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Franz Kafka, “Bambi,” and German Literature’s Jewish Animals

In Bestiarium Judaicum: Unnatural Histories of the Jews, Jay Geller examines the ways Jews have been portrayed as, or compared with, animals in Central European writings. German-language Jewish literature itself has a peculiar history of using animal imagery; Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” (where the main character turns into cockroach) and Felix Salten’s Bambi—which likely reflects the author’s Zionist sentiments—are among the best-known examples, but hardly the only ones. Paul Reitter elaborates in his review:

Some of the Jewish intellectuals of Central Europe [in the 1920s and 30s] saw their cultural position, and the self-consciousness that resulted from it, as extraordinary and exceptional. In their attempts to evoke this position, they seem to have turned increasingly to nonhuman figures. In a 1921 letter to his friend Max Brod, Franz Kafka offered what is now probably the most famous description of the plight of German-Jewish writers in Central Europe: “With their back legs they stuck fast to the Judaism of their fathers, and with their front legs they found no new ground.” . . .

Kafka played with the associations between Jews and mice in the last story he wrote, “Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk,” which was published in 1924. The “mouse folk” live with danger and enemies close by, much like the Jews of Central Europe did then. . . .

[Even] if Kafka’s animal studies are a special case, written in a style entirely his own, they also reflect a larger literary phenomenon. From Heinrich Heine, in the early 19th century, to the Austrian . . . Felix Salten, on the eve of World War II, a number of German-[language] Jewish authors wrote stories with anthropomorphized animals. For the most part, their animal figures evoke the plight of European Jewry without concertedly allegorizing it—though the temptation to read them as allegories is often strong. . . .

Geller catalogues the key animal associations in the German [anti-Semitic] imagination—Jews and pigs, Jews and wolves, Jews and dogs, Jews and apes, Jews and rodents—and discusses their evolution over the centuries, providing commentary on widely circulated instances of these stereotypes, from the bestiaries of the Middle Ages to graphic representations of Jews as animals in Nazi propaganda. He considers how the animalizing of Jews facilitated the Holocaust, looking, as he does so, at reflections on “the construction of the Jew-animal” by Jews, like Primo Levi, who were in occupied Europe at the time of the Final Solution.

Read more at New Yorker

More about: Animals, Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Bambi, Franz Kafka, German Jewry, Literature

Putting Aside the Pious Lies about the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Jan. 23 2018

In light of recent developments, including Mahmoud Abbas’s unusually frank speech to the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s leadership, Moshe Arens advocates jettisoning some frequently mouthed but clearly false assumptions about Israel’s situation, beginning with the idea that the U.S. should act as a neutral party in negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah. (Free registration may be required.)

The United States cannot be, and has never been, neutral in mediating the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is the leader of the world’s democratic community of nations and cannot assume a neutral position between democratic Israel and the Palestinians, whether represented by an autocratic leadership that glorifies acts of terror or by Islamic fundamentalists who carry out acts of terror. . . .

In recent years the tectonic shifts in the Arab world, the lower price of oil, and the decreased importance attached to the Palestinian issue in much of the region, have essentially removed the main incentive the United States had in past years to stay involved in the conflict. . . .

Despite the conventional wisdom that the core issues—such as Jerusalem or the fate of Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines—are the major stumbling blocks to an agreement, the issue for which there seems to be no solution in sight at the moment is making sure that any Israeli military withdrawal will not result in rockets being launched against Israel’s population centers from areas that are turned over to the Palestinians. . . .

Does that mean that Israel is left with a choice between a state with a Palestinian majority or an apartheid state, as claimed by Israel’s left? This imaginary dilemma is based on a deterministic theory of history, which disregards all other possible alternatives in the years to come, and on questionable demographic predictions. What the left is really saying is this: better rockets on Tel Aviv than a continuation of Israeli military control over Judea and Samaria. There is little support in Israel for that view.

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Process, US-Israel relations