Benjamin Disraeli’s Jewish and Conservative Commitments

Feb. 27 2018

In 1813, Isaac D’Israeli—a well-to-do member of London’s oldest and most prestigious synagogue—refused to pay a fine levied against him by the congregation’s trustees for declining to serve as warden for a year. The dispute culminated in his leaving the congregation and then having his children—including the future British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)—baptized into the Church of England. Taking stock of the younger Disraeli’s career, Robert Philpott defends him from charges of political opportunism, details his struggle with anti-Semitism from both his own Conservative party and from the Liberals, and examines his ambivalent relationship with his Jewish heritage.

[W]hile Jews featured prominently in Disraeli’s many novels—written before and after he entered politics—he seemed to have little understanding of Jewish practices and made more than a few errors. Disraeli’s writings were also seemingly contradictory. His novels occasionally featured Jewish characters that clearly drew on then-common anti-Semitic depictions—his description of a Jewish money-lender, Levison, is particularly vulgar—while the Jewish wise man Sidonia in Coningsby outlines a picture of Jews working through “subterranean agencies” to control world events that was later gleefully seized upon and repeated by virulent anti-Semites. At other times, however, Disraeli’s novels laud Jews and the superiority of “the Hebrew.” . . .

Despite his deep patriotism, Disraeli was the subject of vicious anti-Semitic attacks from his political opponents. They charged that his failure as prime minister to do more to protect Christians in the Balkans from massacres by their Ottoman masters stemmed from his Jewish roots. . . . But Disraeli’s actions were not, as his critics suggested, the result of his “Jew feelings” or a reflection of an “Oriental indifference to cruelty” but a realpolitik calculation, strongly shared by Queen Victoria, that Russian expansionism posed a danger to British interests. . . .

Disraeli’s conservatism was deeply held. The purpose of the Tory party, he believed, was “to maintain the institutions of the country”—the monarchy, the Church of England, the aristocracy. But that belief also necessitated knowing when it is best to reform in order to preserve. . . . Disraeli’s romance [with England’s past] reflected his abiding reverence for England’s long history—a subject which almost always featured in his speeches—and his desire to etch himself a place in it.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Anti-Semitism, Benjamin Disraeli, British Jewry, Conservatism, England, History & Ideas

To Undermine Russian and Iranian Influence in Syria, the U.S. Must Go on the Offensive

March 22 2018

When Iranian-lead, pro-Assad forces attacked U.S. allies in Syria last month, they found themselves quickly overwhelmed by American firepower. The incident, writes Tony Badran, makes clear that the U.S. has the capability to push back against the Damascus-Tehran-Moscow axis. By taking a more aggressive approach while working closely with Israel, Badran argues, Washington can at once prevent Russia and Iran from cementing their control of Syria and avoid getting drawn into a wider conflict:

Israeli assets can augment U.S. capabilities considerably. A few days after the skirmish in Deir Ezzour in February, Iran flew a drone into Israeli air space. Israel responded by destroying the Iranian command center at the Tiyas military air base near Palmyra, and then proceeded to bomb a large number of Iranian and Assad-regime targets. The episode again underscored the vulnerability of Iran, to say nothing of the brittle Assad regime. Close coordination with Israel to expand this ongoing targeting campaign against Iranian and Hizballah infrastructure, senior cadres, and logistical routes, and amplifying it with U.S. assets in the region, would have a devastating effect on Iran’s position in Syria.

By going on the offensive, the U.S. will also strengthen Israel’s hand with Russia, reducing Jerusalem’s need to petition the Kremlin and thereby diminishing Moscow’s ability to position itself as an arbiter on Israeli security. For instance, instead of haggling with Russia to obtain its commitment to keep Iran five or seven kilometers away from the Israeli border, the U.S. could adopt the Israeli position on Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and assist Israel in enforcing it. Such a posture would have a direct effect on another critical ally, Jordan, whose role is of high importance in southern Syria and in the U.S. zone in the east.

Assad and Iran are the scaffolding on which the Russian position stands. Targeting them, therefore, undercuts Moscow and reduces its leverage. By merely forcing Russia to respect Israeli and Jordanian needs on the border, the U.S. would undermine Russia’s attempt, more generally, to leverage its position in Syria to make headway into the U.S. alliance system. In addition to adopting a more offensive military posture, the U.S. should also intensify the economic chokehold on Assadist Syria.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy