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Joseph Roth’s Lost Empire and Its Jews

Jan. 10 2018

Born in 1894 to a Jewish family in the Galician town of Brody—once famous for training kabbalists—Joseph Roth moved to Vienna as a young man, where he launched his prodigious literary career. He went on to write fifteen novels, along with numerous short stories and hundreds of essays. Right up until his untimely death in 1939, he remained committed to the Austro-Hungarian empire, defunct since 1918, which is the setting of most of his fiction. Joseph Epstein, in a survey of Roth’s career, writerly abilities, and literary output, addresses Roth’s attitudes toward the Jews, exposed in a “strange little book,” published in 1927, called The Wandering Jews:

What Roth valued in the Austro-Hungarian empire was the fluidity it allowed its subjects, who could travel [among its many lands] without the aid of passports or papers, and its discouragement of nationalism, [a force that] worked against the Jewish people. . . .

Never other than unpredictable, Roth, that most cosmopolitan of Jews, valued the shtetl Jews of Eastern Europe above all. He valued their Jewish authenticity and felt that those Jews who had taken up the assimilated life in Germany and elsewhere and pretended to a patriotism that ultimately was [turned against them], “those rich Jews,” as he wrote in [his 1927 novel] Right and Left, “the ones who want more than anything else to be native Berliners” and who “go on celebrating their holiest festivals in shamefaced secrecy, but Christmas publicly and for all to see,” these were the Jews most deceived and hence most to be pitied.

The real subject at the heart of The Wandering Jews is the distinctiveness of the Jews. “Of all the world’s poor, the poor Jew,” Roth writes, “is surely the most conservative . . . he refuses to be a proletarian.” The difference between the Russian and the Jewish peasant is that “the Russian is a peasant first and a Russian second; the Jew is Jew first and then peasant.” Roth underscores the intellectual cast of the Jews. “They are a people that has had no illiterates for thousands of years now.” Not wishing to fight other people’s wars, “the Eastern Jews were the most heroic of pacifists. They were martyrs for pacifism.” . . .

Zionism was the best answer to the Jewish question for Roth, “for it is surely better to be a nation than to be mistreated by one.” The Jews “are forced to be a ‘nation’ by the nationalism of others,” and “if one must be patriotic, then at least let it be for a country of one’s own.”

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More about: Arts & Culture, Austria-Hungary, Austrian Jewry, Joseph Roth, Zionism

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