tell Vanity Fair that the IDF is planning to send an engineering team to one of the Israeli towns whose residents have been awakened by subterranean clamor. Although some officials are publicly skeptical (possibly to avoid alarming residents and parry criticism that they have ignored another threat), privately they say they have serious concerns about what Hizballah might have in the works. A recent account in the Arab newsmagazine al-Watan al-Arabi quotes a Hizballah member as asserting: “Quality-wise, [our tunnels] are on par with the metro tunnels in the major European cities.”

Read more at Vanity Fair

More about: Hamas, Hizballah, Khaled Meshal, Protective Edge, Terrorism


Was Envy the Motive Force behind the Holocaust?

October 23

Götz Aly, a prominent (and often controversial) historian of Nazi Germany, has written a new book attempting to understand the underlying motivations for German anti-Semitism. In Why the Germans? Why the Jews?: Envy, Race, Hatred, and the Prehistory of the Holocaust, Aly addresses the basic question that has so often been obscured by recent Holocaust scholarship: why did Jews become the target of such intense and murderous hatred in Germany? His book contains many insights on German anti-Semitism, and he draws on his own family archive in a way that few Germans today would be comfortable doing. (His grandparents were rabid Jew-haters.) But, writes Daniel Johnson, Aly’s simplistic conclusion that envy was the source of all this animus is woefully unsatisfying, and undermines his purported goals:

Aly himself quite rightly criticizes the German tendency to identify with the Jewish victims—“We tend to cast the perpetrators as bizarre, almost alien figures”—and to hide behind abstractions that keep Germans at a safe distance from radical evil. By exposing his own Nazi family to scrutiny, Aly may hope to encourage others to rattle the skeletons in their own closets. But he is blind to the fact that his explanatory framework is bound to have the opposite effect. By making Nazis seem just like everybody else, motivated by the everyday emotion of envy, Aly risks making the extraordinary seem ordinary. It is no accident that his book’s underlying message is a more scholarly version of Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” thesis.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Anti-Semitism, Hannah Arendt, Holocaust, Nazism

Will Jordan Hold Fast Against IS?

October 23

Jordan, Israel’s neighbor and important strategic ally, is a member of the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition and provides crucial tactical and strategic support. But there is a great deal of sympathy for IS in Jordan, and domestic pressures could combine with economic woes and the destabilizing influx of Syrian refugees to change King Abdullah’s course. David Schenker writes:

According to a poll published last month by the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, only 62 percent of Jordanians consider IS—and a mere 31 percent the Syria-based al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front—to be terrorist organizations. Even more stunning, just 44 percent of Jordanians surveyed say that al-Qaeda is a terrorist group. Given these sentiments, it’s not surprising that many Jordanians oppose their military’s participation in the campaign targeting IS and Nusra Front.

In fact, objections to a Jordanian role in the anti-IS alliance emerged before the state signed up. In the beginning of September, 21 members of Jordan’s parliament sent a memo to its speaker rejecting the Kingdom’s participation. “This war is not our war,” the representatives wrote.

Read more at New Republic

More about: Al Qaeda, ISIS, Israeli Security, Jordan, Nusra Front


Why Charles Darwin Disowned Social Darwinism

October 23

In the 19th century, as today, there were those who wished to use the empirical claims of science to draw conclusions about philosophy, morality, and religion. Among such advocates of what is now called “scientism” were the social Darwinists, who drew on the biological ideas of Darwin and the political ideas of Herbert Spencer to create an alternative to traditional morality. These views were rejected outright by Darwin and his friend and self-proclaimed publicist, T. H. Huxley, writes Gertrude Himmelfarb:

The emergence of social Darwinism recalls the adage of another eminent Victorian. “Ideas,” wrote Lord Acton, “have a radiation and development, an ancestry and posterity of their own, in which men play the part of godfathers and godmothers more than that of legitimate parents.” Darwin, the unwitting godfather of social Darwinism, disowned even that degree of parentage. He dismissed as ludicrous the charge of one reviewer that he had endorsed “might is right,” thereby justifying the idea “that Napoleon is right & every cheating Tradesman is also right.” Challenged on another occasion to declare his views on religion, he replied that while the subject of God was “beyond the scope of man’s intellect,” his moral obligation was clear: “man can do his duty.” Averse to controversy in general (even over On the Origin of Species itself), Darwin played no public part in the dispute over social Darwinism. That battle was left to Darwin’s “bulldog,” as T. H. Huxley proudly described himself—“my general agent,” Darwin called him. Huxley’s arguments against social Darwinism are all the more telling because they come not, as might have been expected, from a cleric or theologian, but from an eminent scientist and ardent Darwinist.

Read more at New Atlantis

More about: Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, History of ideas, Scientism

What Mussolini’s Jewish Lover Knew

October 23

Margherita Sarfatti, a Venetian Jewess, was Benito Mussolini’s mistress and confidante from 1912 until the 1930s. Sophisticated, educated, and politically engaged, she was unique among the dictator’s many lovers in advising him on political matters. (She fled Italy in 1938 after the fascists enacted anti-Semitic legislation.) The historian Brian Sullivan has published a series of postwar autobiographical articles written by Sarfatti, with extensive annotations and commentary. Although her reminiscences contain much colorful detail, Sullivan makes the mistake, according to Michael McDonald, of believing and further embellishing her exaggerated picture of her own importance. And there is also much that the book omits:

Sarfatti’s memoirs are regrettably silent on many major issues, such as anti-Semitism. Mussolini had Jewish backers among the industrialists and big landowners who helped finance him at the start of his career. Indeed, about 200 Jews took part in the March on Rome. But the fascist movement became increasingly anti-Semitic, to the point that Sarfatti’s sister and her husband died on the way to Auschwitz. Other relatives also died in the extermination camps. Sarfatti sheds no light on how Mussolini—who had for years mocked Hitler for his anti-Semitism and denied the existence of a Jewish problem in Italy—came to impose anti-Jewish legislation in 1938.

Read more at American Interest

More about: Anti-Semitism, Benito Mussolini, Fascism, Italian Jewry