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Isaac Babel’s Tales of a Jewish Cossack, in a New Translation

Dec. 30 2015

First published in 1932, Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry is a series of vignettes told from the point of view of Lyutov, a Jewish political officer embedded in a Cossack regiment of the Red Army during the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921). The book, based on the author’s own experiences, was the major work of his short career. Reviewing a new translation by Boris Dralyuk, Nirmal Dass writes:

Red Cavalry . . . depicts a struggle between the old, humanist culture and the new Communist regime. The former is the result of slow, organic growth; the latter a violent imposition of hurried social change. The old culture is embodied in religion, especially by the Jews whom Lyutov finds strange and even abhorrent (perhaps as a would-be Cossack and certainly as a Communist): “Jews in torn frock-coats were quarrelling in the square, dragging each other about in incomprehensible blindness.” And yet he too is a Jew—he too possesses a deep affinity for the old humanist ideals of laboring in the world of ideas, of contributing to learning and studying tradition.

The new Russia that he is fighting to build is, ultimately, an alien beast: “And monstrous Russia, as improbable as a flock of clothing lice, went stamping in bast shoes along both sides of the carriages.” He knows that the Revolution must destroy this old culture, and he is a willing helpmate in its destruction, yet this knowledge devastates him: “They fell upon me in a scarce, sorrowful rain—a page from the Song of Songs and the cartridges from a revolver.”

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More about: Arts & Culture, Communism, Isaac Babel, Jewish literature, Literature, Soviet Jewry

Germany’s Bid to Keep Israel off the UN Security Council

March 21 2018

The Jewish state has never held a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council. For the first 50 years of its existence, it was denied membership in any of the UN’s regional groups, which control candidacies for these rotating seats. Then it was finally admitted to the Western European and Others Group, which promptly agreed to wait another twenty years before approving Jerusalem for a Security Council candidacy. Now, Benny Avni notes, Germany is poised to block action:

As a good-faith gesture, the Western European and Others Group promised Israel that it and Belgium would run uncontested for the two open 2019-20 [Security Council] seats. Then, in 2016, Germany announced it would also run—even though it already served as a council member [multiple times, including] as recently as 2011-12. . . . [U]nless Belgium yields, Israel’s hopes for UN respect seem doomed for now—and maybe for the foreseeable future.

Why? Diplomats have been telling me Israel violates too many Security Council resolutions to be a member—as in the one passed during the last weeks of Barack Obama’s presidency, which marked Jewish holy sites as occupied Palestinian territory. But is building a porch in [the West Bank town of] Ma’ale Adumim really such a huge threat to world peace?

How about, then, a report released last week by UN experts on the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions? It found Germany violated a council ban on sparkling wines, exporting $151,840 worth of bubbly and other luxury goods to Kim Jong Un’s cronies. Or how about, as the Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal reports, German companies exporting to Iran banned materials that were later used in chemical attacks in Syria?

Never mind. Germany (and Belgium) will surely benefit from the UN’s habit of magnifying Israel’s violations beyond all proportion. Thus, Israel’s petition to join the most prestigious UN club will likely be rejected, thanks to a late entry by a shameless [and] cynical German power play against the Jewish state.

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More about: Germany, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-German relations, United Nations