Remembering a Great Historian and Philo-Semite

Yesterday, the author and journalist Paul Johnson died at the age of ninety-four. Johnson wrote several magisterial works of history, which combine perspicacity, lucidity, and a rare ability to see the threads that bind the centuries together. Uncorrupted by the academy, he was able to adopt its scholarly virtues while avoiding its vices. He was also a deeply religious man, an aspect of his character and work that his son, Daniel, movingly explored in Mosaic.

In addition, Johnson was a defender of the Jewish people and the Jewish state, a sentiment that comes through in his A History of the Jews. His reflections on Jewish history include a 2005 essay in Commentary offering a comprehensive analysis of anti-Semitism, which he diagnoses as a “mental disease” unlike other forms of racism and xenophobia:

[A]nti-Semitism is very ancient, has never been associated with frontiers, and, although it has had its ups and downs, seems impervious to change. The Jews (or Hebrews) were “strangers and sojourners,” as the book of Genesis puts it, from very early times, and certainly by the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. Long before the great diaspora that followed the conflicts of Judea with Rome, they had settled in many parts of the Mediterranean area and Middle East while maintaining their separate religion and social identity; the first recorded instances of anti-Semitism date from the 3rd century BCE, in Alexandria. Subsequent historical shifts have not ended anti-Semitism but merely superimposed additional archaeological layers, as it were.

What strikes the historian surveying anti-Semitism worldwide over more than two millennia is its fundamental irrationality. It seems to make no sense, any more than malaria or meningitis makes sense. In the whole of history, it is hard to point to a single occasion when a wave of anti-Semitism was provoked by a real Jewish threat (as opposed to an imaginary one). In Japan, anti-Semitism was and remains common even though there has never been a Jewish community there of any size.

Anti-Semitism is self-inflicted, which means that, by an act of will and reason, the infection can be repelled. But this is not easy to do, especially in societies where anti-Semitism has become common or the norm. What is in any case clear is that anti-Semitism, besides being self-inflicted, is also self-destructive, and of societies and governments as much as of individuals.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Anti-Semitism, Jewish history, Paul Johnson, Philo-Semitism

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict