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

American Aid to Lebanon Is a Gift to Iran

For many years, Lebanon has been a de-facto satellite of Tehran, which exerts control via its local proxy militia, Hizballah. The problem with the U.S. policy toward the country, according to Tony Badran, is that it pretends this is not the case, and continues to support the government in Beirut as if it were a bulwark against, rather than a pawn of, the Islamic Republic:

So obsessed is the Biden administration with the dubious art of using taxpayer dollars to underwrite the Lebanese pseudo-state run by the terrorist group Hizballah that it has spent its two years in office coming up with legally questionable schemes to pay the salaries of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), setting new precedents in the abuse of U.S. foreign security-assistance programs. In January, the administration rolled out its program to provide direct salary payments, in cash, to both the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

The scale of U.S. financing of Lebanon’s Hizballah-dominated military apparatus cannot be understated: around 100,000 Lebanese are now getting cash stipends courtesy of the American taxpayer to spend in Hizballah-land. . . . This is hardly an accident. For U.S. policymakers, synergy between the LAF/ISF and Hizballah is baked into their policy, which is predicated on fostering and building up a common anti-Israel posture that joins Lebanon’s so-called “state institutions” with the country’s dominant terror group.

The implicit meaning of the U.S. bureaucratic mantra that U.S. assistance aims to “undermine Hizballah’s narrative that its weapons are necessary to defend Lebanon” is precisely that the LAF/ISF and the Lebanese terror group are jointly competing to achieve the same goals—namely, defending Lebanon from Israel.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, U.S. Foreign policy