Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean by Edward Kritzler

If one is interested in the beginning of the age of mercantilism and how Jews and secret Jews played a major part, then this book is bound to pique one's interest.  The author's thesis is fascinating: with the expulsion from the Spain, Jews were motivated in finding new vistas of settlement and enjoyed being a part of the age of exploration starting with Columbus' voyage to the New World.  The book is heavy on the politics of the enemies of Spain: England and the Netherlands.  It is a story of the convergence of the three nations on the island of Jamaica.  It is the story of the rise of sugar markets and how the Jewish people made an impact in that trade.

Much is made of the voyages of Columbus and his more than a few New Christians aboard as part of his crew.  The book implies that Columbus might have been sympathetic to Jewish settlement.  Columbus sets out to gain riches for Spain and mines for gold in the New World.  Those that come after Columbus become obsessed with his ‘secret gold mine’.

We are introduced to Oliver Cromwell being sympathetic to readmitting the Jewish people to England and how the Jews spy for him.  We are introduced to the mercantilism of the industrious Dutch and how the Netherlands were always a tolerant society.  We get glimpses of the intolerant Peter Stuyvesant and how the Jewish people from Recife, Brazil end up in the Dutch colony, New Amsterdam. 

The Inquisition plays a major role in frustrating Jewish settlement with its charge of “Judaizing”, and being the objective enemy of the Jewish people.  I felt, however, the book could be misleading. One must be careful with such a charge because in general the Inquisition did not have jurisdiction over practicing Jews.  Only Jews found aiding and abetting a New Christian to return to the ancestral faith could be hauled into the grand inquisitor.  The insincere Catholic convert was really the target and challenge to the Inquisition.  Nevertheless, clearly the original 24 Jews asking for settlement in the Dutch colony felt threatened by the Inquisition.

We are introduced to legitimate Jewish Pirates like Samuel Palache who kept kosher and founded the Neve Shalom in the Netherlands.  He comes off like a true swashbuckling pirate, out to foil his nemesis.  The book, however, is difficult in separating openly Jewish people, Conversos who secretly practice Judaism and New Christians who sincerely converted to the Catholic faith.  There seems to be ample proof of Sefardic (Spanish?) names on record, however, there is rarely real proof who were legitimate Jewish buccaneers fighting Spain and who were sincere Catholics out for real profits.

The book’s strong point is the history of the age of exploration and the emergence of the quest for capital with emerging trade routes and fighting lanes in the Atlantic Oceans and Caribbean seas.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Power Faith and Fantasy by Michael B. Oren

Power Faith and Fantasy is a weighty history of the USA’s involvement in the Middle East by Michael B. Oren.  The content and theme of the book is truly incorporated in the book’s title.  As an emerging world power with its religious missionary citizenry enamored with the Holy land, America creates some interesting fantasies and attempts at solving the area’s problems.

The book proves that oil was not the beginning nor sole interest of the USA in the area.  Involvement of the USA in the area begins with the creation of a Marine Corps to release US shipping from the grips of Barbary Muslim pirates in the time of Jefferson.  Instead of paying tribute, the US decides to use force and power to effectively ease and safeguard US shipping to Europe.

American missionaries established outposts and schools with the hope of converting the ‘Ayrab’.  Such a position would prove to be not only untenable but underscored great misunderstandings and fantasies about the indigenous people of the Middle East.  American arrogance comes through in the expectation that the people of the Middle East would obviously see the advantages of Western Democracy.  The shock to missionaries that Muslims reject their way of life and beliefs sends them reeling.  Brutal handling and assaults create the dangers requiring rescue missions. America would come to the missionary’s aid under the pretense of morality.

Hollywood has created a romantic vision of the Middle East that contributes to the fantasies about the area.  In spite of the fact of much testimony to the harsh realities, dangers wrought in the area and the proud nature of its peoples, the USA seems opaque to the possibility that there is a legitimate clash of civilizations. America remains enamored with the birthplace of three of the world’s religions and still feels a largesse toward the area.

Cold War politics played the heaviest role in the USA choosing Israel over the Arab oil states as an ally against the Soviet Union.  Now that the Cold War is past, and the Soviet Union is broken up, one wonders whether the alliances will change.

Anyone interested in a deep understanding of America’s relationship to the Middle East and Holy land will gain much knowledge from this contribution.

One State Two States by Benny Morris

Benny Morris has written a very disturbing book called One State Two States in which he analyzes the current trend among liberal intellectuals that posit the solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is one democratic state in the Middle East.  Morris uncovers this so-called solution as an old idea that really implies eliminating the State of Israel through natural demographics.  Without mentioning the actual statistics but stressing the value of equality, some intellectuals suggest that one state giving citizenship to all the ethnicities would solve the conflict.

With historical aplomb and dexterity, Professor Morris demonstrates that not only did this idea arise in the past but failed miserably.  Professor Morris reminds the reader that the fundamental reason the conflict has not ended is due to Arab irredentism and rejection of the Jewish state.  Demanding a democratic state over a nation-state according to the intellectuals is the contemporary view; the idea of the nation-state is passé. Dr. Morris raises some of the counter arguments. For example, France and Germany are nation-states that have large ethnic populations but nobody seems to demand that those countries change their makeup!  Why start with Israel?

He points out that when the Arab neighbors desire peace the Israelis make enduring treaties.  Theologically, however, the Muslim world claims all of Palestine and calls the Jewish people interlopers.  Such an environment breeds contempt for the Jewish people. 

What I found fascinating was Professor Morris’ willingness to go with a two state idea in solving the conflict by raising an old idea: the Jordanian option.  Should King Abdullah choose to take back, manage and incorporate the West Bank and its Palestinian population there would be a viable solution.  This conclusion basically acknowledges that the chances of a solution are slight.

This book is forcefully argued and well worth reading for a brief historical account of the different options in solving the conflict: ‘bi-national one state’ or ‘two state solutions’.