Howard Jacobson on His Recreation of Shylock

March 22 2016

Discussing his most recent novel, an adaptation of The Merchant of Venice set in modern Britain, Howard Jacobson comments on the character of Shylock and the question of Shakespeare’s anti-Semitism. (Interview by Liam Hoare.)

Shylock . . . remains part of English culture as both noun and adjective. . . . Shylock does not die in the play; he is very much still among us.

Although Shylock comes from the mind of someone who isn’t Jewish, he has entered the Jewish imagination. He’s entered the literature, not just about Jews, but also of Jews. He is one of the ways that we see ourselves. He won’t go away—he’s always there. . . .

[In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock comes across as] so much more sympathetic than the other characters. At once, immediately, he plays with them: he’s funny; he’s quick on his feet; he plays the Jew and then doesn’t play the Jew; he plays them at their own game; he’s saucy; he’s rude. . . .

Did Shakespeare hate Jews? Clearly he didn’t, because there was so much amusement and vitality and pity to Shylock, including the famous, “Hath not a Jew eyes?” That’s standard for Shakespeare—you humanize the foreign, you humanize the alien.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, English literature, Howard Jacobson, William Shakespeare

Will America Invite Israel to Join Its Multinational Coalitions?

From the Korean War onward, the U.S. has rarely fought wars alone, but has instead led coalitions of various allied states. Israel stands out in that it has close military and diplomatic relations with Washington yet its forces have never been part of these coalitions—even in the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi missiles were raining down on its cities. The primary reason for its exclusion was the sensitivity of participating Arab and Muslim nations. But now that Jerusalem has diplomatic relations with several Arab countries and indeed regularly participates alongside them in U.S.-led joint military exercises, David Levy believes it may someday soon be asked to contribute to an American expedition.

It is unlikely that Israel would be expected by the U.S. to deploy the Golani [infantry] brigade or any other major army unit. Instead, Washington will likely solicit areas of IDF niche expertise. These include missile defense and special forces, two areas in which Israel is a world leader. The IDF has capabilities that it can share by providing trainers and observers. Naval and air support would also be expected as these assets are inherently deployable. Israel can also provide allies in foreign wars with intelligence and cyber-warfare support, much of which can be accomplished without the physical deployment of troops.

Jerusalem’s previous reasons for abstention from coalitions were legitimate. Since its independence, Israel has faced existential threats. Conventional Arab armies sought to eliminate the nascent state in 1948-49, 1967, and again in 1973. This danger remained ever-present until the 1978 signing of the Camp David Accords, which established peace between Egypt and Israel. Post-Camp David, the threats to Israel remain serious but are no longer existential. If Iran were to become a nuclear power, this would pose a new existential threat. Until then, Israel is relatively well secured.

Jerusalem’s new Arab allies would welcome its aid. Western capitals, especially Washington, should be expected to pursue Israel’s military assistance, and Jerusalem will have little choice but to acquiesce to the expeditionary expectation.

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More about: IDF, U.S. military, U.S.-Israel relationship