Saul Bellow’s Indelible Judaism

Jan. 17 2019

Zachary Leader, having recently completed the second volume of his two-volume biography of Saul Bellow, discusses with his interviewer Robert Siegel the role of Jewishness in the Nobel Prize-winning author’s work and thought:

I think [Bellow] viewed [being Jewish] as an indelible fact of his life. Certainly for the first half of his life, a major part of his struggle was to gain the position of a writer who was not a hyphenate, who wasn’t limited by his background. He said, “I never felt it necessary to sacrifice one identification for another. I’ve never had to say that I was not a Canadian. I never had to say that I was not Jewish. I never had to say I was not an American.” But early on, being designated a Jewish-American writer was seen as a sort of ghettoizing. He didn’t want to be in the suburbs of literature. . . .

In the early part of his life, [Bellow] felt that the literary and academic establishment he wished to enter was dominated by WASPs and that he was at a disadvantage because of his Jewish background. There’s a famous story about when he finished as an undergraduate at Northwestern University: he asked whether he should do graduate work in English, and the head of the department said, “I don’t think it is a good idea. It isn’t your language [Bellow was born in Canada and wrote in no other language], and people would find it hard to give you the authority that you would need as a professor of English. Why don’t you do anthropology?” He did go on to study anthropology in Wisconsin. So the anti-Semitism part was there from the start.

And in the literary establishment, though it’s true that New York Jewish intellectuals were a power in the literary world, there were also the gentlemanly Southern Agrarians and the notion of New England WASP-dom. He felt he had to struggle to gain his position against anti-Semitic feeling.

Leader concludes the interview by noting that the current literary establishment has again excluded Bellow, thanks to what Bellow’s friend Allan Bloom famously called the “closing of the American mind”—in a book with a foreword written by Bellow himself.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Moment

More about: Allan Bloom, American Jewish literature, Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Saul Bellow

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank