The History of Jews in the Liquor Trade

In North America, the Middle East, and Central and Eastern Europe, Jews played an outsized role in the production and sale of alcohol in the 17th through 19th centuries. Joel Haber writes:

While many [Polish] Jews turned to trading and peddling, the lords saw a different opportunity. Jews were considered good with business . . . and would be unlikely to drink up the product. So, under a leasing system known in Polish as propinacja, [individual] Jews were granted exclusive rights to run the alcohol industries [on individual estates]. By the middle of the 19th century, approximately 85 percent of all Polish taverns had Jewish management. Jews similarly dominated the industry in the [Russian] Pale of Settlement, . . . though on a slightly lesser scale. Jewish participation in the alcohol business was so prevalent that . . . between 30 and 40 percent of Poland’s Jews (including women and children) worked in the industry.

Simultaneously, back in Ottoman Palestine, wine production was returning for the first time in hundreds of years. Though ancient Israel was well-known as a wine-producing region, hundreds of years of rule by Muslims (for whom alcohol is forbidden) turned the industry into little more than a memory. But when more Jews began immigrating and joining the small community that was already living there, viticulture gradually returned.

Jews rapidly left the business toward the [19th] century’s end, thanks to both increased competition and government oppression, leaving this chapter in our history largely forgotten.

Read more at My Jewish Learning

More about: Alcohol, Jewish history, Ottoman Empire, Polish Jewry

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