The Art and Diplomacy of the German-Jewish Elite of a Century Ago

Reviewing a new Berlin museum named after the industrialist, philanthropist, and art collector James Simon (1851-1932), along with a biography of his friend, the Jewish activist Paul Nathan (1857-1927), Abigail Green considers both their careers and the elite segment of Germany Jewry to which they belonged. Simon acquired a vast collection of Renaissance art and German art from all periods and brought some of the most celebrated artifacts of ancient Babylonia and Egypt to his country, turning Germany’s museums, the recipients of his benefactions, into major centers of European culture. As Green notes, the Rothschilds did something similar for France, as did Ludwig Mond, another Jewish industrialist, for Britain. This raises a relevant question:

Did the Jewishness of these men matter? They would undoubtedly have hated to think that it did. Men like Simon, Mond, and Edmond de Rothschild chose to give to great national museums because they identified with Germany, Britain, and France—and because they valued the prestige that came through association with these institutions: it symbolized, among other things, a precious kind of acceptance.

Nor was their generosity uncontroversial. Back in the early 1900s, anti-Semitic voices did not hesitate to denounce Wilhelm von Bode, the Berlin museum director with whom Simon worked closely for decades, for cultivating a clique of Jewish donors to whom he extended cultural respectability and commercial opportunities. The idea of belonging to a specific category of “Jewish patron” would have been abhorrent to these men. (Historians, of course, may well conclude that this is precisely what they were.)

Yet Simon was also not indifferent to Jewish causes, helping to finance the now-distinguished technical university in Haifa and the Aid Organization of German Jews, which he picked Nathan to lead. And Nathan, too, like his patron, was reluctant to think of himself as a Jew above all else:

Nathan was a liberal political journalist who made a second career as a Jewish diplomat. . . . He played a key part in the international struggle against anti-Semitism and internationally coordinated efforts to relieve the crisis faced by Russian and Polish Jews in an age of pogroms, war, and revolution. Yet he was also a central player in the left-liberal milieu of Wilhelmine Germany.

Nowadays, historians are aware principally of his humanitarian activities. . . . But the truth is that Nathan’s liberal activism came first: only once he recognized that a parliamentary career was impossible and that the political journal to which he had dedicated his life was failing did he devote himself full time to Jewish activism and diplomacy.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Art, German Jewry, Philanthropy, Technion

Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria