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

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

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law