In Britain, the Jewish Literary Volcano Is Stirring

March 8 2019

English Jewry, writes Howard Jacobson, has a reputation for its lack of interest in literature or high culture. But this year’s annual Jewish Book Week, which concludes this Sunday, suggests that the reputation is undeserved:

[I]t’s with no small degree of satisfaction that Anglo-Jewry cocks a snook at its critics when London Jewish Book Week comes around at the end of February and sells out of tickets the minute it puts them on sale. It’s accepted wisdom that you can’t get an audience in London for anything literary. . . .

I’m not old enough to have gone to its first events in the early 1950s. I imagine them to have been diffident and sedate. They weren’t much bolder when I started going in the 1980s. Asked to choose their favorite Jewish book ever, an audience overwhelmingly went for The Diary of Anne Frank. Asked to choose their second they picked the diary of Anne Frank’s sister, and so on through the whole family. So what about living Jews? No interest? Yes, yes, of course. But were such books being written?

Well if they weren’t then, they are now. What James Joyce discovered a hundred years ago—that if you really want a hero for all time, he has to be a Jew—is enjoying renewed momentum. Readers who come to Jewish Book Week haven’t given up on Anne Frank, but in our troubled, not to say apocalyptic times, the experience of contemporary Jewry, life as lived by Jews or affected by Jews, life in the face of Jews, life as it wouldn’t be but for Jews, life as told in Jewish stories, life that only the Jewish spirit of bleak play can reach, life that is particularly Jewish by virtue of having no Jew in it, matters to them just as much or more.

Jewish Book Week is not a revelation to English Jews; it’s a reminder. The volcano might not have been erupting but it never was extinct. . . . Deep below the surface of things, in the germinating dark, the English Jews are stirring. We could choose to be cheered by that, or we could remember that Jews are civilization’s weather vane, and bad stuff is on the way.

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More about: Arts & Culture, British Jewry, Howard Jacobson, Jewish literature

Despite What the UN Says, the Violence at the Gaza Border Is Military, Not Civilian, in Nature

March 22 2019

On Monday, a UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry issued its final report on last spring’s disturbances at the Gaza border. Geoffrey Corn and Peter Margulies explain why the report is fatally flawed:

The commission framed the events [in Gaza] as a series of demonstrations that were “civilian in nature.” Israel and its Supreme Court, [which has investigated some of the killings that occurred], framed the same events quite differently: as a new evolution in Israel’s ongoing armed conflict with the terrorist organization Hamas. Consistency and common sense suggest that the Israeli High Court of Justice’s framing is a more rational explanation of what occurred at the Israel-Gaza border in spring 2018.

Kites, [for instance], played a telltale role [in the violence]. When most people think of kites, they think of a child’s plaything or a hobbyist’s harmless passion. In the Gaza confrontation, kites [became] a new and effective, albeit low-tech, tactic for attacking Israel. As the report conceded, senior Gaza leaders, including from Hamas, “encouraged” the unleashing of waves of incendiary kites that during and since the spring 2018 confrontations have burned thousands of acres of arable land within Israel. The resulting destruction included fires that damaged the Kerem Shalom border crossing, which conveys goods and gasoline from Israel to Gaza. . . .

Moreover, the incendiary-kite offensive was an effective diversion from the efforts encouraged and coordinated by Hamas last spring to pierce the border with Israel and attack both IDF personnel and the civilian residents of the beleaguered Israeli towns a short distance from the border fence. . . .

The commission also failed to acknowledge that Hamas sought to use civilians as an operational cover to move members of its armed wing into position along the fence. For IDF commanders, this increased the importance of preventing a breach [in the fence]. Large crowds directly along the fence would simplify breakthrough attempts by intermingled Hamas and other belligerent operatives. The crowds themselves also could attempt to pour through any breach. Unfortunately, the commission seems to have completely omitted any credible assessment of the potential casualties on all sides that would have resulted from IDF action to seal a breach once it was achieved. . . .

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Laws of war, UNHRC, United Nations