To a Leading Critic, Both American-Jewish and Israeli Literature Express Deep Ambivalences

In The Blessing and the Curse: The Jewish People and Their Books in the Twentieth Century, Adam Kirsch seeks to create a sort of canon of Jewish literature from the past 100 years, combining selections with brief critical essays. Julian Levinson writes in his review:

The section on America portrays the drama of acculturation as a perilous balancing act between Jewish loyalties and American allurements. For every exuberant embrace of America as a new home for Jews (Kirsch points to Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March and many of Grace Paley’s stories), there are darker portents that an unbridgeable gulf ultimately divides Americanness and Jewishness. Nowhere is this clearer than in Cynthia Ozick’s story “The Pagan Rabbi,” which ends with a suicide, proving Ozick’s point, according to Kirsch, that “a rabbi can never become a true pagan. . . . To cherish the world, the body, and the senses is to sin against Judaism.”

American Jews, in this view, are doomed to wander between irreconcilable choices. Most of the American Jews depicted in the texts Kirsch selects are divided selves. But Israel hardly offers the relief from existential affliction that Zionist idealists have been insisting it would. From S.Y. Agnon’s Only Yesterday to Orly Castel-Bloom’s [1992 novel] Dolly City, Kirsch exposes recurrent themes of madness, alienation, and spiritual confusion.

Where in all of this, we might ask, are the blessings promised by the title? Tellingly, both the America and Israel sections conclude with writers who use the language of religion, ritual, and prayer to create ultimately affirmative visions.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Cynthia Ozick, Israeli literature, S. Y. Agnon, Saul Bellow

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law