From the Newsletter | The Summer of 1942

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Sometimes the best way to get a clear view of what’s happening in the present is to glance backward at the past. That’s what our columnist Gershom Gorenberg does in his piece “The Summer of 1942,” in which he examines a nearly forgotten juncture of World War II, when the British forces in North Africa feared that the Nazi commander Erwin Rommel was about to overrun Cairo and, by implication, Palestine. What would have happened to pre-state Israel’s small population of Jews? What steps might have become necessary?

The Allied forces ended up stopping the Nazis in Egypt, at the Battle of El Alamein, so we’ll never know, writes Gorenberg, who’s just published a book about the secret espionage coup that turned the tide But teasing out the hypothetical lessons of what could have happened, and the long-term consequences of what happened instead, proves a fascinating exercise. For one thing, it offers a few surprising lessons about what a small state can accomplish (and can’t accomplish) when wedged between warring powers. Gorenberg used to be a regular columnist for Moment before taking a few years off for the book and other projects; we’re beyond delighted to have him back in our pages.

A glance backward in time also proves enlightening for Sarah Posner in “‘Replacement Theory,’ Mainstreamed,” though in this case the historical background is not just clarifying but downright alarming. It’s a theme Posner has taken up before: the resurgence of repellent right-wing tropes, whether racist or antisemitic, in modern-day discourse. In this column, Posner starts with Fox host Tucker Carlson and his shocking embrace of the conspiracy theory that Democrats, particularly President Joe Biden, are seeking to engineer “the great replacement” by bringing in immigrants to dilute American votes. From there, Posner excavates the dark history of such “replacement” talk—and the way it too often serves as the gateway to antisemitic fantasies. George Soros, she notes, has often been baselessly accused of funding or otherwise masterminding “caravans” of migrant “invaders.” (For a deeper look at the right’s scapegoating and vilification of Soros, see Moment’s comprehensive report from 2019.) Going further back, she traces the coddling of racist replacement theorists in such ostensibly mainstream outlets as National Review from the 1970s on. Some of the same writers—Peter Brimelow, Robert Whitaker—have popped up again on the Trumpist right, especially on social media. “Everything old is new again,” Posner concludes, “and with a cable news megaphone, even more ominously toxic.”

For all the interpretive value of the past, the news can still sometimes take a turn that couldn’t have been predicted. Shmuel Rosner sees just such a turn in Israel, where the still fairly new government has—to the surprise of many—begun to wrest control of at least some decision-making from the Orthodox rabbinate. Rosner’s “A Small Religious Revolution” looks at the way seemingly minor changes—in the way kosher certificates are issued, in who gets to determine details about conversion—reveal the degree to which the religious parties have been sidelined in the new government. Will it lead to greater changes? The columnist declines to prophesy. But stay tuned.

(You can read much more Moment coverage of this topic, too, from our archives.)

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