Sunday Reads: Between Saudi extremism and ISIS, Why it pays to be a settler, Einstein’s Judaism

November 22, 2015


Jeffrey Goldberg argues that President Obama has a better understanding of Muslim extremism than people give him credit for:

It is not entirely clear to me why Obama’s recurring demand that Muslims do more to combat extremism doesn’t gain much attention, though it’s fair to say that conservatives and liberals both have obvious reasons to ignore this call. Partisan conservatives are invested in a view of Obama as a moral relativist unable to pass judgment on any sort of Muslim behavior. They believe he is uniquely critical of Christians in America and Jews in Israel. Liberals are made uncomfortable by the notion that Islamist terrorism has anything to do with Islam. But Obama’s call should be more widely broadcast, because his middle approach to this polarizing issue is free of the sort of prejudice that one hears on the right, and the cant that one hears on the left.

Nicholas Gallagher believes that the lesson from America’s refusal to accept Jewish refugees during the Holocaust is different from what many commentators think:

The lessons of history cut both ways. The left needs to take the thirties—and the present Syrian controversy—as a warning. It must consider how to trim its immigration policies to popular will—or it risks having America’s still rather open door to newcomers slammed shut anew.


Mazal Mualem explains why it pays to be a settler in Israel:

During Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s second term in office (1992-1995), for example, the budget that was submitted as soon as his new government was formed expressed the new priorities that Rabin tried to instill: less money for political settlements, and more for education, the Arab sector and transportation. There was a guiding hand and a clear social agenda behind the budget. Similarly, the budget approved by the Knesset on Nov. 19 also reflects the current government. In fact, it is the little clauses in the budget that tell the whole story. In 2016, it pays to be a religious settler.

David K. Shipler laments the lack of knowledge Israeli and Palestinian children have of each other’s suffering:

In the past two decades, I have met with Palestinian and Israeli teen-agers, on visits to high schools in the West Bank and Israel. To take some measure of the problem, I have posed a question to them, as a litmus test. “Who are the victims?” I ask.

“We are,” is the most common response, given with brisk certainty by young people who cannot award the dignity of victimhood to those across the barricades. In striking symmetry, each group stakes a claim to unique suffering, which is lodged in distortions and silences about the past.

Middle East

Kamel Doud describes Saudi Arabia as “the ISIS that has made it”:

Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia. In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.

Greg Miller and Souad Mekhennet offer an interesting look into ISIS’ propaganda machine:

The dual messages are designed to influence a divided audience. The beheadings, immolations and other spectacles are employed both to menace Western adversaries and to appeal to disenfranchised Muslim males weighing a leap into the Islamist fray.

A separate collection depicts the Islamic State as a livable destination, a benevolent state committed to public works. Videos show the construction of public markets, smiling religious police on neighborhood patrols and residents leisurely fishing on the banks of the Euphrates.

Jewish World

Andrew Silow Carroll thinks that Adam Sandler’s Hannukah song conveys an ancestry-based, somewhat hollow attitude to one’s Judaism:

Sandler’s celebrities are cool because they happen to be Jewish, not because they represent a particular Jewish way of being in the world. Cooperman reminded us that among Jewish millennials who have one Jewish parent, 51 percent identify themselves as “Jews of no religion,” compared with just 15 percent of millennials who have two Jewish parents. “Jews of no religion” means they identify as Jews on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity, or culture. That doesn’t sound bad until you consider, as Pew reported, that Jews of no religion are “much less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children Jewish.”

Paul Berger Discusses Albert Einstein’s relation to Judaism and Zionism:

In a letter to the Israeli prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, Einstein wrote that he was “deeply moved” by the offer of the presidency and that he was disappointed at having neither the experience nor the skills to be able to accept.

Then, in a flourish that underlined his bond with the Jewish people, he concluded, “I am the more distressed over these circumstances because my relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.”

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