Leonard Bernstein: Proud Jew and Zionist

Unlike Esther, who concealed her Jewish origins upon entering public life, and unlike those Jews mentioned at the beginning of today’s newsletter who wish distance themselves from the Jewish state, the famed composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein did neither. Shalom Goldman considers Bernstein’s affinity for Zionism, but first recounts a conversation Bernstein had with his mentor, the conductor Serge Koussevitzky, a Russian-born Jew who had converted to Christianity to advance his career:

In 1942, when Bernstein first emerged as a gifted and popular figure in the classical music world, Koussevitzky urged his protégé to change his name from Bernstein to Burns. “Your name is too Jewish, and too ordinary,” he said. But Bernstein would have none of it. Mid-20th-century America was not late-19th-century Russia, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra was a far cry from the Moscow Philharmonic. Bernstein sensed that American culture would accept performing artists with Jewish names and commitments. And, of course, he was right.

His first trip to Palestine in 1947 was a great triumph for Bernstein. The Palestine Symphony Orchestra offered to make him its musical director, and for a few weeks, while conducting in Europe, he considered it. From the U.S., Bernstein advanced his vision of a Jewish state through music—first and foremost by supporting the musical institutions already operating in British Mandate Palestine. The Palestine Symphony Orchestra was the most prestigious of these, formed by European Jewish refugees in 1936.

Bernstein returned to Israel in late October of 1948. He performed in the same cities he had visited a year and a half earlier—Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa—but now these cities belonged to the new state of Israel, and they were battlefronts in the Arab-Israeli war.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish History, American Zionism, Israeli music, Leonard Bernstein

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security