How George Steiner and Susan Sontag Got Rich and Famous by Being Jewish Pariahs

In Maestros & Monsters: Days & Nights with Susan Sontag & George Steiner, Robert Boyers recounts his experiences with the two influential Jewish writers of the title. Adam Kirsch, in his review, focuses on their shared “intellectual style,” which, he writes, was formed by the mostly-Jewish New York intellectuals of the mid-century:

In defining their Jewishness in secular and literary terms, Steiner and Sontag were following a path long familiar to German Jewish intellectuals, from Heine and Marx to Walter Benjamin. In Europe, the intellectual vocation appealed to assimilated Jews who found themselves socially marginalized and spiritually homeless, because it turned these deficits into assets. The intellectual took pride in being what Hannah Arendt, another great example of the type, called a “pariah”: because he belonged nowhere, he could see the world truly, free from parochialism and self-interest; . . . ironically, they earned greater fame and even wealth than earlier Jewish “pariahs” could have hoped for.

At the same time, neither had much interest in defending actual Jews from ostracism. Sontag, as Michael Weingrad wrote in Mosaic, “became prone to sloppy Holocaust analogies” later in her career, which she invoked in “her uncritical acceptance of bogus Palestinian claims of a 2002 Israeli ‘massacre’ in the West Bank city of Jenin during the second intifada.” As for Steiner, his extreme anti-Zionism often bled into apologetics for anti-Semitism.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewry, Jewish literature, New York Intellectuals


Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood