What an Ambitious New History Gets Right about Jewish Thinkers—and Wrong about America

Oct. 13 2022

Reviewing Jonathan Israel’s Revolutionary Jews from Spinoza to Marx: The Fight for a Secular World of Universal and Equal RightsAllan Arkush has much praise for this history of Jews who embraced the Enlightenment and its aftermath. Besides the famous thinkers mentioned in the title, the work also delves into less-studied figures such as Moses Hess, and even obscure ones like the Polish-French defender of Jewish (and black) rights Zalkind Hourwitz. Arkush does, however, detect a blind spot when it comes to America:

Israel himself pauses to note how the American Revolution, which he sees as having been too largely a product of the moderate Enlightenment, “initially made strikingly little difference to the continuing exclusion of Jews from office, political participation and equal civil rights.” He claims that “apart from New York State, . . . all other states retained strict ‘religious tests’ for officeholders requiring avowed allegiance to Christ, thereby wholly debarring Jews from office until well into the 19th century.”

To illustrate this, Israel adduces the case of Pennsylvania, where a Jewish plea for full civil rights was rejected in 1783. He fails to mention that a similar petition met with success a few years later, and that by 1790, the Jews of Pennsylvania had what they wanted. Even more significantly, he overlooks the case of Virginia, where the passage in 1786 of the justly celebrated Act Establishing Religious Freedom, written by Thomas Jefferson, endowed everyone, including Jews, with full civil rights. Moreover, by the end of the 18th century, the constitutions of South Carolina, Delaware, Georgia, and Vermont likewise permitted Jews to hold office.

Israel could argue that in the case of Virginia, at least, it was really “the Jeffersonian (radical democratic republican) tendency in the American Revolution” that made the difference—but that’s not the whole story. The “moderate” Enlightenment seems to have had an emancipatory momentum of its own.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish History, Emancipation, Enlightenment, Jewish history


The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy