Alexander Hamilton’s Anti-Semitic Enemies

Although they were likely unaware of Alexander Hamilton’s childhood connection to Jews and Judaism, the opponents of the first treasury secretary’s policies used the old, ugly stereotypes of Jews’ nefarious relationship with money to tarnish him. Andrew Porwancher writes:

He was repeatedly accused of pursuing policies to enrich Jewish financiers overseas.  When Hamilton’s vision for a Bank of the United States materialized and its stock subscriptions quickly sold out, an editorial in a Philadelphia newspaper . . . fingered “Amsterdam Jews” as among those who were bereft of “honesty or industry” and benefitting from the bank.

Anti-Jewish polemic could also inveigh against Christians for engaging in supposedly Jewish behavior. Before Hamilton took office at the treasury, many speculators had purchased deflated government bonds from veterans of the Revolution at a fraction of their face value. Hamilton was now poised to stimulate American credit and, as a consequence, those bonds would likely skyrocket in price. A newspaper columnist in New York assailed Christian speculators who stood to harvest revenues that would otherwise have gone to soldiers. . . . He analogized them to the notorious character of Shylock from The Merchant of Venice, bristling, “Shakespeare’s Jew, the character of a vigorous imagination, is surpassed in avarice by the real character of these Christians.” . . . This kind of Gentile-on-Gentile antisemitism was not unusual for the era.

Yet Porwancher also places such anti-Semitism in a wider context:

At a time when Jews were second-class citizens in much of Europe and banished from other countries, the U.S. Constitution granted America’s Jewish population a significant measure of civic equality by making them eligible for federal office. Two years after the Constitution’s ratification, George Washington became the first head of a modern state expressly to acknowledge Jews as citizens. And Hamilton’s financial system ultimately did pass into the law despite the fevered opposition. There is much in our early history to raise concerns about the deep roots of American anti-Semitism, yet there is much to give us hope.

Read more at Marginalia

More about: Alexander Hamilton, American founders, Anti-Semitism

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