How Jews Made the Art World Modern

After moving to Paris from Germany in the early 20th century, a Jewish businessman named Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler took up art dealing and did much to promote the genre known as cubism. “What would have become of us,” Pablo Picasso would later ask, “if Kahnweiler had not had a business sense?” Jonathan Karp reviews a new book by Charles Dellheim that aims to understand, and put into context, Kahnweiler and other Jewish dealers who had an outsized role in creating the world of art as we know it today:

In Belonging and Betrayal, Dellheim shows that the shift of many Jewish businessmen from trade in cloth, grain, or cattle to works of art was a natural and even logical progression. Although only a relative handful of Jews ever entered the field, art dealing became enough of a Jewish commercial niche to become emblematic of the link between art and commerce. What was different about art was that it not only had high margins; it also counteracted the stereotype of Jews as grasping materialists. If the poet Heinrich Heine famously quipped that a baptismal certificate was his ticket to European civilization, then a certificate of provenance for a work by an old master attested to its owner’s connoisseurship—with the advantage that he could remain a Jew and become a civilized European. No wonder the Nazis sought to separate the Jews from their art as a crucial step in de-emancipating them.

Since the Middle Ages, Jews had been rooted in commercial life and exchange—at all levels, from money lenders and court Jews to peddlers and small artisan shopkeepers. This was not just because Jews had been excluded from other occupations, especially agriculture. Local and royal privileges clearly show that Jews were first invited to settle because they were already by and large a commercial people. Later restrictions only ratified and reified this reality. When Jews were finally granted legal equality in different parts of Europe from the late 18th through the early 20th centuries, it was despite, not because of, their mercantile identities. . . . And what could be more enticing to them than a trade in new commodities not yet monopolized by non-Jews?

The conspicuous role played by Jewish mediators in brokering European modernity made them prime targets in the emerging culture war.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Art, French Jewry, Jewish history

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