Samuel Pallache: The Great Jewish Pirate Who Took on the Spanish Fleet

March 19 2018

Born in Morocco in 1550 to Jewish refugees from Spain, Samuel Pallache, after completing his rabbinic training, embarked on an alternative career as a sailor—but soon he and his brother found they could better enrich themselves as pirates. Pallache’s activities eventually attracted the attention of the Moroccan sultan, who led him onto an even more improbable path, as Ushi Derman writes:

The sultan, who wished to strengthen links with Netherlands, appointed Pallache ambassador to the newly formed Dutch Republic. Apart from his prestige as a famous mariner, Pallache also spoke many languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and French, which made him a precious diplomatic asset for the sultan.

Thus, in 1596 Pallache . . . settled in the Hague. . . . He founded one of the first informal Jewish congregations in the city, and also served as rabbi of the Jewish community. His comfortable diplomatic routine was interrupted when, at the end of the 16th century, the treasure-loving sultan ordered him to sail to Lisbon, [then part of Spain], and purchase gems in exchange for loads of wax. . . . Pallache, who was in financial trouble, offered to sell the Spaniards some inside information from the sultan’s court. The Inquisition’s authorities suspected that the rabbi was trying to bring converts back to Judaism, so they followed him; he managed to escape just in time.

Bankrupted and entangled, he sailed right back to Holland and upon his return used his contacts in order to meet with Maurice, the son of William the Silent, the founder and ruler of the Dutch Republic. Pallache offered Maurice a chance to cooperate with Morocco against their shared enemy—Spain. The prince . . . despised the Spanish as much as Pallache did, so he came up with a brilliant idea. As the Netherlands and Spain had signed a peace treaty, he suggested establishing a group of pirates made up of vagrants, adventurers, and sailors to harass Spanish shipping under Moroccan cover. Pallache, who hated the Spaniards for deporting his ancestors, was eager for a chance to get even.

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More about: History & Ideas, Morocco, Netherlands, Piracy, Sephardim, Spanish Inquisition

“Ending the War in Yemen” Would Lead to More Bloodshed and Threaten Global Trade

Dec. 13 2018

A bipartisan movement is afloat in Congress to end American support for the Saudi-led coalition currently fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. With frustration at Riyadh over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, reports of impending famine and a cholera outbreak in Yemen, and mounting casualties, Congress could go so far as to cut all funding for U.S. involvement in the war. But to do so would be a grave mistake, argues Mohammed Khalid Alyahya:

Unfortunately, calls to “stop the Yemen war,” though morally satisfying, are fundamentally misguided. . . . A precipitous disengagement by the Saudi-led coalition . . . would have calamitous consequences for Yemen, the Middle East, and the world at large. The urgency to end the war reduces that conflict, and its drivers, to a morality play, with the coalition of Arab states cast as the bloodthirsty villain killing and starving Yemeni civilians. The assumption seems to be that if the coalition’s military operations are brought to a halt, all will be well in Yemen. . . .

[But] if the Saudi-led coalition were to cease operations, Iran’s long arm, the Houthis, would march on areas [previously controlled by the Yemeni government] and exact a bloody toll on the populations of such cities as Aden and Marib with the same ruthlessness with which they [treated] Sanaa and Taiz during the past three years. The rebels have ruled Sanaa, kidnapping, executing, disappearing, systematically torturing, and assassinating detractors. In Taiz, they fire mortars indiscriminately at the civilian population and snipers shoot at children to force residents into submission.

[Moreover], an abrupt termination of the war would leave Iran in control of Yemen [and] deal a serious blow to the global economy. Iran would have the ability to obstruct trade and oil flows from both the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb strait. . . . About 24 percent of the world’s petroleum and petroleum products passes through these two waterways, and Iran already has the capability to disrupt oil flows from Hormuz and threatened to do so this year. Should Iran acquire that capability in Bab el-Mandeb by establishing a foothold in the Gulf of Aden, even if it chose not to utilize this capability oil prices and insurance costs would surge.

Allowing Tehran to control two of the most strategic choke points for the global energy market is simply not an option for the international community. There is every reason to believe that Iran would launch attacks on maritime traffic. The Houthis have mounted multiple attacks on commercial and military vessels over the past several years, and Iran has supplied its Yemeni proxy with drone boats, conventional aerial drones, and ballistic missiles.

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More about: Iran, Oil, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen