How a Peerless Scholar of Victorian England Found Hope in Jewish History

Feb. 12 2020

In an encomium to the intellectual legacy of the late Gertrude Himmelfarb, the distinguished historian of British manners and mores who died last month, Daniel Johnson takes her understanding of what she called the “de-moralization of society” as prophetic in its anticipation of the “hollowing-out of Western civilization.” Yet, Johnson writes, Himmelfarb “never succumbed to pessimism.”

I believe her equanimity arose from a renewed immersion in and appreciation of the Jewish culture of her youth, a culture that always put family first and last. She announced this return to her roots with a short book, The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot, published in 2009. . . . George Eliot was, for Himmelfarb, a kind of heroine. Her fiction, of course, speaks for itself, though in the case of Daniel Deronda, Eliot’s last novel, what she called “the Jewish element” baffled contemporaries.

In just 180 pages, Himmelfarb takes readers on their own odyssey, a journey that transcends George Eliot and stretches from the origins of Zionism and anti-Semitism in 19th-century Germany to the [very different] tracts on Jewish identity of Jean-Paul Sartre and Natan Sharansky in the 20th and 21st centuries. En route, she investigates Eliot’s “initiation” into “the Jewish question” and Judaism itself, explaining how this notorious agnostic saw the role of religion for Jewish people in an unexpectedly positive light.

Himmelfarb’s magnificent homage to George Eliot, published at the age of eighty-seven, might have been her final word on the subject of Jews and Judaism. Not a bit of it. Two years later, in 2011, she returned to the fray with The People of the Book: Philo-Semitism in England from Cromwell to Churchill. Similar in scale but much wider in scope than her study of Eliot, this volume was Himmelfarb’s response to the post-9/11 “resurgence of anti-Semitism throughout the world,” including the UK.

She wrote it to counter the “lachrymose” view of Jewish history, which is in perpetual danger of making Jews into victims and their history a chronicle of misfortunes: “Surely, I felt, Judaism is more than the history of anti-Semitism.” Himmelfarb wanted the Jewish people to be defined by the qualities that had enabled it to endure.

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Read more at The Critic

More about: Anti-Semitism, Daniel Deronda, England, George Eliot, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Philo-Semitism

 

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy