The Jewish Roots of the Universal Language

At the beginning of the last century, the belief that one day a universal language could replace all others, and put an end to national rivalries and animosity, was by no means considered a fringe one. And there was little doubt that if such a scheme were to triumph, that language would be Esperanto—the invention of a Jewish ophthalmologist from Russian Poland named Leyzer (Ludwik) Zamenhof. Unlike many other Jewish champions of universalism, Zamenhof never turned his back on his people and their particularistic concerns. James R. Russell tells his story:

Sympathetic in his youth to Zionism, in 1882 Leyzer opened a local Warsaw chapter of Ḥov’vey Tsiyyon (“Lovers of Zion”) in the wake of the pogroms that swept the Russian empire. He even met his future wife, Klara Silbernik, at a clandestine meeting of the group. Though in his later years Zamenhof ceased to champion Zionism actively, he never actively opposed it.

Esperanto emerged in the conditions of the Jewish Diaspora, addressed its concerns, was suffused with its hopes, and was shaped by its linguistic environment. It attracted a disproportionately large number of Jewish adherents and its enemies attacked it as a Jewish language. In many ways, it was and continues to be.

[F]or the first two decades or so of the existence of Esperanto, about 90 percent of the movement’s subscribers and supporters were subjects of the Russian Empire. A majority of those were Jews as well, and though statistics are hard to come by, it might be fair to estimate that perhaps as much as a quarter of the present Esperantist community is Jewish.

The fate of the international language under fascism was grim. In Mein Kampf, Hitler had condemned Esperanto as part of the Jewish world conspiracy, and [his] regime outlawed the international language in Germany. To the east, the situation was little better: Esperanto had flourished in the young Soviet Union, where it was seen as a means of getting the workers of the world to unite. But there, too, the Stalin regime, suspicious of its cosmopolitanism and the contacts it facilitated between Soviet citizens and foreigners, banned it, and executed numerous Esperantists.

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More about: Adolf Hitler, Esperanto, Joseph Stalin, Universalism

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy