A 19th-Century Poem Celebrating the Maccabees, and the Jews’ Place in England

In 1839, two young English sisters, Marion and Celia Moss, published a collection of poems whose title boldly identified them as belonging to “the Hebrew nation.” Just nine years prior, a bill intended to give British Jews nearly equal rights to their Gentile compatriots was defeated in parliament. One of the Mosses’ poems memorializes the events in York in the year 1190, when the local Jewish community took refuge in a castle and then committed mass suicide rather than face slaughter or conversion at the hands of a Christian mob. Lauding these Jews’ courage, the poem invokes the Maccabean revolt:

When the Israelites echoed the Maccabees’ cry
As they raised the Asmonean banner on high,
They stayed not to think upon danger or death,
But glorified God with their last fainting breath . . .

Karen Weisman comments:

One of the striking aspects of this poem is that the Moss sisters represent the Jews as embodying England’s most authentic values. What we have in [the first part of the poem] is a description of the English “stately hall” decorated with the proud reminders of English military might, “the sword and buckler on the wall/ Won from the foe in tented field.” But in the hall there are no warriors; the image of the brave English of famed and just valor has given way to the bloodthirsty English swarm, and it is the courageous Jews who are sheltering in the halls of the castle—the very symbol of English stability. With their “jetty” (black) hair and eyes, they don’t look like Englishmen—but they embody genuine English fortitude. . . .

The Jews who die at York Castle will be leaving “in their country’s annals a name/ That will ne’er be erased from the records of fame.” And their country is England. This is a rather remarkable turning of the tables, and a splendid irony: this poem about the moment when Jews were victimized as outcasts implicitly becomes a poem about their rightful belonging to a nation whose glorious history they presume to define.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Arts & Culture, British Jewry, History & Ideas, Jewish literature, Poetry

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy