The Rise and Fall of an Indian Jewish Family’s Commercial Empire

Nov. 30 2022

For a significant part of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Sassoon family directed a sprawling business concern, trading in opium, cotton, tea, and silk—and, eventually, much else besides—that shaped the history of Britain, India, and China. Various members of the family would rub elbows with the House of Windsor and are even mentioned in Queen Victoria’s diaries. Robert Philpot reviews a recent book about the so-called “Rothschilds of the East.”

The story begins with David, the dynasty’s founding father, escaping Ottoman Baghdad for Iran in the late 1820s. The son of Sheikh Sassoon ben Saleh, a long-serving former chief treasurer to the city’s pashas, David had been threatened and held hostage by Baghdad’s notoriously greedy and rapacious governor. When the aging sheikh, once “the most eminent Jew in Baghdad,” joined him soon after, it capped a remarkable fall from grace for the family.

The sheikh’s death in 1830 hastened the departure of David and his young family for Bombay where British rule provided safety and the administration adopted a liberal posture towards the city’s Jewish community.

In the First Opium War of 1839-42, Britain quashed China’s effort to stem the flow of the powerful narcotic into the country. David saw the opportunity, dispatching [his son], the “energetic and tenacious” twenty-four-year-old Elias, to scout the lay of the land and seek out new customers. The die was cast. Over the following decades, the Sassoons supplanted bigger traders to become the dominant player in the export of opium from India to China.

Business acumen was combined with epic levels of philanthropic giving: one-quarter percent of each trade, whether profitable or not, was recorded as a charitable surcharge, or ts’dakah, in branch ledgers. In Bombay, David established a school for boys, one for girls, and a third for underprivileged juveniles. Later, hospitals, libraries, and the renowned Sassoon Mechanics’ Institute would follow.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Anglo-Jewry, China, Indian Jewry, Iraqi Jewry


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