How the American Jewish Committee Created One of the Country’s Most Important Magazines

Oct. 21 2020

In 1945, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) replaced its house organ, the Contemporary Jewish Record, with a more ambitious publication that sought to attract the foremost Jewish writers—and some of the foremost Gentile writers, too. What resulted was the monthly Commentary¸ which since then has had an outsized influence on American politics, literature, and culture. On the occasion of Commentary’s 75th anniversary, Norman Podhoretz, who edited the magazine from 1960 to 1994, discusses its history with his son, John Podhoretz, who took over the editorship in 2009—and lays out what he sees as its mission:

I used to say Commentary was originally a Jewish magazine with general interests that became a general magazine with Jewish interests. . . . My mission [as editor] was to fight aggressively in what I saw then and see even more today as a war, a war about America and about Israel. There were those who thought and felt that America and Israel were forces for good in the world and those who thought that they were forces for evil in the world, and I see that same war going on. It’s still unresolved and may even end up with guns in the street. Some days I feel that.

But that war was consistently being fought from 1945 until now in the pages of Commentary, and it’s heated up considerably. That’s what Commentary is about in my opinion, and that’s the value that Commentary has and had, and I would say not only the important contribution but almost the indispensable contribution it made to the cultural life of the country. No one else was fighting that war in the way that we fought it; that is to say, wholeheartedly, aggressively, and with a desire to win.

Part of what contributed to the magazine’s success was the freedom of thought that it enjoyed, a rarity in today’s media environment:

NORMAN: There were many instances when articles were published that offended some important member or leader of the American Jewish Committee. And I always took the position, from the day I was hired until the day I retired, that the AJC was the owner of the magazine and that I was its employee and that it had a perfect right to fire me for cause or no cause. But as long as it didn’t, keep your hands off the magazine. And that worked.

JOHN: We’re talking about a long-gone world in which freedom of speech had become an almost unassailable, liberal value. And even though freedom of speech does not in fact govern the notion of whether or not an institution has to allow people within it whom it is paying the right to use their facilities to say whatever they want to say—nonetheless, it was observed so scrupulously!

NORMAN: [The founders] said from the beginning, . . . we want a distinguished magazine, and they agreed . . . that the only way they were going to get a distinguished magazine was to allow complete freedom.

Read more at Commentary

More about: American Jewish Committee, American Jewry, Freedom of Speech, Norman Podhoretz

Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship