A Novel about Interwar Romania Explores the Mind of a Jew Who Has Internalized Anti-Semitism

Born in Romania in 1907, Iosif Mendel Hechter wrote novels, newspaper articles, and plays under the decidedly less Jewish-sounding name Mihail Sebastian. His autobiographical novel For Two-Thousand Years, published in 1934 and only recently translated into English, tells the story of Iosef, a student at Bucharest University, where it is difficult for a Jew to make it through a lecture without being slapped or punched by fellow students. Dara Horn writes in her review:

The term “self-hating Jew” has by now lost nearly all of its descriptive value, and when one reads For Two-Thousand Years, one sees why. Despite our own era’s ample ranks of, say, Jews who cheer for anti-Semitic murderers, the psychology of someone like Sebastian or his narrator is so far beyond anything seen in our lifetimes that For Two-Thousand Years, warts and all, is eminently worth reading. As a novel, it’s flawed to the point of near-failure, with a rambling structure, an utterly irrelevant middle section, and basically no plot. But as a psychological case study, it’s an absolute shocker that will linger in your mind for years to come. It’s also beautifully observed and brimming with insight, not a word of which feels even slightly contrived. . . .

What animates the book . . . is how Iosef almost unconsciously translates [the constant physical and verbal] attacks, and the many humiliations that continue into his adult life, into self-flagellation. “I will never be sufficiently tough with myself,” he berates himself after another beating, “will never strike myself hard enough.” Yes, you read that correctly. . . . If the self-loathing here weren’t clear enough, Iosef later becomes blunter still: “I’d like to hate myself, without excuses or forgiveness. I’d like to be an anti-Semite for five minutes.”

At no point in his endless ruminations does Iosef question his internalized critiques of himself as weak-willed, impure, overly emotional or, paradoxically, overly rational. The fact that his self-image is formed from caricatures straight out of a 2,000-year-old anti-Semitic playbook is acknowledged only in the book’s title—which is, in fact, the point. Iosef is a victim of anti-Semitism less because of how anti-Semites have injured his body than because of how they have scarred his soul. They have told him what Jews are, and he believes them.

Read more at Moment

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, East European Jewry, History & Ideas, Romania

Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy