Remembering the Long, and Mostly Happy, History of Ottoman Jewry

While the Istanbul-based sultanate that ruled much of the Middle East, North Africa, and southeastern Europe for many centuries had its flaws—not least corruption, authoritarianism, and the murderous persecution of the Armenians from the 1880s on—it also had much to commend it. Diana Darke notes that for most of its history it was one of the most tolerant places in the world, and a refuge for Jews when they had been expelled from most of Western and central Europe:

[A]n empire that lasted over 600 years, spanned three continents, and ruled over 30 million subjects comprising more than 70 ethnicities speaking twelve different languages must have got something right.

The Spanish Sephardim . . . were stripped of their wealth and banished [by the Spanish and Portuguese monarchies]. As a result, from the 16th century onwards, the Ottoman empire hosted one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, with Istanbul and Thessalonica their biggest centers. Along with other non-Muslims, the Sephardim simply had to pay the poll tax (a sum that was lower than their previous tax obligations in Catholic Spain) and to pledge obedience.

In the mid-15th century, a rabbi from Istanbul spread the word to Jews in Spain: “Here in the land of the Turks we have nothing to complain of. We possess great fortunes; much gold and silver are in our hands. We are not oppressed with heavy taxes, and our commerce is free and unhindered. Everything is cheap and every one of us lives in peace and freedom. Here the Jew is not compelled to wear a yellow star as a badge of shame, as is the case in most of Germany, where even wealth and great fortune are a curse for a Jew because he therewith arouses jealousy among the Christians and they devise all kind of slander against him to rob him of his gold.”

When occasional anti-Jewish riots broke out in Constantinople, they were invariably stirred up not by Muslims but by Christians accusing Jews of the ritual kidnapping, murder, and eating Christian children.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Jewish history, Ottoman Empire, Sephardim

Iran’s Options for Revenge on Israel

On April 1, an Israeli airstrike on Damascus killed three Iranian generals, one of whom was the seniormost Iranian commander in the region. The IDF has been targeting Iranian personnel and weaponry in Syria for over a decade, but the killing of such a high-ranking figure raises the stakes significantly. In the past several days, Israelis have received a number of warnings both from the press and from the home-front command to ready themselves for retaliatory attacks. Jonathan Spyer considers what shape that attack might take:

Tehran has essentially four broad options. It could hit an Israeli or Jewish facility overseas using either Iranian state forces (option one), or proxies (option two). . . . Then there’s the third option: Tehran could also direct its proxies to strike Israel directly. . . . Finally, Iran could strike Israeli soil directly (option four). It is the riskiest option for Tehran, and would be likely to precipitate open war between the regime and Israel.

Tehran will consider all four options carefully. It has failed to retaliate in kind for a number of high-profile assassinations of its operatives in recent years. . . . A failure to respond, or staging too small a response, risks conveying a message of weakness. Iran usually favors using proxies over staging direct attacks. In an unkind formulation common in Israel, Tehran is prepared to “fight to the last Arab.”

Read more at Spectator

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria