The 19th Century’s Most Consequential Jewish Philanthropist, and the Gentiles Who Hated Him

Jan. 23 2023

The grandson of a Jewish financier who, against considerable odds, had been made baron by the king of Bavaria, Maurice de Hirsch would become one of the wealthiest men in Europe and perhaps the most significant Jewish philanthropist of the 19th century. In 1869, he set about building the Ottoman empire’s first railroad network, connecting it to the rest of Europe. Abigail Green reviews a new biography of Hirsch by Matthias Lehmann:

As a Jew who had inherited noble pretensions, young Maurice was caught between two worlds. His observant uncle may have been treated to a kosher banquet by King Ludwig I of Bavaria in the royal palace of Aschaffenburg, but the 1813 [law restricting Jewish rights] still limited the family’s personal and professional options, so Maurice’s parents sent him abroad to be educated. They chose Belgium, a rapidly industrializing state born out of liberal revolution and epitomizing political and economic promise. It was also a place where German Jewish banking families could be less dependent on princely favor. . . .

In 1878, Hirsch moved his company’s headquarters from Paris to Vienna. Here no one saw Hirsch as a legitimate agent of Austrian interests; he appeared instead a typically self-seeking Jew. . . . In other countries, they pushed different narratives. For the pan-German activist Paul Dehn, Hirsch represented a “ruthless, predatory, usurious capitalism,” which had betrayed German central Europe. In short, he was Jewish. In France, meanwhile, the socialist anti-Semitic publicist August Chirac did not fail to blame “a Jew called Baron de Hirsch”—tellingly (but wrongly) described as “a Prussian”—for “the constant troubles in the Balkans” that were “enriching the Jews” but causing suffering for the area’s Christian population. . . .

Hirsch’s underlying attitude toward Judaism set him apart from . . . other 19th-century Jewish leaders. Moses Montefiore was a pious Jew and a lover of Zion, while Adolphe Crémieux was a secularist and French nationalist who believed in the Jews’ monotheistic mission to humanity. Hirsch, for his part, was utterly detached from Judaism and never donated anything to Jewish religious institutions or synagogues. One of his personal secretaries summed the situation up well when he quoted him saying, “‘Let others take care of the soul, if they are so inclined, but I will occupy myself with the body.’” . . . And yet at the same time, Maurice clearly felt distinctly Jewish.

And it was to Jewish causes that Hirsch would give millions of francs.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Anti-Semitism, Ottoman Empire, Philanthropy

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy