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Joseph Roth’s Lost Empire and Its Jews

Jan. 10 2018

Born in 1894 to a Jewish family in the Galician town of Brody—once famous for training kabbalists—Joseph Roth moved to Vienna as a young man, where he launched his prodigious literary career. He went on to write fifteen novels, along with numerous short stories and hundreds of essays. Right up until his untimely death in 1939, he remained committed to the Austro-Hungarian empire, defunct since 1918, which is the setting of most of his fiction. Joseph Epstein, in a survey of Roth’s career, writerly abilities, and literary output, addresses Roth’s attitudes toward the Jews, exposed in a “strange little book,” published in 1927, called The Wandering Jews:

What Roth valued in the Austro-Hungarian empire was the fluidity it allowed its subjects, who could travel [among its many lands] without the aid of passports or papers, and its discouragement of nationalism, [a force that] worked against the Jewish people. . . .

Never other than unpredictable, Roth, that most cosmopolitan of Jews, valued the shtetl Jews of Eastern Europe above all. He valued their Jewish authenticity and felt that those Jews who had taken up the assimilated life in Germany and elsewhere and pretended to a patriotism that ultimately was [turned against them], “those rich Jews,” as he wrote in [his 1927 novel] Right and Left, “the ones who want more than anything else to be native Berliners” and who “go on celebrating their holiest festivals in shamefaced secrecy, but Christmas publicly and for all to see,” these were the Jews most deceived and hence most to be pitied.

The real subject at the heart of The Wandering Jews is the distinctiveness of the Jews. “Of all the world’s poor, the poor Jew,” Roth writes, “is surely the most conservative . . . he refuses to be a proletarian.” The difference between the Russian and the Jewish peasant is that “the Russian is a peasant first and a Russian second; the Jew is Jew first and then peasant.” Roth underscores the intellectual cast of the Jews. “They are a people that has had no illiterates for thousands of years now.” Not wishing to fight other people’s wars, “the Eastern Jews were the most heroic of pacifists. They were martyrs for pacifism.” . . .

Zionism was the best answer to the Jewish question for Roth, “for it is surely better to be a nation than to be mistreated by one.” The Jews “are forced to be a ‘nation’ by the nationalism of others,” and “if one must be patriotic, then at least let it be for a country of one’s own.”

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Arts & Culture, Austria-Hungary, Austrian Jewry, Joseph Roth, Zionism

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