“Focusing on egalitarianism was a distraction from the real problem: that Conservative Jews were not committed to halakhah and Jewish learning.”
The Netanyahu government has proposed to the Knesset a bill affirming Israel’s constitutional status as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The proposal has sparked indignation on the left and confused some sympathizers. Yoram Hazony explains why the measure is not only important but crucial to maintaining Israel’s character:
[D]isdain for the principle of national self-determination has proved devastating for Israel. Both in America and Europe, the movement to brand Zionism a form of racism continues to gather steam. In Israel, too, “post-Zionism” became the buzzword of fashionable opinion in the 1990s. In this context, Israel’s Chief Justice declared the country’s Jewish character to be “in tension” with democracy, and the Court embarked on a series of decisions aimed at gradually eroding Israel’s legal status as a Jewish state. This process reached a climax in the 2000 Ka’adan decision, which declared policies by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency to be illegal if not in conformity with the principle of equality.
Of course, equality has always been a crucial value in Israel. But the disappearance of Jewish national self-determination from the Court’s list of the legitimate aims of Israeli policy called into question many of the most basic aims for which the state had been founded. Would it soon be illegal to send Israel’s security services to protect Jewish communities in other countries? To maintain a Law of Return offering automatic citizenship to Jews from other lands? To teach Judaism in the public schools? These and similar concerns are what stand behind Netanyahu’s present “Jewish State Law”—whose purpose is to re-establish the previous status quo on issues of Jewish national self-determination.
Presidents Bush and Obama have made a habit of declaring Islam to be “a religion of peace” and offering similar statements of a generic kind. Do such pronouncements constitute salutary public discourse? Meaningless pabulum? Outright falsehood? Elliott Abrams and Shadi Hamid, both former Bush-administration officials, debate the question. (Audio, about two hours).
The four rabbis murdered in last week’s terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue came to Israel to devote themselves to the study of sacred texts, to teach, and to serve. Giulio Meotti remembers them and contemplates their legacy:
When Palestinian terrorists stormed the synagogue in Har Nof, the four rabbis had their eyes turned to the east praying toward the Old City of Jerusalem where once stood the Temple and the holy Ark of the Covenant. They were killed wearing their phylacteries and prayer shawls, eyes still fixed on the siddur, the book of prayer, about to say a psalm: “This is the gate of the Lord and the righteous will enter it.”
They were really the princes of Israel. The day after the massacre, at the yeshiva of Bnei Torah on the western hill of Jerusalem, the blood of the martyrs, the kedoshim, was removed to be buried along with their poor remains. But the day after, dozens of Jews returned to the synagogue to thank God. So that God can smile down at His people again after that horrific day. I bow before them.
The Polish author Marek Hlasko grew up during World War II. In the late 1950s, after a precocious success as a writer of fiction, he fell out of favor with the Communist authorities and fled (temporarily) to Israel—where, although not Jewish, he found a community of like-minded, Polish-speaking intellectuals. A new translation has appeared of his wrenching tale, told from the perspective of Christian boy, of the murder of the Jews of a Polish shtetl:
The boy was nine years old, in love, and knew already that he was in love for the rest of his life. In any case, he told his father in confidence first, but later, at his father’s urging, he agreed to bring his mother in on the secret as well, though he doubted she could understand it. The girl he loved was named Eva, she was younger than he by a month and twelve days. She lived with her parents in the neighboring home, and she came over to see the boy during the evenings.
“Can’t you come earlier?” he asked one day.
“No,” she said.
“My father won’t let me. I’m only allowed to leave the house when it’s dark.”
There is little doubt that Benito Mussolini’s Venetian-born Jewish lover Margherita Sarfatti had a profound influence on the dictator’s career, but can she truly be called the “godmother of fascism,” as her biographer Brian R. Sullivan claims? Or did her contribution consist mainly of “smooth[ing] off the rough edges of Mussolini’s persona at the start of his political ascent to power,” as Michael McDonald argues? To McDonald, the question pivots not only on the correct interpretation of Sarfatti’s persona but also on the nature of fascism itself:
Sarfatti was less of an intellectual than a cultural impresario and spin doctor. Even if she had been an intellectual who had played a crucial role in conceptualizing fascism—which she wasn’t—it still would be wrong of Brian Sullivan to overstate her importance, as he does. I say this because I happen to agree with Robert Paxton that “fascism was an affair of the gut more than of the brain, and a study of the roots of fascism that treats only the thinkers and the writers misses the most powerful influences of all.” A study that treats only a “thinker” such as Sarfatti misses even more. To quote Paxton again, “fascism is more plausibly linked to a set of ‘mobilizing passions’ that shape fascist action than to a consistent and fully articulated philosophy.” As one fascist militant declared in 1920: “The fist is the synthesis of our theory.”