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Daniel Deronda, Conservative Hero

March 21 2017

Reviewing Ruth Wisse’s online course on George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, Liel Leibovitz pronounces the lectures “as gripping as anything currently on Netflix” and suggests they “ought to be binged upon as ravenously as one would, say, on a season of House of Cards.” Eliot’s 19th-century novel, he argues, is particularly well suited for our times, and nowhere more so than in its two intertwined plots: the story of Daniel Deronda’s embrace of his Jewish heritage and the story of Gwendolen Harleth—a young, beautiful, and genteel woman faced with her family’s sudden impoverishment:

Some enlightened souls [in Victorian Britain], and there are quite a few of them in the novel, have difficulty understanding why, if England is so keen on embracing its Jews as equals, the Jews should insist on maintaining their differences. Why not marry their Christian neighbors and friends? Why insist on blood and kin and tribe?

The question—and herein lies Eliot’s genius—can be asked of women as easily as it can of the Jews. Although several of her critics had trouble wedding Gwendolen’s story to that of Deronda’s religious awakening, . . . Eliot realized that Jews and women faced the same essential dilemma: will they try to unshackle themselves from their essential nature in a way that is bound to doom them to misery? Or can they achieve a more meaningful emancipation, enjoying equal rights while being permitted to remain true to who they are and wish to continue to be? Gwendolen chooses the former path, Deronda the latter, and their respective fates are a useful lesson in the dangers of deracination.

It’s a lesson, thankfully, that’s likely to shake many modern Jewish readers, who see no other source of light save for the universalist splendor of tikkun olam and who view nationalism, tribalism, and other forms of primordial attachment as a gateway to barbarism and brutality. But a shaking is much needed. With anti-Jewish malice roaring from left and right, we’ve no other prescription but to reject the simpering spinelessness that seeks meaning in other peoples’ values and instead embrace our own. We must now realize, as Eliot and her hero both did, that happiness and survival both depend on loving that which reinforces the best in us, be it the spouse that shares our destiny or the community of which, for better or worse, we will forever be a part.

It’s not a lesson that the cosmopolitans in our midst would readily applaud, but cosmopolitanism, as Eliot bitingly reminds us in the very first page of her novel, is not much more than a rowdy casino, and the only freedom it offers is the thrill of throwing away all that’s truly valuable for an illusory shot at momentary ecstasy. Now more than ever, it’s a thrill we must learn to resist, and in Daniel Deronda, Ruth Wisse gives us what we most desperately need: an upright Jew, a moral man, and a real conservative hero.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arts & Culture, Daniel Deronda, Feminism, George Eliot, Jewish conservatism, Judaism, Literature, Universalism

 

Europe Has a Chance to Change Its Attitude toward Israel

Dec. 15 2017

In Europe earlier this week, Benjamin Netanyahu met with several officials and heads of state. Ahead of his visit, the former Italian parliamentarian Fiamma Nirenstein addressed a letter to these European leaders, urging them to reevaluate their attitudes toward the status of Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israel-Palestinian peace process, the gravity of European anti-Semitism, and the threat posed by Hamas and Hizballah. In it she writes:

For years, the relationship between Europe and Israel has been strained. Europe tends to criticize Israel for simply defending itself against the continual threats and terrorist attacks it faces on all its borders and inside its cities. Europe too often disregards not only Israel’s most evident attempts to bring about peace—such as its disengagement from Gaza—but also chides it for its cautiousness when considering what solutions are risky and which will truly ensure the security of its citizens.

The EU has never recognized the dangers posed by Hamas and Hizballah, as well as by many other jihadist groups—some of which are backed by [the allegedly moderate] Fatah. The EU constantly blames Israel in its decisions, resolutions, papers and “non-papers,” letters, and appeals. Some of Europe’s most important figures insist that sanctions against the “territories” are necessary—a political stance that will certainly not bring about a solution to this conflict that . . . the Israelis would sincerely like to resolve. Israel has repeated many times that it is ready for direct negotiation without preconditions with the Palestinians. No answer has been received.

The European Union continues to put forth unrealistic solutions to the Israel-Palestinian issue, and the results have only aggravated the situation further. Such was the case in 2015 when it sanctioned Israeli companies and businesses in the territories over the Green Line, forcing them to close industrial centers that provided work to hundreds of Palestinians. The Europeans promoted the harmful idea that delegitimizing Israel can be accomplished through international pressure and that negotiations and direct talks with Israel can be avoided. . . .

[Meanwhile], Iran’s imperialist designs now touch all of Israel’s borders and put the entire world at risk of a disastrous war while Iran’s closest proxy, Hizballah, armed with hundreds of thousands of missiles, proudly presents the most explicit terrorist threat. Europe must confront these risks for the benefit of its citizens, first by placing Hizballah on its list of terrorist organizations and secondly, by reconsidering and revising its relationship with Iran.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Europe and Israel, European Union, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy