Randy's Corner Deli Library

29 November 2010

Airport Security: Let's Profile Muslims

View from the corner booth: Enough politically correct BS and playing Masterpiece Theater at the nation's airports. If we want to get serious about airline security, we will do this in a precise, targeted way. How disgusting is it to see a little old purple haired lady from Des Moines getting patted down or taken to secondary inspection. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the lines and aggravation the flying public go through every day is a joke, meant to make us feel good, giving us the illusion of security. Perhaps it's worked. We haven't had any more 9/11 - type disasters, but taking off shoes because some genius terrorist figured out how to put explosives in his shoes? Touching our private parts, scanning us to see if we haven't jammed a hand-grenade into our Fruit of the Looms or Victoria's Secret panties? Let's just all fly naked and be done with it. The evidence, and it is evidence, is in: most, if not all of the current threats come from Muslims from particular countries. If we don't do this, we're just dumb. Flying should be a pleasure and I shouldn't have to feel like a criminal when I go through an airport. Read this article and make up your own mind.

Randy Shiner

Airport Security: Let's Profile Muslims
by Asra Q. Nomani Info
Asra Q. Nomani is the author of Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam. She is co-director of the Pearl Project, an investigation into the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Her activism for women's rights at her mosque in W.V. is the subject of a PBS documentary, The Mosque in Morgantown. She recently published a monograph, Milestones for a Spiritual Jihad: Toward an Islam of Grace. asra@asranomani.com

In the wake of yet another Muslim terror plot, we can't ignore the threat profile any longer—or the solution. Asra Q. Nomani argues the case for religious and racial profiling.

For all those holiday travelers negotiating the Transportation Security Administration’s new cop-a-feel strategy, there is a difficult solution we need to consider: racial and religious profiling.

Passenger Angela Johnson talks to reporters about security and Thanksgiving holiday travel at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia on Nov. 24, 2010. (Photo: Chris Rank / Bloomberg via Getty Images)
As an American Muslim, I’ve come to recognize, sadly, that there is one common denominator defining those who’ve got their eyes trained on U.S. targets: MANY of them are Muslim—like the Somali-born teenager arrested Friday night for a reported plot to detonate a car bomb at a packed Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in downtown Portland, Oregon.

We have to talk about the taboo topic of profiling because terrorism experts are increasingly recognizing that religious ideology makes terrorist organizations and terrorists more likely to commit heinous crimes against civilians, such as blowing an airliner out of the sky. Certainly, it’s not an easy or comfortable conversation but it’s one, I believe, we must have.

This past week, as part of a debate series sponsored by the New York-based group Intelligence Squared, I argued that U.S. airports should use racial and religious profiling. (Taking the opposite stand was a “debating team” that included the former director of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff; Columbia University scholar of Pakistan, Hassan Abbas; and Debra Burlingame, a former flight attendant whose brother was a pilot of one of the planes hijacked on 9/11.)

I realize that in recent years, profiling has become a dirty word, synonymous with prejudice, racism, and bigotry. But while I believe our risk assessment should not end with religion, race and ethnicity, I believe that it should include these important elements, as part of a “triage” strategy that my debate partner, former CIA case officer Robert Baer, says airports and airliners already do.

Profiling doesn’t have to be about discrimination, persecution, or harassment. As my debating partner, conservative columnist Deroy Murdock put it: “We are not arguing that the TSA should send anyone named Mohammad to be waterboarded somewhere between the first-class lounge and the Pizza Hut.”

In an online posting of the Intelligence Squared video, a Muslim viewer called me an “Uncle Tom.”

And more Americans, it seems, are willing to choose racial and religious profiling as one part of keeping our skies safe. At the beginning of the debate, 37 percent of the audience was for religious and racial profiling, while 33 percent were against and 30 percent were undecided. By the end of the debate, 49 percent of the audience was for religious and racial profiling, 40 percent were against and the rest were undecided, meaning that that the motion carried. Of course, this “victory” in a scholarly debate doesn’t mean that the motion would necessarily win any broader popularity contests.

In the debate, I said, “Profile me. Profile my family,” because, in my eyes, we in the Muslim community have failed to police ourselves. In an online posting of the Intelligence Squared video, a Muslim viewer called me an “Uncle Tom.”

But to me, profiling isn’t about identity politics but about threat assessment.

According to a terrorism database at the University of Maryland, which documents 60 attacks against airlines and airports between 1970 and 2007, the last year available, suspects in attacks during the 1970s were tied to the Jewish Defense League, the Black Panthers, the Black September, the National Front for the Liberation of Cuba, Jewish Armed Resistance and the Croatian Freedom Fighters, along with a few other groups.

In each of these groups’ names was a religious or ethnic dimension. For that time, those were the identities that we needed to assess. Today, the threat has changed, and it is primarily coming from Muslims who embrace al Qaeda’s radical brand of Islam.

Data in reports released over the past several months from New York University’s Center for Security and the Law; the Congressional Research Service, and the Rand Corporation reveal that over the past decade not only are many defendants in terrorism cases Muslim, but they trace their national or ethnic identity back to specific countries.

According to the Rand study “Would-Be Warriors,” the national origins or ethnicities most defendants came from was Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Jordan and Egypt, with a handful from the Muslim areas of the Balkans.

To be sure, according to New York University’s Center for Security and the Law “Terrorist Trial Report Card,” an analysis of terrorism cases prosecuted between 2001 and 2009 reveals that identifying race and ethnicity doesn’t mean stereotyping according to country. Among the hundreds of defendants in the study, most held U.S. citizenship. Still, many of the Americans were ethnically connected to Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt.

The track record of Muslim plots against airliners and airports is clear, starting with the 1989 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. After the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, Ramzi Yousef schemed with his uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Muslim of Pakistani Baluchi ethnicity, to blow up 12 jetliners traveling from Asia to the U.S., intending to kill as many as 4,000 people. The plan fell apart in 1995 after a chemical fire caught the attention of police in the Philippines, but a test run had already killed one passenger seated near a nitroglycerin bomb on a Philippine Airlines Flight.

Three years later, Osama bin Laden threatened to bring down U.S. and Israeli aircrafts through the International Islamic Front for Fighting Against the Jews and Crusaders, warning the attacks would be “pitiless and violent” and announcing that “the war has begun.”

“Our response to the barbaric bombardment against Muslims of Afghanistan and Sudan will be ruthless and violent,” he said in a statement. “All the Islamic world has mobilized to strike a prominent American or Israeli strategic objective, to blow up their airplanes and to seize them.” A declassified CIA memo written in December 1998 warned: “Bin Ladin preparing to hijack U.S. aircraft.”

In 1999, we had a “Millennium bomber,” targeting Los Angeles International Airport. And, in a case that became very personal to me, on Dec. 24, 1999, a group of Pakistani Muslim militants hijacked an Indian Airlines jet from Kathmandu, Nepal, diverting it to Kandahar, Afghanistan, killing one newlywed passenger. In exchange for the passengers, India released Muslim militants, including a Pakistan-British Muslim militant named Omar Sheikh. Sheikh went on to mastermind the 2002 kidnapping of my friend, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, whom Khalid Sheikh Mohammed later confessed to killing.

After the Kathmandu hijacking, we had the 9/11 attacks. And since then, we’ve had the “Torrance Plotters,” the “JFK Airport Plotters,” the Glasgow, Scotland, bombers, and the “Transatlantic bombers,” all targeting airlines and airports. More recently, there was the attempt by the “underwear bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who last Christmas attempted to blow up explosives in his underwear—a foiled attack that brought the pat-downs of today. In addition to the Portland plot, most recently, we had the package bomb attempt out of Yemen last month.

Victor Asal, a political science professor at State University of New York at Albany, and Karl Rethemeyer, a professor of public administration and policy at SUNY at Albany, have studied 395 terrorist organizations in operation between 1998 and 2005, and Asal concludes, “What makes terrorist organizations more lethal is religious ideology. When you combine religion and ethno-nationalism, you get a dangerous combination.”

Asal, the son of a Tunisian father, says there hasn’t been enough research done for him to take a stand on racial and religious profiling, but favors “behavioral profiling,” which assesses risky behavior like buying one-way tickets with cash and flying without checked baggage.

As attorney R. Spencer MacDonald put it in an article in the Brigham Young University Journal of Public Law, we can have “rational profiling.”

I know this is an issue of great distress to many people. But I believe that we cannot bury our heads in the sand anymore. We have to choose pragmatism over political correctness, and allow U.S. airports and airlines to do religious and racial profiling.

Asra Q. Nomani is the author of Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam. She is co-director of the Pearl Project, an investigation into the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Her activism for women's rights at her mosque in W.V. is the subject of a PBS documentary, The Mosque in Morgantown. She recently published a monograph, Milestones for a Spiritual Jihad: Toward an Islam of Grace. asra@asranomani.com

23 November 2010

A Conversation Between Friends

Preface: Eric Reed is a world-class Jazz pianist and a "Facebook Friend" as well. He was Mitchell's ensemble instructor at the 2004 UCSD Jazz Camp and was and still is a great example of someone who tries to put back into life some of what he has taken out by doing educational programs all the time. He is evidently a very religious man, something that I respect. I am very interested in whether anyone thinks I went overboard in my comments about bowing down to Jesus and your opinion of the whole conversation in general. Please let me know in the comments here or privately if you're so inclined.


‎"Any man that will bow before Jesus, can stand up to any man." ~Dr. Ed Haygood
Sunday at 11:55am via Mobile Web · ·
  • 15 people like this.
    • Peter L. Wright trudat!
      Sunday at 11:56am ·
    • Beverly Joy Douglas Can they keep a job, provide for the family, change their destiny and fulfill their dreams? That's the man he needs to be standing up to!
      Sunday at 12:12pm · · 2 people
    • Peter L. Wright ‎?????
      Sunday at 12:21pm ·
    • Eric Reed Ditto
      Sunday at 3:51pm ·
    • Randy Shiner
      With respect, I'm Jewish, and I will, I assure you, never bow before Jesus or any likeness of him, (or Buddha or Allah) since Jesus was, to my understanding, a man himself, not God, and I frankly prefer to have my own personal relationship with God in which I take personal responsibility for my actions using the free will that God, our creator, gave all of us. Do I look to God for help and strength during hard times? Of course. But my actions are up to me to dig myself out. They may not work, but the lesson of the book of Job, among others, is to never give up even in the worst circumstances and with that, I too can stand up to any man. I get what @Beverley is saying. It's God's work to just be who you are and take care of your family. That's being a real man.
      Sunday at 4:48pm · · 1 person
    • Mike Melvoin It's hard to argue with this reasoning:
      "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required..." - Jesus, Luke 12:48.
      Sunday at 5:09pm ·
    • Eric Reed Philippians 2:10 expresses that every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Proverbs 14:12 tells us that man's way seems right, but ultimately just leads to death. If you're going to live like Jesus means nothing, you better be right.
      Sunday at 7:32pm · · 1 person
    • Randy Shiner
      That is, for those who follow the Christian Bible. I don't and find myself just getting along fine with the original. What is this "you better be right"? I know what it is: you think all Jews and other nonbelievers who don't believe in Jesus are going to what you call hell, right? That's the typical fundamentalist Christian point of view toward my people and which has formed much of the basis of your need to proselytize and worse. I don't believe that a man can be a God or that there is such a thing as a "virgin birth" or any of the mythology surrounding Jesus' birth, life, death and return. You are obviously free to accept and believe what you like. From what I know, he had lots of good things to say. I will use what God gave me that makes sense to me, combined with 5000 years of written tradition about how to conduct one's life in order to get closer to God in this lifetime. I talk to God directly and am not in need of an intermediary. For me, it's just that simple.
      Sunday at 8:05pm · · 1 person
    • Eric Reed This is funny; I posted a quote that you clearly didn't like - you could have simply opted not to respond. I didn't post the statement telling anybody what they had to do. What you call my "need" to proselytize is, in fact, an encouragement. If you're offended by it, you can change channels...
      Sunday at 8:30pm · · 2 people
    • Eric Reed Ah, I forgot one important one: Ephesians 6:12 - we wrestle not against flesh and blood. Thank you, Lord, for the revelation of your Holy Word.
      Sunday at 8:44pm · · 1 person
    • Dominic Evans To the person on here that said Jesus was not God (the Jewish Guy) does not know the word of Christ. "In the beginning was the WORD and the WORD was with GOD and the WORD WAS GOD! AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND DWELT AMONG MEN! ALSO JESUS TOLD THE PHARISES..."BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS........I...AM"! JESUS IS ALSO THE SAME PRIEST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT THAT CAME IN THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK. (order meanining manner). There are many scriptures that refer to the DEITY OF CHRIST SIR SO STOP MIS QUOTING.
      Sunday at 10:37pm · · 2 people
    • Mike Melvoin oo oh! A family quarrel! :) about who is right. The beauty of our music is how many things it can mean! The words can squelch the ambiguities. Prose worst, poetry better, prayer better yet, the music best. God does not make mistakes.
      Yesterday at 8:58am ·
    • Randy Shiner
      ‎@Mike: well said. @Eric, please don't get mad at me for putting up what I believe. I was not offended in the least by what you posted originally. I just have a different point of view. Religion is a very personal, emotional thing and strikes many different chords in many different ways depending upon how we were raised and what, as adults, makes sense to us and which gives us comfort during hard times and which forms the genuine basis of a model by which to live on this earth, now. I started out the conversation "with respect ", and I meant it. Just remember that doubt is as powerful a force as certainty. Peace to you and yours, my brother.
      Yesterday at 9:53am ·

Back to Life

It's been a long time since I posted anything on this blog, which, during the elections of 2008, was getting a lot of activity, from me as well as from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, since August 19, 2010, I've been a little busy fighting off polycythemia vera and Crohn's Disease, for which I had surgery on October 8, having very much enjoyed that moment in time when you come back from the dead, and wake up in so much pain, you can hardly utter the words "morphine now". Nothing like waking from major abdominal surgery with a 12 inch zipper in your belly, but nothing like real physical, horrible pain to remind you that you're alive.

Suffice it to say that after a second hospital stay - from October 20-24 owing to the fact that my guts weren't working - I am really feeling a lot better, looking good - I lost 40lbs. and am into a 34" waist pant - a size I haven't seen in almost 20 years, and I am really, really trying to get back into the swing of things, and with some help from some dear friends, I am starting to swing, and swing hard. There's no choice, because whether I'm sick or not, I'm the only one who can put food in my stomach, so I have had to be somewhat productive, or at least try, from the moment I woke, unfocused and moaning in pain, from my surgery.

Tonight as I write this, I am awaiting the arrival of my beautiful boy (who is, he reminds me, 19 years old) from Bloomington, where he is attending the IU-Jacobs School of Music as a Jazz Percussion major - talk about focus! - and where he is, according to all I am hearing and reading, really on his way to his goal of being the greatest percussionist in the world, on a par with Elvin Jones, who was, some of you may know, mostly known for his work on the drumkit for John Coltrane. But he doesn't stop there, oh no. His drive knows no bounds and he's become not only outstanding on the drumkit, but a monster on the vibraphone and the timpani as well. I am linking to three videos of his in the waning golden wonderful days of high school:

1: Mitchell's Arrangement of Nardis by Miles Davis

2: Mitchell playing "Concerto de Aranjuez - Adagio on Marimba

3: Mitchell playing John Bergamo's "Four Pieces for Timpani, Movements I & IV

The point is two-fold here. One, he is my pride and joy, words my mother, may she rest in piece, used to call me, the meaning of which eluded me until Mitchell was born. Two, it will pay him, and everyone in these troubled, chaotic times, to be as versatile as he can be.

All I have ever expected of him is to be the greatest at what he loves to do, and get paid for doing it. As the Joker in 2009's "The Dark Knight" said with respect to robbing banks, "if you're good at something, never do it for free". Lacking passion in one's work is a recipe for a miserable, robotic life, lacking real drive or energy to excel. Why would you want to excel at something you don't really believe in? To me, that's a commonsensical precept, but one which, I think, was lacking in a lot of our boomer upbringings, at least Jewish ones, where we were expected to go to school to get a "job": a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, and blah, blah, blah.

I'm working my way through an excellent biography of Thelonious Monk entitled _Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original_ and there is a passage (at p.178) in which Thelonious recounts taking his eldest son, Toots, at the time, if I remember correctly about 6 years old or so, for shoes and being told by his wife Nellie what kind of shoes to get for Toot. He replied - "I am going to take him to the shoe department - and he can pick his own style - he's the one that has to wear them, not me." And, of some more urgency of late, the very forward-thinking parental notion of letting his son be who he really is, another commonsensical parenting precept that I have drilled into Mitchell's head since he's been able to understand metaphysical concepts such as that of being. He's his own man. He is who he is, nobody else. And the beautiful thing about what he's doing - Jazz - is that it commands that the artist always be who he is, since every improvised note is intentional, demanding that he always mean every note he plays, being who he is in that moment in time. The combination of his career choice and not being afraid of being himself wherever he goes is, I know, going to keep him away from psychiatrists and antidepressants and psychotropic drugs for the rest of his life.

He's a star. Now it's time for his old man to get a life, too, because Mitch has his own life and in all honesty, my focus needs to be back on what I am going to do for the rest of my life and with whom. I have screwed up so many relationships in the past, so many great women I could have and should have settled down with, but I wasn't ready evidently, just to be who I am, because in all honesty, I don't think I ever had occasion to really think about that for myself. It's only been as the result of being Mitch's dad that I have learned how to live myself. It's time to put into practice what I've been drilling into his head over the years. It's obvious that I can't do this life alone, and that everyone needs somebody to love. I could quote the title of every Beatles song ever written (and John Lennon in particular) and they would all be right - life is nothing without someone to share it with. Nothing. What is it but simple narcissism to focus one's attention completely on your own needs? For me, it's a matter of two being better than one. The words "soulmate", "life partner" mean oh so much more these days than in the past when I was under the severe delusion that I could do anything by myself, a sad and lonely victim of belief in my own graying frailty, unaware of just how happy you could be if you could focus yourself in large measure on making one other person in the world happy, and she me. And between the two of us, we totally rock (or, being a Jazz dad, swing) together.

These are the thoughts that cross my mind as I try to reenter life again. If there's one thing that I have learned over the course of the past three years since my last visit to the surgeon, it's to never give up. Never. I'll give up when I die, and that is, I hope and pray, a long, long time from now. In the meantime, back to life.

19 August 2010

What it Means to Be An American - A Commentary on the Mosque at 51 Park Place

What is it that distinguishes Americans from the rest of the world's populations? Answer: All of us come from someplace else, except for native Americans who were chased off their lands by white men looking to conquer the entire continent. Those who arrived on these shores at Jamestown in 1642 were looking to escape religious persecution themselves, as were the millions upon millions who followed them here. Irish, Germans, Russians, Polish, Jews, and of some consequence nowadays, Muslims from every land in the world.

As a Jew, I think back on the times I know about, albeit not personally, that Jews in this country were denied access to universities, housing, jobs, land, everything that everyone else arrived in America to seek: a better life for their families and their descendants. I ought to know. I am one.

The conversation about the mosque/community center in lower Manhattan has turned absolutely black, ugly, bringing back as it does memories of discrimination faced by Jews for many, many years. It is truly bothersome to me and, I hope, to others, that the ugliest of nativistic and xenophobic tendencies all too common in today's world have taken hitherto rational people and turned them into sounding boards for the most ignorant, yet the loudest, among us such as the Glenn Becks, Rush Limbaughs and other purveyors of divisiveness and hate. That includes Abe Foxman of the ADL, who has stained that organization with his knee-jerk reaction against the construction of the community center/mosque/Muslim gathering place.

This is a difficult time in America. Our economy is swirling around the global toilet bowl, people's trust in a system that has worked, and worked generally well for over 200 years is bashed and scraped, and confusion about what's next reigns supreme. And then we have a group of (from all I can tell) well-meaning Muslims who just want a part of the American dream and all that goes with it, including freedom from and of religion. The Young Men's Christian Association was a funny place for me to play basketball in when I was a kid (not that I would have played any better in a JCC) but it never bothered me that the organization was there as a place for wayward souls, demarcated Christian.

The fear, and let there be no doubt that the fury that has arisen because of the proposed Muslim Center in Lower Manhattan is precisely because of the fear of the fact that "Muslim" in today's world, connotes "terrorist". So people are afraid that there will be meetings of jihadis within the walls of the building at 45-51 Park Street, in the shadow of what was once the World Trade Center, where good old fashioned American litigation and greed have held up the construction of a simple memorial to the 3000 that died that fateful September day not to mention the reconstruction of the towers that stood there since 1976. Their failures are stoking the controversy on lower Manhattan: that is without doubt. That a Muslim organization could get its act together before the various parties who own "ground zero" is a stain on them and us.

Whose fault is this? In part, it is the fault of well-meaning Muslims who have not been forceful or loud enough in their condemnations of suicide bombers and other forms of terror that some of the more fundamentalist Muslims use as a means of going home to meet Allah. Had this country's imams and other Muslim leaders been louder and forceful in their condemnations of Muslims who tolerate this kind of trash in a free and liberal society, the word Muslim might, might, not be a synonym for the word "terrorist". They never truly tried. They too reap what they sow.

When we were treated to scenes in Muslim lands after 9/11 of people partying in the streets at our carnage and our horror, the only possible outcome for Americans was disgust and hatred of a religion that would tolerate and even celebrate such barbarity. We can talk all we like about the plight of the poor Palestinians and other oppressed minorities, but the bottom line, at least for me, comes in the form of what the writers Bat Ye'Or and the late Oriana Fallaci called "Eurabia".
For the vast majority of Americans who do not have a passport and have never been to Europe, allow me to tell you that the face of Europe has changed, and changed forever, due to very lax immigration and welfare laws, all put in place after WWII so that there could never again rise the sort of social tumult that gave us the Third Reich.

Go to France, where their history is very much alive, and you will see tens of thousands of "pieds noir" - "black feet" - who came to France from its former colonies in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria and with them, their Islam. And they have not assimilated. They have fought it tooth and nail, which has given the right in Europe, France and Britain in particular, a strong base from which to launch anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim measures, not the latest of which was the French ban on the burqa which, to this writer's sensibilities, has no place in a liberal society, nor do Islamic laws that call for the treatment of women as cattle. I have walked to synagogue and gotten very mean looks from idle Arab kids in Cannes who didn't apparently like the fact that I was wearing a outward sign of my Jewishness - a kippah - on Yom Kippur. And I stared right back into their black eyes. If looks could kill, we would both be dead. I am sure of that.

Suffice it to say that I, like so many other liberals, am torn between the American way, the way of toleration, freedom, respect of others and the like. But I am also very aware of what has happened to Europe in the last 30 years with the influx of Muslims there. It is a dangerous situation in Europe that, frankly and honestly, I do not under any circumstances want repeated here.

The jihadi elements, the fundamentalists among the Muslims in this country, would be more than happy to use our own freedoms (as they did in Europe) to change the face of this country, change the face of our politics and none of it will be good. The evidence lies across the Atlantic. I hope and pray that the Muslim community center, mosque included, will be a step forward for the American Muslim world to join the 21st century. This is why, I am convinced, that most Muslims even came to this country - for the same reasons that all our forebears came here - to get away from the centuries old hatreds, prejudices and intolerance that they felt and got in their own lands and to just live their lives in peace.

I am reminded of a small incident in an Arab-owned pizza place right here in San Diego, where the owner for some reason knew that my lunch companion and I were Jewish - I think we asked for pizza without pepperoni. He began conversation about what trash there is running the country from which he and his family fled, Iran, as I recall, how he was able to start his own business here, and was trying to live out, as we all are, the American dream, whatever that is in 2010. One thing is for certain: we can never give up trying to make the American experiment more perfect, and if it takes a little pain in granting a people whom we (and that includes American Jews) do not know at all, then that is the price we must pay for living in the greatest country on earth.

This is not to say that the American-Muslim community should not do more to tell the world, to tell America, that they denounce the violence carried out in the name of Allah. That they denounce the denial of the Holocaust. That they do not wish to establish a country within a country, that the ummah is a dead concept, that there will never be another Caliphate here on these shores. When I start hearing Muslim leaders in the mainstream media say these things, and tell their followers that jihad has no applicability for 2010 America, I will feel a lot safer every time a building permit for a minaret is pulled, no matter where. I will know that they have about as much evil intent as a church or a synagogue, which is to say none. But the leaders have left us to guesswork about their intent, and American Muslim leaders are at fault for not framing themselves in the best light possible, a feat that I don't know can be achieved, at least in the shadow of the World Trade Center, at least not now. We will see what transpires.

Randy Shiner

20 May 2010

Death and the Dishwasher

Roger Rosenblatt

Making Toast: A Family Story

by Roger Rosenblatt

Ecco, 166 pp., $21.99

By the rules of American book reviewing, I ought not to write about this beautiful book. I am hobbled by the most damning disqualification of all: I have a conflict of interest. Not the appearance of one; an actual one. It is not that I once met a man whose second wife went to school with a woman who had a drink with a cousin of the dentist who treats the children of the book's copy-editor, which would have been damaging enough. It is that I know the author of Making Toast. Worse, he was my predecessor in my distinguished position, which is distinguished not least because he once held it. Still worse, he has been my friend for over thirty years. Worst of all, I adore him. So I am hopelessly compromised. Like many people who are about to do something that makes them feel bad, I could read a few pages of Niebuhr, feel sad about feeling bad, and get on with it; but I do not use the great man as a salve, and I do not feel bad when I say that Making Toast is a beautiful book. The judgment is true. I do not think that Making Toast is extraordinary because of my friend; I think that my friend is extraordinary because of Making Toast. I would admire the man who had the inner resources to produce such a book even if I hated him. Anyway, impartiality is no guarantee of honesty.

I should add that I wish this book had never been written, because it is the account of an unbearable sorrow, and I wish it had never befallen Roger Rosenblatt. On December 8, 2007, his daughter, Amy Rosenblatt Solomon, thirty-eight years old, the mother of three children, a pediatrician, collapsed at home in Bethesda and died. Rosenblatt and his wife (make that two conflicts of interest) immediately left their home on Long Island and drove to their mutilated family. When one of his little grandchildren asked how long he is staying, Rosenblatt replied, "Forever." This book is the journal-like narrative of the first year-and-a-half of Rosenblatt's new life, of his broken-hearted and soldierly attempt to hold his family together. It is a collection of anecdotes about parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, relying upon love for their improvisations against loss. It is written with modesty and with calm—with a restraint that it is itself a great achievement in the aftermath of a cosmic cruelty. Rosenblatt's powers of observation—his descriptions of his family have an Ozu-like clarity-were unimpaired by his pain. Indeed, they seem almost to have been sharpened by it. He understands that the first challenge of sorrow is cognitive. Making Toast is a small glowing jewel in the literature of grief.

Rosenblatt is a learned and literary man, and his bereavement is punctuated by philosophical and psychological reflections. He is repeatedly brought back to the most crushing feature of death, which is its finality. "Nothing will ever be normal again." "We will never feel right again." He notes about himself that "anger and emptiness remain my principal states of mind." "My anger, being futile, flares in the wrong places and at the wrong times." Sometimes his anger extends to the metaphysical: "my anger at God remains unabated." "I cursed God. In a way, believing in God made Amy's death more, not less, comprehensible, since the God I believe in is not beneficent." But generally Rosenblatt is not inclined to such speculations. He records that he and his wife "avoided religions ourselves and reared our children without one," and so in the wake of his daughter's death "God was not with us." There is nothing complacent about his reluctance to explore these matters any further. He is simply too wounded for disputation. The problem with theodicy, and with the arguments against theodicy, is that it is all so abstract. Brilliance is for the whole days, not the broken ones. When one buries one's dead, one's first thought cannot be that Leibniz was wrong, even if Leibniz was wrong. And so Rosenblatt does not write here as an intellectual. He writes as a father and a grandfather; as a man with chores.

The chores are Rosenblatt's real subject, and the reason that his book is so affecting. Here is an example:

I wake up earlier than the others, usually around 5 a.m., to perform the one household duty I have mastered. After posting the morning's word [a game he invents to improve the vocabulary of his grandchildren], emptying the dishwasher, setting the table for the children's breakfasts, and pouring the MultiGrain Cheerios or Froot Loops or Apple Jacks or Special K or Fruity Pebbles, I prepare toast. I take out the butter to allow it to soften, and put three slices of Pepperidge Farm Hearty Whites in the toaster oven. Bubbies [his youngest grandson] and I like plain buttered toast; Sammy prefers it with cinnamon, with the crusts cut off. When the bell rings, I shift the slices from the toaster to plates, and butter them.

Making toast, in other words, is a spiritual exercise, but its spirituality is to be found entirely in its concreteness. Rosenblatt's book is a tribute to the consolatory power of the concrete. "MultiGrain Cheerios or Froot Loops or Apple Jacks or Special K or Fruity Pebbles": the inventory is the point, the naming of nourishing things, the amassing of small particulars against a big particular, so that the facticity of life becomes a retort to the facticity of death. In an existence viciously robbed of its banality, Rosenblatt brandishes the banal, it is his defense against disorder and despair. It represents a kind of triumph-not over death, which has already won, but over suffering, which can still destroy. But not if he empties the dishwasher! If he empties the dishwasher, life wins.

In his chronicle of dailiness, his humble catalog of quotidian gestures, Rosenblatt discovers the anti-apocalyptic potency of the ordinary. He has written what Tzvetan Todorov, in a penetrating study of seventeenth-century Dutch painting, calls an éloge du quotidien. Like those still lifes and those genre scenes, Rosenblatt's account of the saving force of domesticity is a kind of argument. It argues that the integrity of the inner world may sometimes be secured by the integrity of the outer world. The subject may sometimes be rescued by objects. You feel this method of fortification working again and again in Making Toast. As he recognizes that he cannot protect the members of his family from their melancholy thoughts and moods, Rosenblatt learns that he can at least serve them, and with his diligence and his wit keep their world continuous and intact. For the mourner, though I can hardly imagine mourning my own child, there are no higher ambitions than continuity and intactness. And so the battle for meaning is fought, and occasionally won, in the kitchen.

There are circumstances in which prose is poetry, and the unornamented candor of Rosenblatt's writing slowly attains to a sober sort of lyricism. But this is more than just a moving book. It is also a useful book. Perhaps because beauty is the antithesis of use, there is something especially marvelous about useful beauty. Making Toast, a memoir of helpfulness, may actually help some of the people who read it. There are not many books that are important in this way: Helen Garner's The Spare Room, a shatteringly honest and artful account of assisting a friend through her dying, is another such book. The epigraph to Garner's austere masterpiece, from Elizabeth Jolley, captures also the large spirit of Rosenblatt's book: "It is a privilege to prepare the place where someone else will sleep." Rosenblatt's children and grandchildren chose their father and grandfather well. His toast is buttered with wisdom.

Leon Wieseltier is the literary editor of The New Republic.

18 May 2010

The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment

In 2003, several prominent Jewish philanthropists hired Republican pollster Frank Luntz to explain why American Jewish college students were not more vigorously rebutting campus criticism of Israel. In response, he unwittingly produced the most damning indictment of the organized American Jewish community that I have ever seen.

The philanthropists wanted to know what Jewish students thought about Israel. Luntz found that they mostly didn’t. “Six times we have brought Jewish youth together as a group to talk about their Jewishness and connection to Israel,” he reported. “Six times the topic of Israel did not come up until it was prompted. Six times these Jewish youth used the word ‘they‘ rather than ‘us‘ to describe the situation.”

That Luntz encountered indifference was not surprising. In recent years, several studies have revealed, in the words of Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ari Kelman of the University of California at Davis, that “non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders,” with many professing “a near-total absence of positive feelings.” In 2008, the student senate at Brandeis, the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored university in America, rejected a resolution commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Jewish state.

Luntz’s task was to figure out what had gone wrong. When he probed the students’ views of Israel, he hit up against some firm beliefs. First, “they reserve the right to question the Israeli position.” These young Jews, Luntz explained, “resist anything they see as ‘group think.’” They want an “open and frank” discussion of Israel and its flaws. Second, “young Jews desperately want peace.” When Luntz showed them a series of ads, one of the most popular was entitled “Proof that Israel Wants Peace,” and listed offers by various Israeli governments to withdraw from conquered land. Third, “some empathize with the plight of the Palestinians.” When Luntz displayed ads depicting Palestinians as violent and hateful, several focus group participants criticized them as stereotypical and unfair, citing their own Muslim friends.

Most of the students, in other words, were liberals, broadly defined. They had imbibed some of the defining values of American Jewish political culture: a belief in open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights. And in their innocence, they did not realize that they were supposed to shed those values when it came to Israel. The only kind of Zionism they found attractive was a Zionism that recognized Palestinians as deserving of dignity and capable of peace, and they were quite willing to condemn an Israeli government that did not share those beliefs. Luntz did not grasp the irony. The only kind of Zionism they found attractive was the kind that the American Jewish establishment has been working against for most of their lives.

mong American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster—indeed, have actively opposed—a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups likeAIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age. And it starts where Luntz’s students wanted it to start: by talking frankly about Israel’s current government, by no longer averting our eyes.

ince the 1990s, journalists and scholars have been describing a bifurcation in Israeli society. In the words of Hebrew University political scientist Yaron Ezrahi, “After decades of what came to be called a national consensus, the Zionist narrative of liberation [has] dissolved into openly contesting versions.” One version, “founded on a long memory of persecution, genocide, and a bitter struggle for survival, is pessimistic, distrustful of non-Jews, and believing only in Jewish power and solidarity.” Another, “nourished by secularized versions of messianism as well as the Enlightenment idea of progress,” articulates “a deep sense of the limits of military force, and a commitment to liberal-democratic values.” Every country manifests some kind of ideological divide. But in contemporary Israel, the gulf is among the widest on earth.

As Ezrahi and others have noted, this latter, liberal-democratic Zionism has grown alongside a new individualism, particularly among secular Israelis, a greater demand for free expression, and a greater skepticism of coercive authority. You can see this spirit in “new historians” like Tom Segev who have fearlessly excavated the darker corners of the Zionist past and in jurists like former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak who have overturned Knesset laws that violate the human rights guarantees in Israel’s “Basic Laws.” You can also see it in former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s apparent willingness to relinquish much of the West Bank in 2000 and early 2001.

But in Israel today, this humane, universalistic Zionism does not wield power. To the contrary, it is gasping for air. To understand how deeply antithetical its values are to those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, it’s worth considering the case of Effi Eitam. Eitam, a charismatic ex–cabinet minister and war hero, has proposed ethnically cleansing Palestinians from the West Bank. “We’ll have to expel the overwhelming majority of West Bank Arabs from here and remove Israeli Arabs from [the] political system,” he declared in 2006. In 2008, Eitam merged his small Ahi Party into Netanyahu’s Likud. And for the 2009–2010 academic year, he is Netanyahu’s special emissary for overseas “campus engagement.” In that capacity, he visited a dozen American high schools and colleges last fall on the Israeli government’s behalf. The group that organized his tour was called “Caravan for Democracy.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman once shared Eitam’s views. In his youth, he briefly joined Meir Kahane’s now banned Kach Party, which also advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israeli soil. Now Lieberman’s position might be called “pre-expulsion.” He wants to revoke the citizenship of Israeli Arabs who won’t swear a loyalty oath to the Jewish state. He tried to prevent two Arab parties that opposed Israel’s 2008–2009 Gaza war from running candidates for the Knesset. He said Arab Knesset members who met with representatives of Hamas should be executed. He wants to jail Arabs who publicly mourn on Israeli Independence Day, and he hopes to permanently deny citizenship to Arabs from other countries who marry Arab citizens of Israel.

You don’t have to be paranoid to see the connection between Lieberman’s current views and his former ones. The more you strip Israeli Arabs of legal protection, and the more you accuse them of treason, the more thinkable a policy of expulsion becomes. Lieberman’s American defenders often note that in theory he supports a Palestinian state. What they usually fail to mention is that for him, a two-state solution means redrawing Israel’s border so that a large chunk of Israeli Arabs find themselves exiled to another country, without their consent.

Lieberman served as chief of staff during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister. And when it comes to the West Bank, Netanyahu’s own record is in its way even more extreme than his protégé’s. In his 1993 book, A Place among the Nations, Netanyahu not only rejects the idea of a Palestinian state, he denies that there is such a thing as a Palestinian. In fact, he repeatedly equates the Palestinian bid for statehood with Nazism. An Israel that withdraws from the West Bank, he has declared, would be a “ghetto-state” with “Auschwitz borders.” And the effort “to gouge Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] out of Israel” resembles Hitler’s bid to wrench the German-speaking “Sudeten district” from Czechoslovakia in 1938. It is unfair, Netanyahu insists, to ask Israel to concede more territory since it has already made vast, gut-wrenching concessions. What kind of concessions? It has abandoned its claim to Jordan, which by rights should be part of the Jewish state.

On the left of Netanyahu’s coalition sits Ehud Barak’s emasculated Labor Party, but whatever moderating potential it may have is counterbalanced by what is, in some ways, the most illiberal coalition partner of all, Shas, the ultra-Orthodox party representing Jews of North African and Middle Eastern descent. At one point, Shas—like some of its Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox counterparts—was open to dismantling settlements. In recent years, however, ultra-Orthodox Israelis, anxious to find housing for their large families, have increasingly moved to the West Bank, where thanks to government subsidies it is far cheaper to live. Not coincidentally, their political parties have swung hard against territorial compromise. And they have done so with a virulence that reflects ultra-Orthodox Judaism’s profound hostility to liberal values. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas’s immensely powerful spiritual leader, has called Arabs “vipers,” “snakes,” and “ants.” In 2005, after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed dismantling settlements in the Gaza Strip, Yosef urged that “God strike him down.” The official Shas newspaper recently called President Obama “an Islamic extremist.”

Hebrew University Professor Ze’ev Sternhell is an expert on fascism and a winner of the prestigious Israel Prize. Commenting on Lieberman and the leaders of Shas in a recent Op-Ed in Haaretz, he wrote, “The last time politicians holding views similar to theirs were in power in post–World War II Western Europe was in Franco’s Spain.” With their blessing, “a crude and multifaceted campaign is being waged against the foundations of the democratic and liberal order.” Sternhell should know. In September 2008, he was injured when a settler set off a pipe bomb at his house.

sraeli governments come and go, but the Netanyahu coalition is the product of frightening, long-term trends in Israeli society: an ultra-Orthodox population that is increasing dramatically, a settler movement that is growing more radical and more entrenched in the Israeli bureaucracy and army, and a Russian immigrant community that is particularly prone to anti-Arab racism. In 2009, a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 53 percent of Jewish Israelis (and 77 percent of recent immigrants from the former USSR) support encouraging Arabs to leave the country. Attitudes are worst among Israel’s young. When Israeli high schools held mock elections last year, Lieberman won. This March, a poll found that 56 percent of Jewish Israeli high school students—and more than 80 percent of religious Jewish high school students—would deny Israeli Arabs the right to be elected to the Knesset. An education ministry official called the survey “a huge warning signal in light of the strengthening trends of extremist views among the youth.”

You might think that such trends, and the sympathy for them expressed by some in Israel’s government, would occasion substantial public concern—even outrage—among the leaders of organized American Jewry. You would be wrong. In Israel itself, voices from the left, and even center, warn in increasingly urgent tones about threats to Israeli democracy. (Former Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak have both said that Israel risks becoming an “apartheid state” if it continues to hold the West Bank. This April, when settlers forced a large Israeli bookstore to stop selling a book critical of the occupation, Shulamit Aloni, former head of the dovish Meretz Party, declared that “Israel has not been democratic for some time now.”) But in the United States, groups like AIPAC and the Presidents’ Conference patrol public discourse, scolding people who contradict their vision of Israel as a state in which all leaders cherish democracy and yearn for peace.

The result is a terrible irony. In theory, mainstream American Jewish organizations still hew to a liberal vision of Zionism. On its website, AIPAC celebrates Israel’s commitment to “free speech and minority rights.” The Conference of Presidents declares that “Israel and the United States share political, moral and intellectual values including democracy, freedom, security and peace.” These groups would never say, as do some in Netanyahu’s coalition, that Israeli Arabs don’t deserve full citizenship and West Bank Palestinians don’t deserve human rights. But in practice, by defending virtually anything any Israeli government does, they make themselves intellectual bodyguards for Israeli leaders who threaten the very liberal values they profess to admire.

After Israel’s elections last February, for instance, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chairman of the Presidents’ Conference, explained that Avigdor Lieberman’s agenda was “far more moderate than the media has presented it.” Insisting that Lieberman bears no general animus toward Israeli Arabs, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “He’s not saying expel them. He’s not saying punish them.” (Permanently denying citizenship to their Arab spouses or jailing them if they publicly mourn on Israeli Independence Day evidently does not qualify as punishment.) The ADL has criticized anti-Arab bigotry in the past, and the American Jewish Committee, to its credit, warned that Lieberman’s proposed loyalty oath would “chill Israel’s democratic political debate.” But the Forwardsummed up the overall response of America’s communal Jewish leadership in its headline “Jewish Leaders Largely Silent on Lieberman’s Role in Government.”

ot only does the organized American Jewish community mostly avoid public criticism of the Israeli government, it tries to prevent others from leveling such criticism as well. In recent years, American Jewish organizations have waged a campaign to discredit the world’s most respected international human rights groups. In 2006, Foxman called an Amnesty International report on Israeli killing of Lebanese civilians “bigoted, biased, and borderline anti-Semitic.” The Conference of Presidents has announced that “biased NGOs include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid, [and] Save the Children.” Last summer, an AIPAC spokesman declared that Human Rights Watch “has repeatedly demonstrated its anti-Israel bias.” When the Obama administration awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson, former UN high commissioner for human rights, the ADL and AIPAC both protested, citing the fact that she had presided over the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. (Early drafts of the conference report implicitly accused Israel of racism. Robinson helped expunge that defamatory charge, angering Syria and Iran.)

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are not infallible. But when groups like AIPAC and the Presidents’ Conference avoid virtually all public criticism of Israeli actions—directing their outrage solely at Israel’s neighbors—they leave themselves in a poor position to charge bias. Moreover, while American Jewish groups claim that they are simply defending Israel from its foes, they are actually taking sides in a struggle within Israel between radically different Zionist visions. At the very moment the Anti-Defamation League claimed that Robinson harbored an “animus toward Israel,” an alliance of seven Israeli human rights groups publicly congratulated her on her award. Many of those groups, like B’Tselem, which monitors Israeli actions in the Occupied Territories, and the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights, have been at least as critical of Israel’s actions in Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank as have Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

All of which raises an uncomfortable question. If American Jewish groups claim that Israel’s overseas human rights critics are motivated by anti- Israeli, if not anti-Semitic, bias, what does that say about Israel’s domestic human rights critics? The implication is clear: they must be guilty of self-hatred, if not treason. American Jewish leaders don’t generally say that, of course, but their allies in the Netanyahu government do. Last summer, Israel’s vice prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, called the anti-occupation group Peace Now a “virus.” This January, a right-wing group called Im Tirtzu accused Israeli human rights organizations of having fed information to the Goldstone Commission that investigated Israel’s Gaza war. A Knesset member from Netanyahu’s Likud promptly charged Naomi Chazan, head of the New Israel Fund, which supports some of those human rights groups, with treason, and a member of Lieberman’s party launched an investigation aimed at curbing foreign funding of Israeli NGOs.

To their credit, Foxman and other American Jewish leaders opposed the move, which might have impaired their own work. But they are reaping what they sowed. If you suggest that mainstream human rights criticism of Israel’s government is motivated by animus toward the state, or toward Jews in general, you give aid and comfort to those in Israel who make the same charges against the human rights critics in their midst.

n the American Jewish establishment today, the language of liberal Zionism—with its idioms of human rights, equal citizenship, and territorial compromise—has been drained of meaning. It remains the lingua franca in part for generational reasons, because many older American Zionists still see themselves as liberals of a sort. They vote Democratic; they are unmoved by biblical claims to the West Bank; they see average Palestinians as decent people betrayed by bad leaders; and they are secular. They don’t want Jewish organizations to criticize Israel from the left, but neither do they want them to be agents of the Israeli right.

These American Zionists are largely the product of a particular era. Many were shaped by the terrifying days leading up to the Six-Day War, when it appeared that Israel might be overrun, and by the bitter aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, when much of the world seemed to turn against the Jewish state. In that crucible, Israel became their Jewish identity, often in conjunction with the Holocaust, which the 1967 and 1973 wars helped make central to American Jewish life. These Jews embraced Zionism before the settler movement became a major force in Israeli politics, before the 1982 Lebanon war, before the first intifada. They fell in love with an Israel that was more secular, less divided, and less shaped by the culture, politics, and theology of occupation. And by downplaying the significance of Avigdor Lieberman, the settlers, and Shas, American Jewish groups allow these older Zionists to continue to identify with that more internally cohesive, more innocent Israel of their youth, an Israel that now only exists in their memories.

But these secular Zionists aren’t reproducing themselves. Their children have no memory of Arab armies massed on Israel’s border and of Israel surviving in part thanks to urgent military assistance from the United States. Instead, they have grown up viewing Israel as a regional hegemon and an occupying power. As a result, they are more conscious than their parents of the degree to which Israeli behavior violates liberal ideals, and less willing to grant Israel an exemption because its survival seems in peril. Because they have inherited their parents’ liberalism, they cannot embrace their uncritical Zionism. Because their liberalism is real, they can see that the liberalism of the American Jewish establishment is fake.

To sustain their uncritical brand of Zionism, therefore, America’s Jewish organizations will need to look elsewhere to replenish their ranks. They will need to find young American Jews who have come of age during the West Bank occupation but are not troubled by it. And those young American Jews will come disproportionately from the Orthodox world.

ecause they marry earlier, intermarry less, and have more children, Orthodox Jews are growing rapidly as a share of the American Jewish population. According to a 2006 American Jewish Committee (AJC) survey, while Orthodox Jews make up only 12 percent of American Jewry over the age of sixty, they constitute 34 percent between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four. For America’s Zionist organizations, these Orthodox youngsters are a potential bonanza. In their yeshivas they learn devotion to Israel from an early age; they generally spend a year of religious study there after high school, and often know friends or relatives who have immigrated to Israel. The same AJC study found that while only 16 percent of non-Orthodox adult Jews under the age of forty feel “very close to Israel,” among the Orthodox the figure is 79 percent. As secular Jews drift away from America’s Zionist institutions, their Orthodox counterparts will likely step into the breach. The Orthodox “are still interested in parochial Jewish concerns,” explains Samuel Heilman, a sociologist at the City University of New York. “They are among the last ones who stayed in the Jewish house, so they now control the lights.”

But it is this very parochialism—a deep commitment to Jewish concerns, which often outweighs more universal ones—that gives Orthodox Jewish Zionism a distinctly illiberal cast. The 2006 AJC poll found that while 60 percent of non-Orthodox American Jews under the age of forty support a Palestinian state, that figure drops to 25 percent among the Orthodox. In 2009, when Brandeis University’s Theodore Sasson asked American Jewish focus groups about Israel, he found Orthodox participants much less supportive of dismantling settlements as part of a peace deal. Even more tellingly, Reform, Conservative, and unaffiliated Jews tended to believe that average Palestinians wanted peace, but had been ill-served by their leaders. Orthodox Jews, by contrast, were more likely to see the Palestinian people as the enemy, and to deny that ordinary Palestinians shared any common interests or values with ordinary Israelis or Jews.

Orthodox Judaism has great virtues, including a communal warmth and a commitment to Jewish learning unmatched in the American Jewish world. (I’m biased, since my family attends an Orthodox synagogue.) But if current trends continue, the growing influence of Orthodox Jews in America’s Jewish communal institutions will erode even the liberal-democratic veneer that today covers American Zionism. In 2002, America’s major Jewish organizations sponsored a large Israel solidarity rally on the Washington Mall. Up and down the east coast, yeshivas shut down for the day, swelling the estimated Orthodox share of the crowd to close to 70 percent. When the then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told the rally that “innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying as well,” he was booed.

America’s Jewish leaders should think hard about that rally. Unless they change course, it portends the future: an American Zionist movement that does not even feign concern for Palestinian dignity and a broader American Jewish population that does not even feign concern for Israel. My own children, given their upbringing, could as easily end up among the booers as among Luntz’s focus group. Either prospect fills me with dread.

n 2004, in an effort to prevent weapons smuggling from Egypt, Israeli tanks and bulldozers demolished hundreds of houses in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. Watching television, a veteran Israeli commentator and politician named Tommy Lapid saw an elderly Palestinian woman crouched on all fours looking for her medicines amid the ruins of her home. He said she reminded him of his grandmother.

In that moment, Lapid captured the spirit that is suffocating within organized American Jewish life. To begin with, he watched. In my experience, there is an epidemic of not watching among American Zionists today. A Red Cross study on malnutrition in the Gaza Strip, a bill in the Knesset to allow Jewish neighborhoods to bar entry to Israeli Arabs, an Israeli human rights report on settlers burning Palestinian olive groves, three more Palestinian teenagers shot—it’s unpleasant. Rationalizing and minimizing Palestinian suffering has become a kind of game. In a more recent report on how to foster Zionism among America’s young, Luntz urges American Jewish groups to use the word “Arabs, not Palestinians,” since “the term ‘Palestinians’ evokes images of refugee camps, victims and oppression,” while “‘Arab’ says wealth, oil and Islam.”

Of course, Israel—like the United States—must sometimes take morally difficult actions in its own defense. But they are morally difficult only if you allow yourself some human connection to the other side. Otherwise, security justifies everything. The heads of AIPAC and the Presidents’ Conference should ask themselves what Israel’s leaders would have to do or say to make them scream “no.” After all, Lieberman is foreign minister; Effi Eitam is touring American universities; settlements are growing at triple the rate of the Israeli population; half of Israeli Jewish high school students want Arabs barred from the Knesset. If the line has not yet been crossed, where is the line?

What infuriated critics about Lapid’s comment was that his grandmother died at Auschwitz. How dare he defile the memory of the Holocaust? Of course, the Holocaust is immeasurably worse than anything Israel has done or ever will do. But at least Lapid used Jewish suffering to connect to the suffering of others. In the world of AIPAC, the Holocaust analogies never stop, and their message is always the same: Jews are licensed by their victimhood to worry only about themselves. Many of Israel’s founders believed that with statehood, Jews would rightly be judged on the way they treated the non-Jews living under their dominion. “For the first time we shall be the majority living with a minority,” Knesset member Pinchas Lavon declared in 1948, “and we shall be called upon to provide an example and prove how Jews live with a minority.”

But the message of the American Jewish establishment and its allies in the Netanyahu government is exactly the opposite: since Jews are history’s permanent victims, always on the knife-edge of extinction, moral responsibility is a luxury Israel does not have. Its only responsibility is to survive. As former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg writes in his remarkable 2008 book, The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes, “Victimhood sets you free.”

This obsession with victimhood lies at the heart of why Zionism is dying among America’s secular Jewish young. It simply bears no relationship to their lived experience, or what they have seen of Israel’s. Yes, Israel faces threats from Hezbollah and Hamas. Yes, Israelis understandably worry about a nuclear Iran. But the dilemmas you face when you possess dozens or hundreds of nuclear weapons, and your adversary, however despicable, may acquire one, are not the dilemmas of the Warsaw Ghetto. The year 2010 is not, as Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed, 1938. The drama of Jewish victimhood—a drama that feels natural to many Jews who lived through 1938, 1948, or even 1967—strikes most of today’s young American Jews as farce.

But there is a different Zionist calling, which has never been more desperately relevant. It has its roots in Israel’s Independence Proclamation, which promised that the Jewish state “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets,” and in the December 1948 letter from Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and others to The New York Times, protesting right-wing Zionist leader Menachem Begin’s visit to the United States after his party’s militias massacred Arab civilians in the village of Deir Yassin. It is a call to recognize that in a world in which Jewish fortunes have radically changed, the best way to memorialize the history of Jewish suffering is through the ethical use of Jewish power.

For several months now, a group of Israeli students has been traveling every Friday to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where a Palestinian family named the Ghawis lives on the street outside their home of fifty-three years, from which they were evicted to make room for Jewish settlers. Although repeatedly arrested for protesting without a permit, and called traitors and self-haters by the Israeli right, the students keep coming, their numbers now swelling into the thousands. What if American Jewish organizations brought these young people to speak at Hillel? What if this was the face of Zionism shown to America’s Jewish young? What if the students in Luntz’s focus group had been told that their generation faces a challenge as momentous as any in Jewish history: to save liberal democracy in the only Jewish state on earth?

Too many years I lived in the warm embrace of institutionalized elusiveness and was a part of it,” writes Avraham Burg. “I was very comfortable there.” I know; I was comfortable there too. But comfortable Zionism has become a moral abdication. Let’s hope that Luntz’s students, in solidarity with their counterparts at Sheikh Jarrah, can foster an uncomfortable Zionism, a Zionism angry at what Israel risks becoming, and in love with what it still could be. Let’s hope they care enough to try.

—May 12, 2010

Peter Beinart is Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York, a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, and Senior Political Writer for The Daily Beast. His new book, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, will be published in June.