The First Zionist Novel

March 31 2017

Written in 1876—over two decades before Theodor Herzl founded the Zionist movement—George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda tells the story of an Englishman who discovers his Jewish identity and then embraces a quest to restore the Jews to their homeland. Ruth Wisse explains why the novel is must-reading today. (To enroll in Professor Wisse’s online course on the book, click here.)

Why did the first historian of Zionism, Nahum Sokolow, call [Daniel Deronda] a “Zionist novel”? Was the author a Jew? George Eliot was a woman who assumed a male pseudonym when she started writing fiction, but she was certainly not a Jew masquerading as an Englishwoman. Rather, she was an Englishwoman concerned about the moral and political future of her country. England had elected as its prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, who made no secret of his Jewish origins. But he was a baptized Christian, and therefore his accomplishments proved nothing about his country’s tolerance for Jews who wanted to remain within the Jewish community. Eliot believed that true national maturity meant more than readiness to assimilate a resident minority. In the novel, England’s destiny depends on its ability to recognize that Jews are a separate and equal people “with a national center, such as the English have, though they too are scattered over the face of the globe.”

Lest this sound educational—or worse, didactic—rest assured that this book is entertainment. It begins with the attraction between a handsome young man and a beautiful young woman and builds on the tension of whether these two are destined to end happily together. There are subplots with intrigue, villainy, self-sacrifice, and rescue. Parents desert their children, children defy their parents, lovers wed and others part. Yet unlike the thriller that is driven by suspense, this book derives its excitement from seeing how young people make their way in a changing society where social classes are no longer stable. Women are no longer as strictly confined within traditional roles, and newly democratic culture brings together people who had previously stayed apart. Eliot’s Victorian England is just beginning to experience some of the conflicts that we moderns face in starker form today. . . .

[This year] marks the centenary of the famous letter sent by Britain’s Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour to Baron Walter Rothschild, affirming that “His Majesty’s government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” . . . George Eliot’s brilliant novel preceded the Balfour document in demonstrating how much is at stake in the realization of Jewish nationalism—not merely for the Jews, but also for the democracies in whose midst they live.

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Read more at Moment

More about: Arts & Culture, Benjamin Disraeli, Daniel Deronda, England, George Eliot, Literature, Zionism

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy