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.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Art, French Jewry, Jewish history

Russia’s Alliance with Hizballah Is Growing Stronger

Tehran’s ongoing cooperation with Moscow has recently garnered public attention because of the Kremlin’s use of Iranian arms against Ukraine, but it extends much further, including to the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah. Aurora Ortega and Matthew Levitt explain:

Over the last few years, Russia has quietly extended its reach into Lebanon, seeking to cultivate cultural, economic, and military ties in Beirut as part of a strategy to expand Russian influence in the Middle East, while sidelining the U.S. and elevating Moscow’s role as a peacemaker.

Russia’s alliance with Hizballah was born out of the conflict in Syria, where Russian and Hizballah forces fought side-by-side in an alliance with the Assad regime. For years, this alliance appeared strictly limited to military activity in Syria, but in 2018, Hizballah and Russia began to engage in unprecedented joint sanctions-evasion activities. . . . In November 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury exposed a convoluted trade-based oil-smuggling sanctions-evasion scheme directed by Hizballah and [Iran].

The enhanced level of collaboration between Russia and Hizballah is not limited to sanctions evasion. In March 2021, Hizballah sent a delegation to Moscow, on its second-ever “diplomatic” visit to the country. Unlike its first visit a decade prior, which was enveloped in secrecy with no media exposure, this visit was well publicized. During their three days in Moscow, Hizballah representatives met with various Russian officials, including the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. . . . Just three months after this visit to Moscow, Hizballah received the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Rudakov in Beirut to discuss further collaboration on joint projects.

Read more at Royal United Services Institute

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Lebanon, Russia