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Podcast: Matti Friedman How Americans Project Their Own Problems onto Israel

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In 1958, the American author Leon Uris published Exodus, the novel about Israel’s founding that became an international phenomenon. Its hero, though an Israeli kibbutznik, was portrayed as a blond, blue-eyed man of culture and elegance, a portrayal reinforced by the film version of the novel, which starred Paul Newman. Whether or not this was his point, by portraying Israelis as racially white and as Western in their sensibilities, Uris was making it easier for most Americans to identify with Israel and its cause.

This week’s podcast guest, the frequent Mosaic contributor Matti Friedman, argues that Americans still see themselves in Israel―just not always in the way that Uris hoped. In a recent essay, Friedman finds in the American reaction to the Jewish state’s recent confrontation with Hamas the same mythology that once animated Uris’s writing—only in reverse. Where in Uris characters are portrayed with distinctly Western sensibilities so as to attract Americans to Israel, contemporary portrayals of Israelis are now advanced by those who wish to distance Americans―and the world―from Israel.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.


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Podcast: Benjamin Haddad on Why Europe Is Becoming More Pro-Israel

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Among European diplomats and public figures in the 1990s, it was universally believed that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was the central key to understanding the Middle East. It was their view that until Israel made peace with the Palestinians and enacted a two-state solution, the region would remain in constant chaos, a view that made Israel the subject of much European opprobrium. Since then, even through the second intifada and multiple wars with Hamas, Israel remains in largely the same position with the Palestinians as it was two decades ago. The broader Middle East, however, has changed dramatically, with direct results for European security. Europe has endured countless Islamist terror attacks and has seen a refugee crisis in Syria bring numerous migrants to its borders, redrawing the fault lines of its politics.

In light of all of this, are European leaders finally changing their views of the Jewish state? This week’s podcast guest, Benjamin Haddad, the director of the Future Europe Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., thinks that many are. In a recent essay, Haddad argues that the reaction of leaders across Europe to Israel’s recent confrontation with Hamas revealed a significant shift in European thinking about the Jewish state. In conversation with Mosaic Editor Jonathan Silver, he explains the change he’s seeing, and why it’s happening now.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.


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Podcast: Seth Siegel on Israel’s Water Revolution

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“Water,” said Israel’s second prime minister, Levi Eshkol, “is to the country like blood to a human being.” From the time of the Hebrew Bible and through the ages, Jews have prayed for water in the Land of Israel, and when early Zionist leaders began building the institutions of statehood, they made water a central policy issue. In recent years, Israeli technology has effected a water revolution through desalinization, drip irrigation, and agricultural science. Now, the Jewish state’s hydro-innovations have given it the diplomatic leverage to strengthen its friendships across the world.

On this week’s podcast, Seth Siegel, a water-technology expert, joins Mosaic Editor Jonathan Silver to talk about Israel’s water revolution. Siegel is the chief sustainability officer at N-Drip, an Israeli hydro-technology company, and the author of the 2015 book Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water Starved World. In this podcast, he talks about his work and about how this precious natural resource affects everything from Israeli utility bills to international diplomacy.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.


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Podcast: Michael Doran America’s Strategic Realignment in the Middle East

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In wake of President Biden’s inauguration, experienced foreign-policy hands argued over what could be learned about his administration’s approach to Israel and the Middle East from his early statements and appointments. They faced an unresolved question: would President Biden’s longtime instincts, which tend to be sympathetic to Israel, hold sway over the louder and more progressive voices arrayed against Israel in the Democratic Party? Would he continue to support Israel in the Oval Office as he did for so long in the Senate? Or would President Biden advance the strategy pursued by the Obama Administration, strengthening Israel’s main adversary, Iran?

This week’s podcast guest believes that the answer has now been revealed. Michael Doran is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a long-time Mosaic writer, and the co-author of an important new essay about the Biden Administration’s developing Middle East policy. In it, he argues that instead of working with Israel and the Sunni Arab states to contain Iran, President Biden and his team want to partner with Iran to bring a different kind of order to the Middle East. In conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, Doran discusses his argument and explains why Israel and America’s Sunni allies need to prepare for the final act of America’s strategic realignment.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.


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Podcast: Sohrab Ahmari on Why Americans Must Recover the Sabbath

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The hallmark of the American constitutional system was the idea that all men are created equal. Of course, the American regime did not live up to that ambition for centuries, but the ideal of equality was embedded in the foundation of the republic.

From equality follows freedom: if every person is created equal, then no other person has the right to tell any one else what to do. And freedom comes with a cost: the sentiment that leads a free person to resist the rule of another is the same sentiment that leads a free person to resist the wisdom and guidance of another. Thus Americans are naturally suspicious of the accumulated wisdom of the past—of tradition.

On this week’s podcast, Sohrab Ahmari, the op-ed editor of the New York Post, joins Mosaic‘s editor Jonathan Silver to decry that fact. In Ahmari’s new book, The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos, he argues that Americans have been far too suspicious of tradition, and therefore have forgotten some of the ideas of the past most essential to living a meaningful life. Here, he and Silver focus on the Sabbath as one particular example of those ideas and that loss.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.


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Reading Ruth

The Book of Ruth tells one of the Hebrew Bible’s most beautiful and beloved stories—chronicling how a childless widow from a foreign land rises to become the ancestress of Israel’s greatest king. But as Dr. Leon Kass and his coauthor (and granddaughter) Hannah Mandelbaum demonstrate in their new book, Reading Ruth: Birth, Redemption, and the Way of Israel, this ancient tale is about far more than one woman’s rise from misery to glory. It sheds light on some enduring questions of human life: the meaning of national identity, female friendship, marital love, the importance of attachment to the land, and, especially, the redemptive powers for human life of childbirth and loyal devotion.

In this wonderful conversation, recorded ahead of the Shavuot holiday, Dr. Kass joins Mosaic Editor and Tikvah Senior Director Jonathan Silver to guide us through the Book of Ruth. He shares some of the key insights of his book and helps us achieve a deeper understanding of the Hebrew Bible’s wisdom about love, loyalty, family, procreation, mortality, and more.

 

Podcast: Shlomo Brody on Reclaiming Biblical Social Justice

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The idea of social justice marks a cleavage in the American Jewish consciousness. Its advocates believe that social justice represents the very best ethical impulses of Judaism, and that the pursuit of social justice is an authentic way of engaging with Jewish tradition. Its critics, on the other hand, wouldn’t deny that the establishment of justice is an integral part of Jewish thought and law, but question whether devotees of social justice are engaging seriously with that tradition. Each accuses the other of reading their own prior moral and political beliefs into the Hebrew Bible, rather than engaging with the authentic lessons the text has to teach.

That raises the question: is it even possible to learn from the Hebrew Bible without imposing one’s prior political and moral commitments upon it? Rabbi Shlomo Brody believes it is, and in a recent essay for the new journal Sapir, he seeks to reclaim the Bible’s principles of social justice. In conversation with Mosaic‘s editor Jonathan Silver, he describes those principles, and then explains how a discerning reader can understand the Hebrew Bible’s intended meaning, and avoid imposing his own prior commitments upon it.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.


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Podcast: Christine Rosen on the New Crime Wave and Its Consequences

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The United States is undergoing a spike in violent crime. Murder rates have increased drastically in big cities across the country, from Atlanta and New York to Milwaukee and Seattle. For the roughly 7 million Jews in the United States, four out of five of whom live in cities, incidents of violent crime can’t be ignored. The cities where most American Jews live are the very places that are growing more dangerous.

American Jews aren’t the only ones affected by rising urban crime, of course. Hate crime directed against Jews is very high, but as Christine Rosen wrote in the March 2021 edition of Commentary, “the vast majority of these homicides were black Americans, including many children, 55 of whom were killed in Chicago last year alone.” Here’s a case where two of America’s most urban populations, black people and Jews, are together imperiled by the return of urban disorder.

On this week’s podcast, Rosen joins Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver to discuss her essay, and how different ways of looking at law enforcement reveal different philosophical understandings of the human condition.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.


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Podcast: Jonathan Schanzer on the Palestinians’ Political Mess

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To understand the Palestinian people and the region, one must understand the enduring cleavages and party affiliations that make up Palestinian politics.

In 2007, shortly after legislative elections that led to a surprising victory for the Islamist terrorist organization Hamas, Palestinians fought a brief civil war. By the end of the conflict, Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party retained power in the West Bank, while Hamas controlled Gaza. Today, the Palestinians remain divided along those same factional and territorial lines—lines that are now front and center, since Palestinian elections are once again being called for next month. If the elections go forward—and it’s now looking unlikely that they will—they will feature the first presidential election since 2005, when Abbas was elected for a single four-year term that’s now entered its sixteenth year.

To help us make sense of what’s happened and what’s likely to happen, we asked Jonathan Schanzer, a senior vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine (2008), to join our podcast this week. In conversation with Mosaic‘s editor Jonathan Silver, Schanzer outlines the history of Palestinian politics and brings listeners inside the vigorous competition for power taking place at this moment.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.


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Podcast: Meena Viswanath on How the Duolingo App Became an Unwitting Arbiter of Modern Jewish Identity

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Last week, the language-learning app Duolingo introduced a new course on Yiddish. The course sparked significant interest, and provoked significant controversy. In the app’s menu, each language is represented by the flag of the primary country in which that language is spoken. But what flag should be used for Yiddish? Moreover, since each Yiddish dialect is associated with particular cultural and religious orientations, controversy also surrounded the question of which form of Yiddish should govern pronunciation of the language in the audio elements of the app. Suddenly, this language-learning app became the site of a proxy argument over modern Jewish identity.

To provide some of the necessary background, and to better understand these controversies, one of the Duolingo app’s Yiddish course developers, Meena Viswanath, joins this week’s podcast. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, she explains how the controversies came about, what they mean for students of Yiddish, and what they reveal about Jewish identity at this cultural moment.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.


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