A British Writer’s Exploration of Her Jewish Past, Catholic Present—and the Eichmann Trial

Born to an Anglican mother and a Jewish father, the acclaimed British novelist Muriel Spark converted to Catholicism at the age of thirty-six. Seven years later, in 1961, Spark found herself in Jerusalem covering the trial of Adolf Eichmann for the London Observer. That experience would in turn become the basis for her novel The Mandelbaum Gate, which has as its protagonist a Catholic Briton of mixed Jewish and Christian ancestry, named Barbara, visiting the capital of the Jewish state. Calling the book both Spark’s “most ambitious” and her “most disappointing,” Christopher Scalia nonetheless finds in it moments of profundity:

Some of the novel’s most compelling passages occur when Barbara, reflects on, or is challenged to reconcile, her disparate ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Although Spark devotes only a few pages of this long novel to it, the [Eichmann trial] has a profound effect on Barbara’s journey. She is struck by the language and imagery of Eichmann’s testimony, finding them consistently inappropriate and ill-suited for their subject. On some occasions, his empty mechanical language belies the horror of the Holocaust: “Minute by minute throughout the hours the prisoner discoursed on the massacre without mentioning the word, covering all aspects of every question addressed to him with the meticulous undiscriminating reflex of a computing machine.” This “dead mechanical tick” is poorly suited for the massacre it described.

Later, Barbara contracts scarlet fever and spends a stretch of time confined to a house with several other people:

During her quarantine . . . Barbara becomes fed up with another character’s anti-Semitic commentary—“Really, let’s face it, Hitler had the right idea. . . . It’s a network on a world scale. The Jews. They’ve got us in a net.”—and attacks her. The overt anti-Semitism and Barbara’s visceral, direct reaction to it create a sharp contrast to the oblique and suppressed nature of the Eichmann trial, and the scene permits Barbara to demonstrate her attachment to her Jewish identity.

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Read more at Public Discourse

More about: Catholicism, Conversion, Eichmann Trial, Jerusalem, Jews in literature

 

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf