Arthur Szyk Used His Art to Defend the Jews, Attack Nazism, and Much Else

Jan. 24 2018

The exhibition Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art has just concluded at the New-York Historical Society; its title refers to the Polish-Jewish artist’s dedication to using his talents for political purposes. In these works, Szyk (1894-1951) protested fascism and Nazism, proclaimed his support for Zionism, and commemorated Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. Diane Cole writes in her review:

Arthur Szyk may well be the only great Jewish artist whose work countless people recognize simply because they have attended a Passover seder. First published in 1940 and still a Passover favorite, Szyk’s The Haggadah, with its striking mix of modern and ancient imagery, has imprinted itself on our communal holiday memory of the retelling of the exodus from Egypt.

Less well known are the explicit connections between the Egyptian pharaoh and Hitler that Szyk had embedded in his original version of the Haggadah he created in the 1930s. It also featured swastika-bearing Egyptian taskmasters and a sinuous serpent with a row of swastikas on his back. Szyk painted them over to ensure publication, but there’s no mistaking the anti-Nazi message that remained in his sarcastic depiction of the “wicked” son as an assimilated German Jew proudly sporting Bavarian-style riding gear and a Hitler-like mustache.

Nor was his Haggadah Szyk’s only political salvo before, during, or after World War II. As a self-described “soldier in art,” he wielded brush and palette as a weapon throughout the 1930s and 1940s to attack fascism, plead for the rescue of European Jewry, and argue the case for an independent Jewish state. His illustrations and drawings were animated and passionate, seen in biting political cartoons in newspapers around the country, on the covers for such mass-market magazines as Time and Collier’s, and on numerous posters, programs, and other printed materials.

Szyk’s activist art represents only one aspect of his highly successful career—his vibrant illustrations of the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and other literary classics embody another—but it is the most dramatic.

 

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More about: Arthur Szyk, Arts & Culture, Haggadah, Holocaust, Jewish art, World War II

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary]. approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat