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.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Art, German Jewry, Philanthropy, Technion

 

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf