Paul Johnson’s Philo-Semitism

Feb. 15 2023

Among many other things, the late historian and journalist Paul Johnson was, in the words of J.J. Kimche, “one of the greatest philo-Semites of our time.” Kimche carefully analyzes the ideas and attitudes that underly Johnson’s A History of the Jews, as well as his engagement with the Judaism and the Jewish past in other works:

Eschewing the fashionable conclusion that Jewish communities scattered across various continents and millennia represent merely a loose constellation of disparate cultural units, Johnson insisted that the Jews are what they have traditionally imagined themselves to be: a single national entity, whose unique place in history is secured by their disproportionate contributions to the broader human story. In Johnson’s eyes, the Jews are special because they taught the world a set of indispensable guiding principles.

Such principles are not the contingent results of organic cultural stirrings or historicized necessity, but rather immutable convictions about God, humanity, and the world. The Jews’ embodiment of these principles as a religious and social modus vivendi has shaped, even determined, the contours of Jewish history, which is guided primarily by internal ideals rather than the vagaries of external circumstance. Put simply, Judaism created the Jews, not vice-versa.

Johnson’s insistence on the range and depth of the Jewish story constitutes a resounding rejection of accusations of Jewish ossification. Johnson’s investigations reveal two millennia of vigorous and turbulent exilic Jewish life, demonstrating that Diaspora Jewry satisfied all the criteria for a thriving national organism. In this narrative, there was no truly “quiet” era of Jewish history, let alone cultural atrophy. Jewish accomplishments in the religious, economic, political, social, and intellectual spheres placed them at the epicenter of many great civilizational narratives. The Jews have no need of reintroduction into world history, for the simple reason that they never left.

Read more at First Things

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

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount