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Two Very Different Stories of Modern Jewish History

Jan. 18 2018

Simon Schama, author of The Story of the Jews, Volume Two: Belonging, 1492-1900, is a distinguished historian of modern Europe who, although Jewish himself, had written little about the Jews until producing the first volume of this work. By contrast, Shmuel Feiner, author of Et Ḥadashah (“A New Age”)—the first of two projected volumes on 18th-century European Jewry—is a leading expert on the Jewish intellectual history of this period. Finding both books impressive in different ways, Allan Arkush compares them in his review:

[T]he two historians share a refreshingly old-fashioned determination to tell the story of the Jews as a story. . . . [Thus, both] attempt not to relate the whole history of the Jews during the period covered by their [respective] volumes but to tell these Jews’ story—indeed, to a large extent, to let them tell their story in their own words, culled from their letters, diaries, and autobiographical works. The chief difference between Schama and Feiner is the story they consider it most important to tell.

Schama . . . constructs a narrative that is focused mostly on the drama of Diaspora Jewry entering or being excluded from the society around them. Feiner, a historian of the Haskalah [the Jewish Enlightenment], is more concerned with telling the story of how 18th-century Jews conceived of themselves and lived, as individuals, in relation above all to Jewish tradition and their fellow Jews, and only secondarily to the world around them, even if it left deep marks on them.

But why should one expect [Schama,] a Diaspora-based historian of Europe and European art attempting to tell his people’s story to a broad audience, and [Feiner,] a historian of the Jewish Enlightenment living in Israel who is now ready to repaint the picture of a whole century, to share an agenda? Examining the Jewish past from their differing vantage points, both have brought their subjects to life with far more success than many of the specialists in Jewish history of whose works they make very profitable use.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Haskalah, History & Ideas, Jewish history

Mahmoud Abbas Comes to the UN to Walk away from the Negotiating Table

Feb. 22 2018

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed the United Nations Security Council during one of its regular discussions of the “Palestine question.” He used the opportunity to elaborate on the Palestinians’ “5,000-year history” in the land of Israel, after which he moved on to demand—among other things—that the U.S. reverse its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The editors of the Weekly Standard comment:

It’s convenient for Abbas to suggest a condition to which he knows the United States won’t accede. It allows him to do what he does best—walk away from the table. Which is what he did on Tuesday, literally. After his speech, Abbas and his coterie of bureaucrats walked out of the council chamber, snubbing the next two speakers, the Israeli ambassador Danny Danon and the U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley, . . . [in order to have his] photograph taken with the Belgian foreign minister.

Abbas has neither the power nor the will to make peace. It’s the perennial problem afflicting Palestinian leadership. If he compromises on the alleged “right of return”—the chimerical idea that Palestinians can re-occupy the lands from which they [or their ancestors] fled, in effect obliterating the Israeli state—he will be deposed by political adversaries. Thus his contradictory strategy: to prolong his pageantry in international forums such as the UN, and to fashion himself a “moderate” even as he finances and incites terror. He seems to believe time is on his side. But it’s not. He’s eighty-two. While he continues his performative intransigence, he further immiserates the people he claims to represent.

In a sense, it was entirely appropriate that Abbas walked out. In that sullen act, he [exemplified] his own approach to peacemaking: when difficulties arise, vacate the premises and seek out photographers.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Mahmoud Abbas, Nikki Haley, Politics & Current Affairs, United Nations