Philip Roth Wasn’t a Nice Jewish Boy. But What Kind of Jewish Boy Was He?

“Enough being a nice Jewish boy!” exclaims Alexander Portnoy in Philip Roth’s eponymous novel. To many of his readers, that sentence sums up Roth’s attitude toward his people, his fiction, and perhaps his very worldview. But, writes Jesse Tisch in his review of Benjamin Taylor’s Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth, the late American Jewish writer did not always play the rebellious Jew. He had little tolerance, for instance, for anti-Semitism, even when disguised as contempt for Israel:

For a fleeting period [after moving to London], Roth was cheerfully social, but the more familiar London became, the more its charms came to seem like drawbacks. Conversation was stilted. London was dull and dreary. . . . Worse was the genteel anti-Semitism of upper-class Londoners, something Roth could never abide. England’s bien-pensants disliked Israel; a haughty distaste for Jews was common, even in public.

Indeed, Roth sympathized deeply with the Jewish state:

Roth had been fascinated with Israel in the 1960s, when a conference brought him to Jerusalem; he rediscovered Israel in late 1984. “Israel is the place to give your curiosity a workout,” he wrote [his friend] Ted Solotaroff in a rare quiet moment. Roth toured widely, a glutton for experience, interviewing everyone from authors to NGO workers to ordinary Israelis. It wasn’t the Israel of popular myth—the plucky young country with an infallible army—but the actual Israel, seething, quarrelsome, self-questioning, that inspired Roth’s affection. “I’m only back two days and feel like taking the plunge again soon,” he wrote Solotaroff. “Each time you go out further and see more and are further astonished.”

Nor did Roth always side with the rebels:

[In 1997], Roth swerved sharply with American Pastoral, the tale of a wholesome, clean-cut everyman, Swede Levov, whose profound decency proves to be an Achilles’ heel. Here, Roth’s subject was history with a capital H: the 1960s radicals, embodied by a Weatherman-like extremist. “How could she ‘hate’ this country when she had no conception of this country?” her father wonders. The author seems to agree: Radicals aren’t brave; they’re just mad at their parents. In response, several Roth scholars rejected the notion that Roth had turned conservative. This is true—he was always somewhat conservative, if not politically then temperamentally, disdaining the counterculture and radical chic. American Pastoral was embraced by conservatives and nearly everyone else, snaring the Pulitzer Prize.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Anti-Semitism, Jewish literature, Philip Roth

Iran’s President May Be Dead. What Next?

At the moment, Hizballah’s superiors in Tehran probably aren’t giving much thought to the militia’s next move. More likely, they are focused on the fact that their country’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, along with the foreign minister, may have been killed in a helicopter crash near the Iran-Azerbaijan border. Iranians set off fireworks to celebrate the possible death of this man known as “butcher of Tehran” for his role in executing dissidents. Shay Khatiri explains what will happen next:

If the president is dead or unable to perform his duties for longer than two months, the first vice-president, the speaker of the parliament, and the chief justice, with the consent of the supreme leader, form a council to choose the succession mechanism. In effect, this means that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will decide [how to proceed]. Either a new election is called, or Khamenei will dictate that the council chooses a single person to avoid an election in time of crisis.

Whatever happens next, however, Raisi’s “hard landing” will mark the first chapter in a game of musical chairs that will consume the Islamic Republic for months and will set the stage not only for the post-Raisi era, but the post-Khamenei one as well.

As for the inevitable speculation that Raisi’s death wasn’t an accident: everything I have read so far suggests that it was. Still, that its foremost enemy will be distracted by a succession struggle is good news for Israel. And it wouldn’t be terrible if Iran’s leaders suspect that the Mossad just might have taken out Raisi. For all their rhetoric about martyrdom, I doubt they relish the prospect of becoming martyrs themselves.

Read more at Middle East Forum

More about: Ali Khamenei, Iran, Mossad