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Esperanto and the Jewish Brand of Universalism that Produced It

Oct. 31 2016

In the 1880s, Ludwik Leyzer Zamenhof, a Jewish ophthalmologist in Bialystok who had become disillusioned with Zionism, concluded that the problems of anti-Semitism, prejudice, racism, and war could all be solved were mankind to adopt a universal language. He proceeded to create Esperanto, a simplified tongue based primarily on the Romance languages but with heavy doses of German, Slavic, and even Yiddish. Soon there were publications and annual conferences. Both still exist today, though the movement never achieved the success Zamenhoff hoped for—as Esther Schor recounts in Bridge of Words: Esperanto and the Dream of a Universal Language. David Mikics writes in his review:

Zamenhof . . . wrote that “my Jewishness has been the main reason why, from earliest childhood, I gave myself completely to one crucial idea, one dream—the dream of the unity of humankind.” . . .

In 1901, Zamenhof unveiled a universal ethics he called “Hillelism,” to be spread by Esperanto speakers. . . Like those contemporary American Jews who define Jewishness as the devotion to social justice, Zamenhof was straddling a fence. If Jewish tradition was an anachronism, [as Zamenhof firmly believed], why name his universal ethics after the sage Hillel? Judaism could only conquer if the Jews themselves disappeared qua Jews, Zamenhof seemed to be implying. . . . He thought that non-Jews would adopt Jewish moral seriousness if only Jews could divest themselves of nationhood, religion, and cultural identity. To put it mildly, the 20th century did not validate this highly paradoxical fantasy. Zamenhof’s own daughters were murdered in Auschwitz. . . .

[Zamenhof] lived long enough to see anti-Semitic polemics appear in a Polish Esperanto journal called Pola Esperantisto. Zamenhof wrote a letter to the editor condemning the articles, in which he remarked that “the entire sin of the Jews consists only in this, that Jews also want to live and have human rights.” But the editor rejected Zamenhof’s letter and continued on his path of Jew-hatred.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, East European Jewry, History & Ideas, Language, Universalism

The Palestinian National Movement Has Reached a Point of Crisis

With Hamas having failed to achieve anything through several weeks of demonstrations and violence, and Mahmoud Abbas reduced to giving rambling anti-Semitic speeches, Palestinian aspirations seem to have hit a brick wall. Elliott Abrams explains:

[Neither] Fatah [nor] Hamas offers Palestinians a practical program for national independence. . . . [The current situation] leaves Palestinians high and dry, with no way forward at all. Whatever the criticism of the “occupation,” Israelis will certainly not abandon the West Bank to chaos or to a possible Hamas takeover. Today the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state is simply too dangerous to Israel and to Jordan to be contemplated. . . . There are only two other options. The first is the “one-state solution,” meaning union with Israel; but that is a nonstarter that Israel will reject no matter who is its prime minister. The other option is some kind of eventual link to Jordan.

In polite diplomatic society, and in Palestinian public discourse, such a link cannot be mentioned. But younger people who visit there, Palestinians have explained to me, can see a society that is half-Palestinian and functions as an independent nation with a working system of law and order. Jordanians travel freely, rarely suffer from terrorism, and [can vote in regular] elections, even if power is ultimately concentrated in the royal palace. The kingdom has close relations with all the Sunni states and the West, and is at peace with Israel.

The fundamental question all this raises is what, in 2018, is the nature and objective of Palestinian nationalism. Is the goal sovereignty at all costs, no matter how long it takes and even if it is increasingly divorced from peace, prosperity, and personal freedom? Is “steadfastness” [in refusing to compromise with Israel] the greatest Palestinian virtue now and forever? These questions cannot be debated in either Gaza or the West Bank. But as Israel celebrates 70 years and the “occupation” is now more than a half-century old, how much longer can they be delayed? . . .

The catastrophic mishandling of Palestinian affairs by generations of leaders from Haj Amin al-Husseini (the pro-Nazi mufti of the British Mandate period) to Yasir Arafat and now to Mahmoud Abbas has been the true Palestinian Nakba.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Jordan, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians