Marcel Proust’s Jewish Problem

Although he was baptized as a child, Marcel Proust was born to a Jewish mother. In his major work, Remembrance of Things Past, the protagonist and narrator, also named Marcel, resembles the author in almost every way—except, notably, for the absence of Jewish ancestry. Instead, Proust seems to place this burden on the narrator’s friend Charles Swann, for whom the book’s third volume is named. Robert Siegel comments:

Swann was a Jew, at least in the terms by which Proust probably saw himself as half-Jewish—by ancestry, not by faith or practice. The Swanns were at least nominally Catholic but . . . Swann bears the suspicion of being a modern-day converso, which is how I have come to see him. We know of his Jewishness because others allude to his family background, as if hinting at generations of skeletons in the closet; as for his own view of his family’s origins, Swann gives away nothing.

He is the 19th-century Jew-by-genealogy par excellence, who epitomizes the social class that made Paris the jewel of the Western world. He is admitted to the super-exclusive Jockey Club, a measure of acceptance at the time typically barred to Jews not named Rothschild. He is an art collector and expert, a maven to aristocrats whose palace walls and budgets exceed their knowledge of painting. . . .

Neither Proust nor the fictional Marcel has much positive to say about Jews. [By contrast], an unambiguously Jewish character, Marcel’s onetime schoolmate Albert Bloch, is brilliant but uncouth, a caricature of the pushy, ill-mannered Jew of anti-Semitic tropes.

What makes the Jewishness of Bloch and Swann important to the novel is the backdrop of the great political issue of turn-of-the-century Paris, the Dreyfus affair. . . . Marcel is a convinced Dreyfusard—a believer in [Alfred Dreyfus’s] innocence. So is Bloch. And so is Swann. Toward the end of his life, Swann openly despises the anti-Semites of the aristocracy, but, knowing them well, he cautions the younger and more headstrong Bloch to act discreetly. . . . [W]hen Swann publicly identifies himself with the Dreyfusard cause, the perfect converso encounters a social inquisition in the salons and palaces where the fruits of his aesthetic wisdom hang on the walls. In the eyes of the [aristocratic] Duc de Guermantes, Swann’s position on Dreyfus is not just wrong, but disloyal.

Read more at Moment

More about: Alfred Dreyfus, Anti-Semitism, French Jewry, Marcel Proust

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy