The Jewish Naval Hero Who Donated New York’s Banished Thomas Jefferson Statue

Oct. 26 2021

Last week, a statue of Thomas Jefferson was removed from the council chamber in New York’s city hall, where it has stood since 1915. The statue is a painted plaster model used by the French sculptor Pierre-Jean David d’Angers when he created an identical bronze likeness, which now sits in the Capitol rotunda. In 1833, Uriah P. Levy commissioned the sculpture, and the next year brought both it and the model to the U.S. Jonathan Sarna tells the story of this Jewish naval veteran, who intended the statute “to serve as a symbol of religious liberty.”

Jefferson, for all of his blindness concerning the evils of slavery, championed religious liberty in Virginia and in the nation as a whole. . . . And he specifically championed the rights of Jews. He expressed pride that the University of Virginia, whose founding he considered one of his supreme achievements, both accepted Jews and “set the example of ceasing to violate the rights of conscience by any injunctions on the different sects respecting their religion.” . . . Mr. Levy, like many Jews, honored him for that.

Born in 1792 into one of America’s leading Jewish families, Levy ran away from home as a boy of ten; a decade later he entered the U.S. Navy, hoping to serve in the War of 1812. He briefly fell into British hands. When freed, he was awarded an independent naval command. His unorthodox path to power was resented by his fellow officers. They thought that a naval commander should be better bred.

They also resented him for being a Jew. Indeed his faith cost him, again and again. In 1816 one such dispute with a fellow officer escalated from epithets to fisticuffs and then, finally a duel. Only Mr. Levy walked away. Over the next 30 years, Mr. Levy would be court martialed six times, each for responding to anti-Semitic slights.

Statues can convey multiple messages, as can historical memory. Rather than choosing between the memory of racial injustice and the embrace of religious liberty, let the d’Angers statue serve as a reminder that Jefferson embodied both at once—as did Mr. Levy. Pondering the many complexities and contradictions inherent in their lives may offer valuable lessons concerning our own.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: American Jewish History, Freedom of Religion, Jews in the military, Thomas Jefferson

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy