Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 4, 2007

Weekend Reading

Although he never wrote in English, Isaac Bashevis Singer, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1978, is one of the most familiar names in modern American fiction. His work, written in Yiddish and dealing with explicitly Jewish motifs and subject matter, strikes universal chords with readers who turn to him for unforgettable insights into the harshness and humor of life, the bitterness and the consolations of love, faith, and history. COMMENTARY published some of the earliest of Singer’s work to appear in English. This weekend we offer a selection of stories and a memorable interview with him conducted by Joel Blocker and Richard Elman.

Three Stories for Children
July 1966

The Secret
October 1965

An Interview with Singer
November 1963

Taibeleh and Hurmizah
February 1963

Yentl the Yeshiva Boy
September 1962

Fire
February 1957

Although he never wrote in English, Isaac Bashevis Singer, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1978, is one of the most familiar names in modern American fiction. His work, written in Yiddish and dealing with explicitly Jewish motifs and subject matter, strikes universal chords with readers who turn to him for unforgettable insights into the harshness and humor of life, the bitterness and the consolations of love, faith, and history. COMMENTARY published some of the earliest of Singer’s work to appear in English. This weekend we offer a selection of stories and a memorable interview with him conducted by Joel Blocker and Richard Elman.

Three Stories for Children
July 1966

The Secret
October 1965

An Interview with Singer
November 1963

Taibeleh and Hurmizah
February 1963

Yentl the Yeshiva Boy
September 1962

Fire
February 1957

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British Journalism v. Israel

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ)—Britain’s main professional association of journalists and reporters—recently joined an international boycott of Israeli goods.

In the UK, such boycotts have become something of a spring ritual, akin to elaborate animal-mating dances. Much has been said about the questionable motives behind these campaigns and their obsessive targeting of Israel. No other government—no matter how grievous a violator of human rights—is, apparently, worthy of such treatment.

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The National Union of Journalists (NUJ)—Britain’s main professional association of journalists and reporters—recently joined an international boycott of Israeli goods.

In the UK, such boycotts have become something of a spring ritual, akin to elaborate animal-mating dances. Much has been said about the questionable motives behind these campaigns and their obsessive targeting of Israel. No other government—no matter how grievous a violator of human rights—is, apparently, worthy of such treatment.

What makes the NUJ’s involvement in the boycott so egregious is that, by placing journalists openly on one side of the public debate about Israel, it patently violates the basic ethical guidelines of the profession. In adopting it, the NUJ has abandoned much of the British media’s pretense to objective coverage of the Middle East.

This should raise eyebrows even among the staunchest critics of Israel. And to their credit, at least a few such critics have expressed dismay at the NUJ’s decision, for a variety of reasons, from the double standard it applies to the damage it will do to basic journalistic integrity. A recent Guardian editorial, in fact, described the NUJ’s participation in the boycott as “neither balanced nor fair.”

Britain’s boycott culture, it should be noted, has begun to make inroads even among specifically Jewish organizations. As the anti-boycott website Engage notes in a recent post, Great Britain is the home of a number of Jewish organizations highly critical of Israel, such as the newly launched Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Justice for the Palestinians, and the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights. All such organizations claim to be engaged in a struggle for freedom; all see themselves as champions of human rights; all claim independence of mind and routinely criticize other Jewish organizations for what they see as a betrayal of universal values in favor of a tribal allegiance to Israel.

But this means little more, apparently, than their being ever at the ready to denounce other Jews for their silence when Israel allegedly violates human rights. These “independent” voices have so far been remarkably silent when the human rights of Israelis, or of non-Palestinian Arabs, are violated. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, some of the most prominent members of such organizations are at the forefront of boycott initiatives.

The boycotts have failed, so far, to accomplish any of the stated goals of the groups initiating them. And it’s tempting to dismiss them as a persistent but ineffectual fringe phenomenon in the acrimonious public debate over Israel. But such dismissal is becoming harder and harder. The National Union of Journalists is no fringe political organization; it’s an institution of long standing and high visibility in British life. Now that it has come clean about its stance on this issue, and in so doing has compromised gravely the journalistic integrity of its members, we can only ask who will be next. The BBC, perhaps?

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If I Were an Iraqi Politician . . .

Following the President’s veto of the Iraq spending bill, Democrats have dropped their demands for pullout timetables. They are talking instead about imposing “benchmarks” to force the Iraqi government to pass an oil-sharing law, disarm sectarian militias, hold provincial elections, and take other important steps. The main dispute now centers on whether these benchmarks will be nonbinding or whether they will be tied to mandatory penalties, such as the cut-off of some U.S. funds.

That’s progress, I suppose. But the Democrats are undermining the prospects of achieving the reforms they claim to want by their insistent calls to start withdrawing U.S. troops ASAP.

Put yourself into the mind of a Kurdish, Sunni, or Shiite politician in Baghdad, and ask yourself this question: Would you be more willing to compromise if you think U.S. troops are in Iraq for the long term, or if you think they’re about to leave?

Hmmm. Let’s see. If the U.S. troops leave now, an all-out civil war is likely to erupt. It will be every man for himself. The nascent Iraqi Security Forces will probably splinter along sectarian lines, leaving Iraqis of all stripes to seek safety from extremist militias. It would be the Lebanese civil war on steroids.

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Following the President’s veto of the Iraq spending bill, Democrats have dropped their demands for pullout timetables. They are talking instead about imposing “benchmarks” to force the Iraqi government to pass an oil-sharing law, disarm sectarian militias, hold provincial elections, and take other important steps. The main dispute now centers on whether these benchmarks will be nonbinding or whether they will be tied to mandatory penalties, such as the cut-off of some U.S. funds.

That’s progress, I suppose. But the Democrats are undermining the prospects of achieving the reforms they claim to want by their insistent calls to start withdrawing U.S. troops ASAP.

Put yourself into the mind of a Kurdish, Sunni, or Shiite politician in Baghdad, and ask yourself this question: Would you be more willing to compromise if you think U.S. troops are in Iraq for the long term, or if you think they’re about to leave?

Hmmm. Let’s see. If the U.S. troops leave now, an all-out civil war is likely to erupt. It will be every man for himself. The nascent Iraqi Security Forces will probably splinter along sectarian lines, leaving Iraqis of all stripes to seek safety from extremist militias. It would be the Lebanese civil war on steroids.

If that’s likely to happen soon, what incentive do Iraqi politicians have to make concessions today to their mortal enemies? If they think the U.S. is seeking an exit strategy, they are far more likely to hunker down, keep their powder dry, and grab every advantage they can in order to give themselves an edge in the coming struggle.

Conversely, if Iraqis think that U.S. troops are in it for the long haul, they will become far less dependent on militias and may be willing to make the compromises necessary for national reconciliation. If U.S. troops, working with Iraqi forces, succeed in blunting the power of the extremist militias, this may create some breathing room for moderate political elements—and they do exist—to come to the fore. Chaos in the streets favors thugs like Moqtada al Sadr. If we can impose a period of calm, it might allow moderates like Ayatollah Sistani to reassert their influence.

In other words, the best bet for getting important legislation through the Iraqi parliament is to stick with General David Petraeus’s security plan. But the Democrats are undermining that plan with their calls for troop withdrawal. Even if American troops make gains on the ground in the next few months, it will be hard to convince most Iraqis to put their faith in the coalition and government forces as long as the message emanating from Washington is that our troops are about to head home.

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