A Snapshot of Jewish Salonica before Its Destruction

On the eve of World War II, Jews accounted for some 40 percent of the population of Salonica; in earlier times, they had constituted an absolute majority of the city’s inhabitants. Most of Salonica’s Jews were Sephardi and Ladino-speaking, descended from exiles from Spain who came to the Ottoman empire in the 16th century. In her recent book, Sarah Abrevaya Stein reconstructs the lives of a Salonican Jewish family named Levy in the 19th and 20th centuries, based on their correspondence and other papers. Like most of the other Jews of that city, almost the entire family was murdered in the Holocaust. Stein here shares a vignette of one of her subjects:

As a young man, . . . David a-Levi left the family business of printing to become a student of law, a high-ranking official in the Ottoman bureaucracy, and, in time, the head of Salonica’s Jewish community. These prestigious positions earned him a new name, Daout Effendi, Daout being a Turkish version of his given name, David, and effendi being an Ottoman honorific for a distinguished, well-educated man. Daout Effendi represented the Ottoman Passport Office as Sultan Abdülhamid II [tried to transform his] empire into a modern state. Later, Daout Effendi presided over the official Jewish community of Salonica when the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 resulted in the Ottomans’ loss of the city—territory the empire had held for centuries—[to Greece].

[David] helped the Jewish community meet the new demands of state and, in time, manage the chaos of World War I and the population exchanges between Turkey and Greece that followed. Salonica’s refugee population burgeoned [at this time] and poverty became the norm. “Each day the poor knock on the door,” . . . Daout Effendi wrote his son, “and it is I alone who must respond and comfort them.”

Read more at Los Angeles Review of Books

More about: Greece, Ottoman Empire, Sephardim, Thessaloniki, World War I

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood