Gertrude Himmelfarb: The Great Jewish Historian of Victorian Britain

While primarily a historian of Victorian intellectual life, Gertrude Himmelfarb (1922-2019) was a prolific writer of impressive depth as well as breadth, writing on social and religious history, the ills of postmodernism, the European Enlightenment, the American critic Lionel Trilling, and—toward the end of her life—philo-Semitism and British perceptions of Jews in the modern era. The website Contemporary Thinkers has recently produced an online resource on her life and work, compiling a number of her own essays, biographical material, and encomia to her achievements. One of Himmelfarb’s articles for Mosaic can be read here, as well as essays on her life and work. In a summary of her intellectual contributions, Contemporary Thinkers sums up her work on Jewish topics:

[One] persistent theme in Himmelfarb’s writing was the situation of the Jews in modern Europe. Her historical work showed the deep roots of the more positive history of the Jews in Anglo- and Anglo-American societies than in the Continental European societies. While many Europeans in the 19th century persisted in regarding the Jews, long after their formal emancipation, as a nation within a nation, demanding that they forsake aspects of their identity in exchange for full acceptance, in England the “Jewish question” was far more prosaic, political, and less fraught. It was a question of citizenship—and no more.

The affinity of English-speaking peoples with the Jews is the topic of Himmelfarb’s The People of the Book: Philo-Semitism in England from Cromwell to Churchill (2011). This history of not just tolerance but positive feeling, itself one of the most important and most unusual links connecting Jews and the Jewish tradition with some of the greatest minds of Western culture, begins in England with the Puritans’ attraction to the “Hebrew spirit,” and the mid-17th-century return of Jews to the British Isles centuries after their expulsion. It continues in the writings and public statements of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, born a Jew but baptized at the age of twelve. And it culminates, in the 20th century, in the Zionism of Lord Arthur Balfour and Winston Churchill.

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Read more at Contemporary Thinkers

More about: Benjamin Disraeli, British Jewry, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Philo-Semitism, Winston Churchill

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia