An American Jew’s Failed Attempt to Create a Temporary Zion in Upstate New York

At various points in his life, the Philadelphia-born Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851) was, in Jenna Weissman Joselit’s words, “a politician and a playwright, a man about town, a journalist, and a diplomat in Tunis, where he jousted with pirates.” But perhaps his best-known exploit was his attempt to transform Grand Island—a richly forested bit of land in the Niagara River, not far from Buffalo, NY—into a refuge for European Jews fleeing persecution and poverty. He called the putative settlement Ararat. Joselit writes:

Considerable fanfare—booming cannons, a 24-gun salute, the glorious sounds of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus—attended Ararat’s public launch. Noah, kitted out in a costume inspired by Richard III—a crimson silk robe trimmed in ermine, festooned with an oversized gold medal—presided over the elaborate proceedings, whose centerpiece was an exceedingly wordy “Proclamation to the Jews.”

Adopting the mantle of “governor and judge of Israel,” Noah called on the Jews of the world to gather together “under the protection of the American Constitution,” where after a lapse of 2,000 years they would re-establish a “Hebrew government.” Quick to point out that Ararat was no substitute for Zion, but rather a “temporary and provisionary” place of refuge, an “asylum,” he also made it clear in his address, as well as in subsequent speeches, that the Grand Island settlement was no “mere colonization” but an exercise in amelioration, or what we today might call social engineering. The big idea was to provide the Jews with a “period of regeneration,” during which they would modernize themselves as well as deepen their familiarity with “liberal principles.”

For all the verbiage and hoopla, nothing came of Ararat except a 300-pound cornerstone and much public ridicule. No one took the newly fashioned governor and judge of Israel up on his kind offer to relocate to an island outside Buffalo.

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More about: American Jewish History, History & Ideas, New York

 

The Reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Staying Power

Nov. 20 2018

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have narrowly avoided the collapse of his governing coalition despite the fact that one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, withdrew and another, the Jewish Home, threatened to follow suit. Moreover, he kept the latter from defecting without conceding its leader’s demand to be appointed minister of defense. Even if the government were to collapse, resulting in early elections, Netanyahu would almost certainly win, writes Elliot Jager:

[Netanyahu’s] detractors think him Machiavellian, duplicitous, and smug—willing to do anything to stay in power. His supporters would not automatically disagree. Over 60 percent of Israelis tell pollsters that they will be voting for a party other than Likud—some supposing their favored party will join a Netanyahu-led coalition while others hoping against the odds that Likud can be ousted.

Opponents would [also] like to think the prime minister’s core voters are by definition illiberal, hawkish, and religiously inclined. However, the 30 percent of voters who plan to vote Likud reflect a broad segment of the population. . . .

Journalists who have observed Netanyahu over the years admire his fitness for office even if they disagree with his actions. A strategic thinker, Netanyahu’s scope of knowledge is both broad and deep. He is a voracious reader and a quick study. . . . Foreign leaders may not like what he says but cannot deny that he speaks with panache and authority. . . .

The prime minister or those around him are under multiple police investigations for possible fraud and moral turpitude. Under Israel’s system, the police investigate and can recommend that the attorney general issue an indictment. . . . Separately, Mrs. Netanyahu is in court for allegedly using public monies to pay for restaurant meals. . . . The veteran Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman maintains that Israelis do not mind if Netanyahu appears a tad corrupt because they admire a politician who is nobody’s fool. Better to have a political figure who cannot be taken advantage of than one who is incorruptible but naïve.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics