Sunday Reads: Abbas’ Interesting Remarks, Israel Reaches Out to Diaspora, On Polish Jews & Liquor

March 16, 2014

The US

Former US Ambassador to the USSR Jack Matlock Jr. believes that US arrogance and bullying accounts for a lot of its current tension with Russia –

The sad fact is that the cycle of dismissive actions by the United States met by overreactions by Russia has so poisoned the relationship that the sort of quiet diplomacy used to end the Cold War was impossible when the crisis in Ukraine burst upon the world’s consciousness. It’s why 43 percent of Russians are ready to believe that Western actions are behind the crisis and that Russia is under siege.

Lee Smith marks three years to the Syrian war and to the US' inadequate response to it –

Today marks the third anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian rebellion, a popular uprising that started as a protest movement and degenerated into a civil war that has already claimed more than 146,000 lives. As the White House has come to enumerate the various reasons why it has balked at arming the rebels—they’re fragmented, they’re farmers, they’re al Qaeda—it’s worth remembering that even before the opposition picked up weapons to defend itself against a regime shooting at unarmed protestors, it took Obama nearly half a year before he called for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step aside.


Ethan Bronner writes about an interesting initiative I'm currently leading at the JPPI –

Over the past two weeks, Jewish leaders outside Israel quietly gathered in seminar groups to grapple with a thorny question: how to ensure that Israel is both a Jewish and a democratic state.

While the debate is not new, the discussions — 40 of them, including some in New York, London, Atlanta, Paris and Sydney, Australia — were significant and unprecedented. First, they come at a crucial time in Middle East peace talks with Israel demanding, quite unsuccessfully, Palestinian recognition of its Jewish identity. Second, they followed the introduction of a right-wing bill in the Israeli Parliament (set aside for now) aimed at making sure that in conflicts between Jewish and democratic identities, Jewish would win. And third, they were the result of a request for help from Israel, signaling a little-noticed shift in the relationship between the Jewish state and the Jewish world. In the past, signed checks were welcome, advice not so much.

Elliott Abrams examines some very interesting remarks made by President Abbas about the Palestinian right of return

By making the “right of return” a personal right for each Palestinian, Abbas is saying the PLO has no right to negotiate over it and no right to sign a agreement that defeats or even limits that “right.” If that’s really the PLO position, there will never be an agreement.

The Middle East

The Telegraph's Richard Spencer (reporting from Aleppo) claims that the War in Syria actually looks far worse on the ground than it does in the images shown by the western media –

The videos you have not seen show little girls like the one in the picture torn literally in two by the regime’s aerial bombardments, their entrails hanging out; or lying piled in the corner of a shattered building, throats sliced by one of the shabiha, or militia, who wreak their terror on the fringes of military assaults; or bloated and yellow as their gassed corpses await burial.

You do not see the full horror of this war, I can assure you. Our editors could show you the reality, more than ever before, such is the technology available to them, but they preserve a conventional sense of decency.

The Middle East Institute's Mimi Kirk writes an interesting piece about Cairo's massive informal areas –

Huge swathes of the city, mainly on its immediate outskirts, are denoted in a stark red color. These scarlet areas represent Cairo’s ashwa‘iyyat, or informal areas, which often feature concrete apartment buildings with red brick infill and narrow, dusty streets. Such neighborhoods house approximately 70 percent of Cairenes. Built illegally, often on agricultural land, they are unrecognized by the state and do not receive the services that formally recognized areas do, such as public schools and hospitals.

The Jewish World

Jonathan Rosen reviews a new comprehensive book by Simon Schama which tells a very curious-looking narrative of the early beginnings of Jewish history –

But it is Mr. Schama's voice that is the unifying essence of the book, and he begins cheekily enough: “In the beginning—not the imagined beginning of patriarchs and prophets, and certainly not the beginning of the whole universe, just the documented beginning of ordinary Jews—in that beginning a father and mother were worrying about their son.” The son in question is a mercenary living in Persian-ruled Egypt in the fifth century B.C.E., a member of the Judean Troop posted to Elephantine, an island in the Nile in southern Egypt.

In honor of Purim, Steven I. Weiss takes a look at the overwhelming dominance of Jews in the liquor trade of 19th century Poland –

Today it seems like a strange idea: Outside of the Nazarian nightclub-and-hotel empire and a few places in the East Village, what Jews own bars? But in early-19th-century Poland, approximately 85 percent of registered taverns were leased by Jews—and there was no shortage of taverns. For Poles of that time, there was a stereotypical image of a bartender, and he had a beard, a yarmulke and peyos. Jewish domination of Poland’s drinking culture was so complete and lasted so long that Poles simply assumed a connection between Jews and booze. As a standard Polish proverb of the time had it: “The peasant drinks at the inn, and the Jew does him in.”

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