Translator, Novelist, Zionist, Detective

The author of dozens of translations of Hebrew and Yiddish literature into English, one novel, eight works of nonfiction, and numerous essay and columns, Hillel Halkin has behind him a distinguished career. Adam Rubenstein recounts a recent visit with Halkin at his home in the Israeli town of Zichron Ya’akov and reflects on that career:

In a review of one of his books, . . . Halkin was called “one of the great snoops of the age.” In English, the word carries a negative connotation: a snoop is one who sticks his nose in others’ affairs, who pries. In Hebrew, the noun can be rendered as balash, a word that suggests a gumshoe, a detective. That somewhat more dignified Hebrew concept applies to Halkin. He has the snoop’s attitude and gimlet eye, a critic sizing up everything and everyone before him, including his readers. . . .

As [Halkin and I] sat for a few hours in [a local] café, several patrons approached our table and introduced themselves to him. . . . The fact that Halkin is still greeted in public and thanked by strangers surely has something to do with his first book. A few years after he and [his wife] Marcia moved to Israel he began work on Letters to an American Jewish FriendA Zionist’s Polemic (1977). The book is written as if it were Halkin’s side of an exchange of letters over several months with a fictitious American friend, a composite of some of Halkin’s real friends. It is a deep yet lively exploration of Jewish continuity. The classical Zionists, Halkin writes, believed that Jews were “hopelessly trapped between the Scylla of assimilation and the Charybdis of anti-Semitism.” The existence of Israel offers another option.

Halkin draws on history, philosophy, sociopolitical commentary, and descriptions of his young family’s life in the young country to make the case that for a Jew, Israel is the most logical place to live. “I have tried to reason with you,” he writes his pen pal in the book’s concluding letter, “to implant in you no more than a feeling of unease for being where you are, or if you prefer, since I don’t mind speaking bluntly, of guilt.” And even if the reader does not leave America to make aliyah—that is, does not move to Israel—“I should hope that these letters will have helped you to think more clearly about the alternatives before us.”

The best dialogic literature forces a confrontation with one’s basic assumptions; it riles the reader. But what makes Halkin’s case so compelling is that he and his wife had themselves recently made the move to Israel—that is, he is a case study in the security of his own argument. Letters combines the thumotic and the erotic—the spirited, preservatory case for aliyah with a yearning for completeness.

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More about: Aliyah, Arts & Culture, Hillel Halkin, Letters to an American Jewish Friend, Zionism

While Pursuing a Thaw with Israel, Saudi Arabia Foments Anti-Semitism at Home

July 18 2018

For the better part of this century, Jerusalem and Riyadh have cooperated clandestinely to contain Iran’s growing power. The kingdom has also increasingly aimed its diplomatic and propaganda efforts against Qatar, whose funding of Islamist groups—including Hamas—has damaged both Saudi Arabia and Israel. But, writes Edy Cohen, there’s a dark side to Riyadh’s efforts against the enemies of the Jewish state:

The [Saudi cyberwarfare agency’s] Twitter account tweets daily, mostly against Qatar and Iran. It uses anti-Semitic terminology, referring to Qatar as “Qatariel,” a portmanteau of Qatar and Israel, and claiming the [Qatar-sponsored] Al Jazeera network “belongs to the Israeli Mossad.”

“‘The deal of the century’ is a Qatari scheme to sell Palestine to the Zionist entity,’” one tweet reads, while another alleges that the “Zionist” Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the father of [Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is scheming to divide the Arab states to fulfill the dreams of the “Zionist entity” and Iran. Yet another tweet alleges that Qatar is “trying to destroy the Arab world to serve the enemies of the Muslim world: Israel and Iran.” These statements penetrate deep into the Arab consciousness and increase existing hatred toward Jews and Israel.

The Saudis, then, are playing a double game. Behind the scenes, they send the Israelis the message that Iran is a common enemy and goad them to fight Iran and Hizballah. At home, however, they say the enemy is first and foremost the state of Israel, followed by Iran. Their formula is clear: covert ties with Israel coupled with overt hostility to the Jewish state to satisfy the people, a majority of whom hate Israel.

The Saudi double game is reminiscent of the Egyptian model under President Gamal Abdel Nasser in that dozens of anti-Semitic articles are published daily, while the Israeli populace is not exposed to the phenomenon and the politicians close their ears. Following the signing of the 1994 Oslo Accords, the Palestinians asked Israel for permission to incite “moderately” against the Jewish state for “domestic needs.” This incitement turned deadly and was used as live ammunition for the boycott, sanctions, and divestment movement (BDS). We must not give in and accept the incitement against us, and that is also true when Saudi Arabia is concerned. Incitement translates into action, and that action comes at a price.

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More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Qatar, Saudi Arabia