Last week, thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews came out for mass protests across Israel. What was the contested issue: defense for Israel? Support of Agunot? Parents against child molestation? An end to violating business ethics and Israeli law? Not in the least bit. Sadly, this mass protest, the largest of its kind in years, was for the right to keep Sephardim out of Ashkenazi schools.
As a new biography shows, the second half of Arthur Koestler’s life, marked by a peculiar mix of Zionism and Jewish self-hatred, was one of steadily declining reputation.
If you were Jewish and lived in the 1940s, to say that Arthur Koestler was on your side was no small thing. Then at the height of his renown, Koestler, born in Budapest in 1905, had become one of Western literature’s most revered figures. His anti-Stalinist novel “Darkness at Noon,” published in 1940 and still his most famous, made him one of the first liberals to come out against Communism. The book would partly inspire George Orwell, an author whose reputation today far eclipses Koestler’s.
George Orwell, perhaps better than any other writer, was able to capture the danger of political groups redefining common terms in a way meant to confuse and eventually neutralize opponents. In his famous novel, “1984,” he shows how a totalitarian regime (in this case the Soviet Union) declares to its citizens that freedom is slavery and war is peace. Repeated often enough the citizenry begins to repeat these phrases in a zombie-like way, and in essence accepts these absurd slogans.
Friday, June 27th, 2008
My uncle, Milton Samuel Mark, died of AIDS a while back, from a blood transfusion given to him in a Bronx hospital, so I take the AIDS issue seriously and with some measure of resentment.