A Great Essayist, Critic, and Scholar Evaluates the Real, and Imagined, Lessons of the Holocaust

Edward Alexander, a professor emeritus of English literature and incisive writer on a wide variety of Jewish topics, died last weekend. He was the author of sixteen books, the last of which, The Jews against Themselves, was reviewed in Mosaic here. Alexander’s own reflections on the literary critic Lionel Trilling’s “Jewish problem” can be read here. Of Alexander’s many reviews and essays in Commentary, among the most outstanding are his investigation of “Liberalism and Zionism,” his devastating takedown of the career of Edward Said, and, excerpted here, his reflection on the supposed lessons of the Holocaust (1993):

“World Jewry has a special responsibility.” This hectoring call blared forth from the midst of a New York Times op-ed piece by Flora Lewis entitled “Save Lives in Bosnia” (November 9, 1992). Jews, she argued, have acquired their special responsibility because of the Holocaust; having experienced so much persecution, now they have both the opportunity and the obligation “to show that concentration camps provoke the solidarity of victims of persecution.”

If this seems a peculiarly perverse lesson to extract from the Holocaust—its unstated corollary (as Conor Cruise O’Brien once pointed out in a different context) is that the descendants of people who have not been persecuted have no special responsibility to behave particularly well—it is sobriety itself when compared with some that have been expounded by even more nimble interpreters than Flora Lewis.

What do we learn from the Holocaust? In her posthumously published collection of essays, What Is the Use of Jewish History? [collected and edited by Neal Kozodoy], the distinguished historian Lucy S. Dawidowicz returns frequently to this question.

The first such lesson was the infectious power of anti-Semitism, especially when embodied in the state. The second was the importance of a strong countervailing military force—for if the pacifists, appeasers, and isolationists of the 1920s and 1930s had not had their way in England and America, Hitler would not have had his way in Europe. The third, “one which every Jewish child now knows,” was the necessity of Jewish political power and a Jewish state for Jewish survival. Those who reject these lessons have a vested interest in opposing the study of the Holocaust or in distorting its history.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Edward Said, Holocaust, Lionel Trilling, Lucy Dawidowicz

Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security