No Historic Duty toward Other Men Should Prevent Jews from Attending to Their Own Difficulties

A brilliant novelist and political thinker, Albert Memmi was one of the most influential theorists of anticolonialism, as well as a proud Jew and a defender of Israel who painted vivid portraits of North African Jewish life in both his fiction and nonfiction. Memmi, who was born in Tunisia in 1920, died in Paris last month. In 1962, when some 120,000 Jews left Algeria following its independence, he wrote an essay in Commentary about the Jewish future in the newly independent states of North Africa, which begins with a provocative question:

Am I a traitor? It is a question I could not have avoided facing indefinitely, one which has been asked by my former North African compatriots—Tunisians, Algerians, Moroccans. It had to be asked. Here I am, living in France, the country of the colonizers of North Africa. I, a Tunisian Jew, have gone away, left behind those young, newly independent nations, whose independence I had so fervently desired.

Memmi never refutes this accusation, but his reflections lead him to more profound, and very relevant, conclusions:

If anyone has given a false picture of what the Jews of North Africa think and feel, it is the Jewish intellectuals, particularly of the left, who have done nothing but imitate the kind of thinking characteristic of the French left in general.

Such blindness, conscious or unconscious, is not, alas, new in the history of Jewish communities. It would certainly be easier, for thought and for action, if the lot of Jews could coincide exactly with that of their neighbors. It would be pleasant if history were always rational and manageable. How fine to be able to work for the good of all men at once, including Jews! I really believe this to be the great dream of every Jewish intellectual: to fight for all humanity, and in so doing to save his own people, without suspicion of self-interest, Alas, history abounds in contradictions. Not that the history of the Jews is independent of that of the Others; on the contrary, everything that happens to the Others also affects the life of the Jews, but in a special way.

In any case, the destiny of the Jew too often carries with it a hard nucleus that cannot be minimized. No historic duty toward other men should prevent our paying particular attention to our special difficulties. It is not wrong for the Jewish elite to take positions in advance of the majority of their people, but at the same time they must never forget to listen to the voices of their people. Jewish leaders have not performed their historic mission simply by fighting for the coming of a universal morality. For, beyond the solidarity with all men, there exists a more humble and often less comfortable duty: to come to grips directly with their special destiny as Jews, without worrying too much about being called a traitor by anyone.

A few months after the article was published, Algeria passed a law denying citizenship to non-Muslim citizens. Within a decade, barely anything was left of this nearly two-millennia-old Jewish community.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Albert Memmi, Algeria, Mizrahi Jewry, Postcolonialism, Tunisia

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security