April 3, 2012
Guests: Peter Beinart-Gary Rosenblatt
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The future of Israel and the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very important to many Jews in America. Nevertheless, it's a subject that's often avoided at gatherings of friends and families because there is such strong disagreement about how to resolve the conflict.
My guest, Peter Beinart, is the author of the new book "The Crisis of Zionism," about how American Jews of different generations and different political perspectives see the future of Israel. He has strong opinions. He describes himself as a Zionist who believes the Jewish people deserve a state dedicated to their protection, but he also describes himself as a partisan of liberal democracy who believes a Jewish state must offer equal citizenship to all its inhabitants, two principles which he acknowledges are difficult to reconcile.
As we'll hear, he's created quite a stir in his book and in a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times. Beinart has called for a boycott of products made in Jewish settlements on the West Bank. This isn't to be confused with the movement originated by Palestinians to protest the state of Israel through boycotts, divestiture and sanctions aimed against the state.
Beinart's proposal applies only to Jewish settlements on the other side of the green line, the line that separates Israel from the West Bank, which Israel captured and occupied after the war in 1967. Peter Beinart is the former editor of The New Republic and edits the Open Zion blog for the Daily Beast.
Peter Beinart, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's start with your family connection to Zionism. Tell us about your grandmother's history of being uprooted and having to flee.
PETER BEINART: My grandmother, my mother's family, are Sephardi Jews. Their roots are originally in Spain. My grandmother was born in Alexandria, Egypt. Her own parents were from Isle of Rhodes, in what's now Greece, and Izmir, in what's now Turkey. So the ancestry had a history of Jews having to relocate and move.
Then my grandmother, when she was fairly young, left Egypt, went with her family to the Belgian Congo, to what's now Lubumbashi, and then soon after that again left and went to Cape Town, South Africa. Meanwhile, the ancestral community in the Isle of Rhodes was virtually all destroyed in the Holocaust, and now the South African Jewish community itself, many people have left, given the sense of turbulence in South Africa.
So what my grandmother conveyed to me was the sense of the fragility of Jewish life in so many diaspora communities, the sense of rootlessness. And she made it very clear to me that Jews should see Israel as the place that would take us in, the place of permanence, the place that could give us, even if we didn't go there, the psychological comfort of knowing that there was a home if we had to be on the run.
GROSS: Now in your book, you describe a video that made you rethink what Zionism meant to you. Would you describe that video?
BEINART: There was a video that some Israeli friends sent to me of a Palestinian man being arrested in the West Bank. He was being arrested because he had tried to connect his village up to some water pipes that ran through a nearby settlement.
There is a massive disparity in water allocation in the West Bank between Palestinians and Jewish settlers, largely because Jewish settlers are citizens of the government, the state of Israel that makes water policy decisions, and Palestinians are not. They're stateless.
And in this video, the son of the man was exactly my son's age, was screaming for his father as his father was being taken away. And as it turned out, he was yelling to his father baba, baba, which is the name that my son and my daughter use for me because when my son was very little, we thought he would call me abba, which is the Hebrew word for father. But he couldn't say abba, so he calls me baba, which is also what our daughter calls me.
So it had a powerful affect on me, and it was one of a series of experiences that I would say led me to be willing to face a little more frontally than I had been willing to before the reality of what Israel's occupation is and made me concerned about how I would tell my own children, how I would convey my love for Israel, try to make them devoted Zionists, while also not ignoring the reality of what happens when you hold millions of people for more than 40 years as non-citizens in the places in which they were born.
GROSS: So how has your sense of Zionism changed now that you've started to empathize more with Palestinians?
BEINART: My feeling is that what makes Israel so precious, what's always made is so precious to me is not just that it's a Jewish state but that a state founded three years after the Holocaust, when Israel was in a fight for its very survival, when the stench of Jewish death still hung over Europe, pledged itself in its declaration of independence to complete equality of social and political rights irrespective of race, religion and sex.
I think my reading of many of the founders of the Jewish state was that they didn't only want a state for Jewish protection, they wanted a state that would live out the ideals that were betrayed by Europe, and in that way, in some ways, they would redeem the enlightenment ideas that Europe had failed.
And for me, that is still the struggle: to preserve a Jewish state that tries to live out the principles of Israel's declaration of independence, and I fear that that Jewish state is incompatible with a permanent occupation of millions of people who lack citizenship, basic rights, live under military law, don't have freedom of movement simply because they're not Jews.
GROSS: Do you think that the idea of a Jewish state is compatible with the idea of equal rights for all people, no matter what their religion is?
BEINART: I think there is a tension between Israel's role as a protector of the Jewish people and Israel's stated commitment to complete equality of social and political rights. But I don't think because there's a tension it means that either of those principles is invalid. There are also tensions between economic development and environmental protection, or national security and civil liberty.
There can be tensions between goals that are both valid. I believe that given our history, Jews have the right to self-determination as a means of protection, given our history and the diaspora. But I - and I believe that Israel has made real accomplishments in the way it treats its non-Jewish citizens.
Israel gave citizenship to its Arab population in 1948, even though many of the Palestinian Arabs who left and went to Jordon, went to Syria - and Lebanon, sorry - didn't have citizenship in those countries. Israel has always allowed its Arab citizens the right to vote. There's an Arab-Israeli on the Supreme Court, in the Knesset. That seems to me a foundation upon which to build.
There is still severe discrimination against Israel's Arab citizens, even within what's called the green line, even within the area where they have citizenship. But I think there is a foundation upon which to build, to move towards truer equality in the context of a state that has a special mission to protect the Jewish people.
GROSS: So in your book and in a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times, you proposed a boycott where Americans would not buy goods and services from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. So let's talk about what you've proposed. Why are you calling for a boycott of the West Bank?
BEINART: My great fear is that we are hurtling towards the creation of one state: Israel within its 1949 boundaries plus the West Bank, a state that cannot be fully democratic or else it will no longer be a Jewish state. If Israel holds that territory permanently and does not give the right of citizenship and the right to vote to the Palestinians living there, it will no longer be fully a democratic state.
If it does, it will no longer have a Jewish majority and will no longer be a Jewish state, and therefore our generation will have failed our responsibility to pass down to our children what our parents gave to us, which is our most precious legacy, which is a democratic Jewish state.
I all the West Bank nondemocratic Israel to convey first, that this is area under Israel's control, and B, that it's not a territory which lives up to the democratic ideal upon which Israel was founded, but that there is a territory, Israel's original boundaries, in which Israel does make a real effort to live up to those ideals.
And so to me, that's why I use the terms democratic and non-democratic Israel. What I think we urgently need to do is to redraw the division between the Israel where all people have the right to citizenship and the right to vote and the territory conquered in 1967, the West Bank, where they don't.
We have to invest and spend our money and celebrate the part of - the original Israel, which offers the right of citizenship to all people, but I don't think we should be spending our money in the West Bank, which is a territory in which Israel's founding ideals are desecrated.
GROSS: So let me see if I understand you. What you're saying is with more and more settlers, Jewish settlers in the West Bank who are allowed to vote in Israeli elections and who have full Israeli rights, the West Bank is becoming this really ambiguous territory where you have Palestinians who have no Israeli rights, who can't vote in Israel, and then a lot of Israeli settlers who do.
So the inequality there is growing, and there's two different sets of laws that apply, yes? Am I...?
BEINART: Yes, Jewish settlers live under civil law. Palestinians in the West Bank live under military law. And with the settler population growing, according to one recent story at three times the rate of the Jewish population inside Israel's original boundaries, at some point in the future, there will simply be too many settlers in the Jewish in the West Bank to actually extricate Israel from the West Bank.
And at that point, Israel will become, in the words of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert - I'm not quoting anti-Semites here, I'm quoting two former Israeli prime ministers - Israel will become an apartheid state, and that would be such a tragedy for us.
GROSS: There are a lot of people very angry with you right now because you've proposed this boycott. Just tell us a little bit about the reaction that you've gotten to your New York Times op-ed piece about the boycott and the chapter about it in your book.
BEINART: Sure. Well, you know, there are many Palestinians who also vociferously disagree. I mean, I'm a Zionist. I believe in Israel's existence as a democratic Jewish state. I believe in Israel's security. That actually puts me in a very different place from many Palestinians. But it also puts me in a different place from I think many mainstream American Jewish leaders, who I fear are not sufficiently concerned about the internal threat to Israel's future as a democratic Jewish state.
There is a lot of lip service paid in the organized American Jewish community to the idea that we should have a two-state solution. But my fear is despite that lip service, American Jewish organizations are essentially supportive of policies that are leading the two-state solution to slip away.
And I think we have to start, even though it's painful, a conversation about how we're going to try to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution. What I fear is that Israeli policies are moving us towards a situation in which Israel will not survive as a democratic Jewish state.
If you disagree with the proposal I've put forward, then please suggest to me how you think differently we can stop the process of subsidizing people to move to the West Bank that threatens Israel's future as a democratic Jewish state. We have to have that conversation.
It may not be an easy conversation. It certainly should not be a conversation to the exclusion of Palestinian culpability, which there absolutely is. But we have to have that conversation if we are going to fulfill our obligations to the next generation, which is to pass on a Jewish democratic state to them.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Peter Beinart, the former editor of The New Republic, and now he edits the Open Zion blog on The Daily Beast, and he has a new book called "The Crisis of Zionism." Let's take a break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Peter Beinart, former editor of The New Republic. He now he edits the Open Zion blog at The Daily Beast. His new book is called "The Crisis of Zionism."
Peter, as we were talking about in your book and in a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times, you've called for a boycott of the West Bank. You've explained your reasons for calling for that boycott. What exactly are you calling for? What form are you proposing that the boycott take?
BEINART: First of all, I want to make it very clear. I am absolutely opposed to any boycott of all of Israel because I believe in Israel's right to exist as a democratic Jewish state. What I'm calling - what I'm suggesting in one of the proposals in the book - there are others as well - is that we take, we make a distinction between democratic Israel and non-democratic Israel, invest in products and services within what's called the green line, within democratic Israel, the Israel that tries to live up to its declaration of independence, rather than in the West Bank.
I think that distinction is very important if we are going to try to preserve the two-state solution that allows Israel to continue to exist as a democratic Jewish state.
GROSS: So you're calling for not buying things made in the West Bank, not selling things to the West Bank. What exactly are you calling for?
BEINART: Not buying things that are produced in Jewish settlements and taking that money and instead using it to buy things that are produced in democratic Israel.
GROSS: And when somebody buys something, do they know that it was produced in...
BEINART: Sure, you can - well, you can see where - you can find out where products are made. In fact, there have been companies like Barkan wine and the Swedish Multilock Company that have moved back inside the green line, into democratic Israel, partly because of international pressure.
I don't think we should have - we should have a free trade zone with Israel, which I think is wonderful, but I don't think we need to have a free trade zone with the West Bank. I think we need to start to draw these distinctions because they're necessary to help Israel survive as a democratic Jewish state.
GROSS: So one of the things you write about in your book is what you describe as the shift from Jewish powerlessness to Jewish power, and what you're saying basically is that, yes, Jews are victims of the Holocaust and the pogroms and purges of countries, from countries around the world, but we have to acknowledge as well that Jews also have power. What are examples of that kind of Jewish power that you're talking about?
BEINART: Well, in United States, you now have, according to Robert Putnam, the Harvard political scientist, Jews are actually the most esteemed religious group in the country. There are three Jews on the - I say this with pride. There are three Jews on the Supreme Court, no Protestants. I think five of the last seven editors of The New York Times have been Jewish.
This is, you know, even 50 years ago, there were still quotas at some universities, how many Jews could be present. Now there have been Jewish presidents of most of those Ivy League universities. In Israel, although Israel still faces real security threats - which I write about in the book - Israel now has, we assume, nuclear weapons, a military superiority, clear military superiority over its neighbors.
It's one of the largest arms exporters in the world. Again, that doesn't mean that we don't face threats, but it does mean that I think we need to start to think about a conversation which is not only about victimhood and survival, but also what happens after survival, which is power and its ethical responsibilities.
And I don't think we have found a language to talk about the ethical responsibilities of power, even though that language I think is there in Jewish tradition.
GROSS: Do you think that some people are almost afraid to acknowledge the kind of Jewish power that you've just described because then Jews are accused of having a cabal, you know, like controlling the media or whatever?
BEINART: Yes, I think that's true. I think people are concerned about that. But I find that in fact if you want to talk to younger Jews, particularly if you want to talk to younger American Jews and try to engage them and explain to them where the Jewish tradition has things to say that are meaningful to them, a language just of victimhood and survival - you know, there's this line about Jewish holidays, they tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat - that's not actually a storyline that speaks to the realities of their lives.
And there is so much in Jewish tradition which talks about in fact the Jewish use of power, our struggle to wield it ethically. And that seems to me very, very important for us to have a conversation about because it's partly about showing that our tradition has relevance today for the lives of our children.
GROSS: You know, I'm sure a lot of people are thinking, OK, what you're saying about Israel is interesting, but let's face it, Israel faces an existential threat, several existential threats. There's Iran, that looks to be on the verge of nuclear capability, and Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier. And then in Egypt, there is a very extreme Islamist who is a front-runner in the presidential election, and now the Muslim Brotherhood, which is, you know, I think way more moderate by comparison, has decided to break its pledge not to run a presidential candidate, and it's running a presidential candidate.
Egypt had, you know, a relatively long peace treaty with Israel, and who knows what the future with Egypt will be now. So, you know, how do you calibrate that when you're thinking about the future of Israel, that, you know, Israel - Israel's future is perhaps very fragile right now?
BEINART: I think Israel faces real external security threats. I don't think we should minimize them for a second. I think the question we should ask ourselves is, how can Israel best safeguard its security? I think there's a struggle going on in the Arab world between people who will reluctantly - I underline reluctantly - reluctantly accept Israel's right to exist.
You know, all of the Arab countries in 2002 and again in 2007 offered to accept Israel's right to exist if it returned to the 1967 lines and found a just and agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem. We need to strengthen those elements in the Arab world against those that want a fight to the death.
It seems to me the key question is: How do we best support those people who are willing, reluctantly, to live at peace with Israel? And when you continue to build settlements and settlements and settlements, what you do is you undermine and discredit the moderate Palestinian leadership like Salam Fayyad and Mahmoud Abbas that exist in the West Bank, and you make Hamas and Hezbullah's lives so much easier because they can say, you see? Look, these Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, they've been supporting a two-state solution, they've been doing security cooperation with Israel, and look what they get for it? They get their future Palestinian state eaten away and eaten away by settlement growth.
The best way I think we can weaken and defeat groups like Hezbollah and Hamas is to make winners out of those people in the Palestinian Arab world that have shown themselves willing to live at peace with Israel in a two-state solution.
GROSS: Peter Beinart will be back in the second half of the show. His new book is called "The Crisis of Zionism." He edits the Daily Beast's blog Open Zion. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Peter Beinart, author of the new book "The Crisis of Zionism." It's focused on the American Jewish community's divided reactions on how to end the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Beinart describes himself as a Zionist who believes in liberal democracy. He opposes the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which Israel occupied after the war in 1967, and thinks they're an obstacle to creating a two-state solution.
In his book, and in a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times, he's proposed a boycott of goods made in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Beinart is the former editor of The New Republic and edits The Daily Beast blog Open Zion.
A lot of your book is about how American Jews relate to Israel and the disagreements between American Jews about what to - how to support Israel and whether - how important Israel is to the lives of American Jews. So let's just start with families. I think in Jewish families it's often very difficult to bring up Israel because that's one area where you're likely to have a really big argument, and even in your own family to not understand each other. Do you think that's an accurate description?
BEINART: Increasingly so. I think there is a - outside of the Orthodox community, I think there is a pretty substantial generational divide that's opening up because of people's different life experiences. Older American Jews have a memory, if not of the Holocaust, at least of Israel as a very weak and embattled state. They might remember the Six-Day War in 1967, where it seemed that Israel might be destroyed. Younger American Jews are more likely to have seen Israel as a regional superpower and to remember experiences like the intifada, the First and Second Intifada - Israel-Lebanon war - in which Israel seems to have the greater power, vis-a-vis the Palestinians it's fighting against.
It's also important to remember that young American Jews are less likely to have seen Israel as a refuge. Remember, the reason that American Jews became Zionists in the first place, in the 1930s and '40s, is it became so clear that the Jews of Europe needed a place to go as refuge and so much of the world would not allow them in. That experience is even one that I am old enough to have seen because I remember seeing - it was a very important part of my childhood - the Soviet Jews who came to Israel, the Ethiopian Jews. But the danger is that younger American Jews are alienated precisely because of the Jewish community's unwillingness to talk openly and honestly and in an unafraid way about these subjects. That's why I think we lose a lot of younger American Jewish kids, because they want the right to voice their questions and their criticisms openly without being written off and the American Jewish community hasn't done a very good job of that, I think.
GROSS: So you attend an Orthodox synagogue and send your children to a Jewish school. Why do you send your children to a Jewish school?
BEINART: I believe that the foundation of Jewish commitment is Jewish education. I believe what I most want for my children is knowledge of joy in and fascination with Judaism. And I believe if they are given that then I will have discharged my duty to them and given them the tools they need to have a meaningful relationship with Judaism and - God willing - to pass it on to their children and grandchildren. I'm willing to pay a very high price, financially and in other ways, in order to make sure that I ground my children in that foundation.
I critique in my book the American Jewish community actually for not doing enough to support Jewish education because I think it's unrealistic to imagine that we can inculcate Jewish commitment in our children if we haven't given our children a strong foundation educationally in Judaism.
GROSS: But sending your children to a Jewish school means they're not going to a school where they'll be meeting people who aren't like them. I mean, they won't be meeting people who aren't Jewish. And in an age where multiculturalism has become so important, don't you want your children to in school be mingling with, having friends who are different from them - different religions, different ethnic groups, different races?
BEINART: We look for opportunities to do that outside of school and certainly they will - certainly by the time they're in college they'll be at a much more diverse place. But I actually believe that the strongest form of multiculturalism, the most vibrant form of multiculturalism comes through the interactions between people who actually know something about their own tradition and can then speak about it to other people in a meaningful way.
When my children do interact with the non-Jewish world and people say what is it mean to be Jewish? Why do Jews do A, B and C, I want them to be able to speak from a position of knowledge and pride and explain what Judaism is. And I think actually often the most meaningful multicultural encounters come between people who both have strong foundations in their own particular religion or ethnicity or peoplehood. And so that's where I wanted to invest - my wife and I wanted to invest - first with our children.
GROSS: We're in the middle of a presidential campaign. I think everybody who's campaigning would like to get, you know, the, quote "Jewish vote." What do you see candidates doing to try to get that?
BEINART: You know, the dirty little secret of the American Jewish vote is that the vast majority of American Jews do not vote on Israel. The polling shows that about 10 percent of American Jews vote on Israel. You know, the American Jewish leader may focus a lot on Israel. I think Israel is very important, but these are non-elected leaders who don't necessarily represent most American Jews.
Barack Obama I think will win 70-plus percent of the Jewish vote because Jews are very strongly attached to the Democratic Party because of domestic issues. You know, the single biggest driver of the Jewish vote in America is actually abortion. American Jews are very strongly committed to an agenda of cultural tolerance, probably, in fact, because they're actually very secular. American Jews are much more secular than our American Christians, and they tend to break out on these cultural issues in the same way that do secular people of all faiths. So I think people often misunderstand this question of the Jewish vote. I don't - I think it's going to turn more on the economy and frankly, on cultural issues, like abortion ultimately, than probably it will on Israel.
GROSS: Any final thoughts you'd like to leave us with?
BEINART: I guess the final thought that I would offer is I think that we need to remember that the people who created this state of Israel, who created it under the most adverse circumstances imaginable, in a fight for Israel's very existence in a country that had millions of Holocaust survivors who were traumatized beyond belief. They were not naive people. Yet, they believed that what would ultimately lead to the security of the state was democratic ideals. And oftentimes, those of us who talk about Israel's democratic character and the Jewish ethical tradition can be mocked as naive people who don't understand what a nasty neighborhood the Middle East is. That's not true. It's precisely because we recognize that Israel faces real danger; that we understand that Israel's best safeguard ultimately is its democratic character, because democracy is the way any government legitimates itself in today's world.
The American Jewish organizations worry a lot about Israel's, quote/unquote, "delegitimization." I fear what they don't understand is that the thing that threatens to delegitimize Israel most is the collapse of Israel's democratic character. If Israel remains a democracy, a country that offers the right of citizenship to all its people, it can stand up proudly in any forum around the world and make the case for Zionism and for Israel's existence and win that argument. But if Zionism collapses as a democratic project, then I fear, I fear that Israel will become delegitimized, even though it would be the worst possible outcome.
GROSS: Well, Peter Beinart, thank you so much for talking with us.
BEINART: Thank you.
GROSS: Peter Beinart is the author of the new book "The Crisis of Zionism." You can read an excerpt on our website, FRESH AIR.npr.org.
Coming up, we talk with Gary Rosenblatt, the editor of The Jewish Week, a weekly published in New York. We'll talk about reactions, including a zone to Beinart's proposal of a boycott of goods made in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. This is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: Earlier on the show we heard why Peter Beinart, author of the new book "The Crisis of Zionism," has called for a boycott of goods made in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. That proposal has outraged many American Jews.
We're going to talk about that reaction with Gary Rosenblatt, the editor and publisher of The Jewish Week of New York, the largest Jewish newspaper in the U.S. Before joining that publication in 1993, he served as editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times for 19 years.
Gary Rosenblatt, welcome to FRESH AIR. What reaction do you think Peter Beinart's call for boycotting goods made in Jewish settlements in the West Bank has gotten from the Jewish community in America?
GARY ROSENBLATT: I think to a certain degree he jumped the shark with that op-ed piece in The Times, in that I think if he was appealing to the mainstream or establishment Jewish community, many of whose members have conflicted feelings about the settlements, but I think the proposition of a boycott just went too far and the reaction was pretty negative.
Even Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street, the group that identifies itself as pro-peace and pro-Israel and who calls Peter the troubadour of the movement, he took exception to that call for the boycott as well, and part of it is based on just on the pragmatics of a boycott like that. But more I think it would be easily slide toward a general sense of boycotting Israel.
GROSS: Now, Beinart sees the settlements, the growing settlements in the West Bank as possibly leading to the demise of a two-state solution, since the more Jewish settlements there are in the West Bank, the more difficult it becomes to make the West Bank into a Palestinian state and the more impossible it may become to have a contiguous state that's not broken up with Jewish communities. What do you think of that? Do you think that the settlements are making a two-state solution less likely to ever happen?
ROSENBLATT: Well, I guess in general I agree with I'd say half of Peter's thesis in the book, that Israel can never be a fully democratic country as long as there's an occupation and people living in the settlements as they are now. But I disagree with his approach in that I think he started with a thesis and then he's made the facts fit in. And if they don't fit then he either ignores them or refutes them. So, you know, yes, the left is correct about Israel never being a fully democratic country as long as there's an occupation, but I think the right is correct in saying that solving the settlement issue won't solve the larger Arab-Israeli conflict. I mean, just ask Hezbollah or Hamas if that would end the conflict.
GROSS: Does the occupation weigh on you as an American Jew?
ROSENBLATT: I mean lots, of things way on me about what's going on in the Middle East and Israel as well. I think in hindsight, it's a reasonable way of looking at things, as saying that, you know, maybe this wasn't the best idea, but that's looking, you know, 40 years back. It seemed like a great idea to many people of establishing facts on the ground. And I think the way wars are waged now has changed some of that equation. You don't have armies meeting on a battlefield. You now have people dressed as civilians either blowing themselves up in the middle of civilian areas or shooting rockets at civilians in Israel from Gaza and surrounding themselves among civilians - children, schools, hospitals - kind of counting on the fact that Israel has a moral impulse in terms of its army and is reticent about firing back.
So I guess my major point here is that I think Peter makes the Israel- Palestinian conflict looked very simple and it's really Israel's enemy is Israel. And I think it's a much, much more complicated nuanced situation and I think Israel's real problem is dealing with people who don't want a Jewish state in the region.
GROSS: I think a lot of Jewish people in America find it very difficult to talk within their own family about Israel because there are so many disagreements within American Jewish families about, you know, the occupied territories, what Israel's, you know, military position should be versus, you know, on say Iran, how to deal with the Arab countries and the Palestinians. And I think in some Jewish families it's like just better not even to go there, like don't even talk about Israel because you know what the conversation is going to be. It's going to get into an argument. No one's going to enjoy it. And you're going to end exactly like you finished, with everybody believing what they believed before the argument started. Has it ever been that way in your family?
ROSENBLATT: Not to that degree, but I think your description is pretty accurate and I've talked to a rabbi, a number of rabbis in the community from various denominations - orthodox, conservative, reform - who tell me that of late talking about Israel in the sermon is the third rail, one described it as, that they just don't want to go there because of what you're describing, that it's such a contentious issue. And I think that's unfortunate and part of it is a lack of real knowledge about what's going on in Israel and perhaps reading the American press that tends to see things in kind of simplistic terms about the situation there. And, you know, it's a combination of guilt and belief and lots of strong emotional pulls and ties in how people respond.
GROSS: So in terms of the difficulty of talking about Israel in some Jewish families, you mentioned guilt as one of the reasons. Where does guilt come in? What do you think some people feel guilty about?
ROSENBLATT: Well, first of all, guilt always comes into a Jewish discussion.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ROSENBLATT: But more seriously, I think it's not necessarily on a conscious level but I think American Jews realize that we are essentially on the sidelines as spectators. We're over here in the Diaspora in America watching as Israelis put their lives on the line and have suffered in wars and in many other ways. And so that's what I was thinking of in terms of guilt, that whether we say it out loud or not it's like who are we to criticize Israel when, you know, we're over here.
GROSS: So both you and Peter Beinart have talked about how Israel is a Jewish state and a democratic state and that there's some tension between those two things, being a Jewish state and a democratic state. What do you see as that tension being about?
ROSENBLATT: I think that tension is, you know, what we've been talking about in terms of a vibrant democracy and also being a Jewish state where the government is supportive of a Jewish state for not only the people of Israel but Jews all over the world and how does one treat a minority within the state, a Christian minority and an Arab minority. And how does one fulfill the, you know, the declaration of independence and all those ideals at the same time recognizing that since the day the state was declared, Israel has been in a state of war and people who are under siege and in a state of war sometimes have to respond differently than they would like than a state that doesn't have that situation.
So I think that's a struggle and a very real struggle that Israeli people and the Israeli governments have tried to deal with.
GROSS: Americans in America have various levels of support for their own government. A lot of Americans are really opposed to one president's policies and support another president's policies. So their support for, like, the government varies according to who's in power. When it comes to you personally, let me ask this without generalizing about, you know, all Jews in America.
GROSS: So, like, you personally, does your support, you know, quote for quote Israel depend on who's in power, whether it's, you know, a liberal government or a very conservative government like is in power now?
ROSENBLATT: I think I have varying degrees of criticism for each government. It might be about different kinds of issues. I think the core values that all of the Israeli governments have I certainly share in terms of defending the state of Israel, the modern state of Israel, and having it be a democratic and a Jewish state. And that sometimes there are difficulties in being a Jewish state and being a democratic state and it's, you know, a continually evolving process.
But I think so much of the criticism and the discussion leaves out the Palestinian responsibility for creating such a difficult situation for Israel. It takes two to tango and there is often not as much criticism, I think, as I think is warranted on the Palestinian side and on why we don't have peace after all these years.
GROSS: Gary Rosenblatt, thank you so much for joining us.
ROSENBLATT: Thank you.
GROSS: Gary Rosenblatt is the editor and publisher of the Jewish Week of New York. You'll find a link to his recent columns on our website freshair.npr.org. Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews a new album from the British boy band One Direction. This is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: One Direction was the first UK act to debut at number one at the US Billboard album chart with its first collection "Up All Night." Rock critic Ken Tucker says the British/Irish singing group is a pop quintet whose first album recalls the sounds of the Backstreet Boys, N'Sync and other older pop stars. Here's his review.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UP ALL NIGHT")
ONE DIRECTION: (Singing) It feels like we've been living in fast forward and now the moment passing by. The party's ending but it's now or never. Nobody's going home tonight. Katy Perry's on play, she's on the play. DJ got the floor to shake, the floor to shake. People going all the way, yeah, all the way. I'm still wide awake. I want to stay up all night, jump around until we see the sun. I want to stay...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: The callow croon over a pulsating beat, the massed harmonies in the chorus, the lyrics about partying that name-check Katy Perry and include a wistful wish for a nameless girl to kiss the singer - this is boy-band music at its newest and its most timeless.
The five young guys who comprise One Direction are single-minded. That is, their album is stuffed with potential hit singles, each one a song conceived as instantly catchy fluff that holds up to repeated listens, whether it's heard as a download, in performance on TV or over the radio.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL")
DIRECTION: (Singing) You're insecure. Don't know what for. You turn heads when you walk through the door. Don't need makeup to cover up. Being the way that you are is enough. Everyone else in the room can see it. Everyone else but you. Baby, you light up my world like nobody else. The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed. The way you smile at the ground it ain't hard to tell you don't know. You don't know you're beautiful. If only you...
TUCKER: Questions of authenticity go out the window when grappling with this group. One Direction is an almost comical example of artificiality and commercial imperatives. Each of the five members â Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Harry Styles and Louie Tomlinson â were individual contestants on the British TV talent show "The X Factor." Show judge Nicole Scherzinger almost whimsically suggested that the five band together to form a vocal group, and they did it.
One Direction was subsequently signed to the record company owned by X Factor producer-judge Simon Cowell, and sent into the recording studio with producers who'd crafted hits for Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Carrie Underwood, and The Backstreet Boys. And it all worked. These kids sound terrific. Listen to them rip through a song co-written by Kelly Clarkson, "Tell Me a Lie."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TELL ME A LIE")
DIRECTION: (Singing) Can't ever get it right. No matter how hard I try. And I try. Well, I put up a good fight but your words cut like knives. And I'm tired. As you break my heart again this time tell me I'm a screwed up mess, that I never listen, listen. Tell me you don't want my kiss, that you need your distance, distance. Tell me...
TUCKER: Here in America, there's a market for this kind of clean-cut music that's currently being exploited primarily by Justin Bieber. But Bieber is getting older and trying to make his Justin Timberlake hip-hop evolution. One Direction, meanwhile, is sliding right into that sweet spot in which songs about telling girls they're beautiful and that all you'd like to do is spend the night talking to them is a pathway to mass adoration.
About as adventurous as One Direction gets on this album is this song called "I Want," which sounds a bit like an undiscovered early work by Freddie Mercury's Queen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANT")
DIRECTION: (Singing) Give you this, give you that, blow a kiss, take it back. If I look inside your brain I would find lots of things â clothes, shoes, diamond rings, stuff that's driving me insane. You could be preoccupied, different date every night. You've just got to say the word. But you're not into them at all, you just want materials. I should know because I've heard. You say I want, I want, I want. But that's crazy. I want, I want, I want. But that's not me. I want, I want, I want to be loved by you. You've got everything you need...
TUCKER: One Direction is an overseas equivalent to the kind of boy groups that extend back at least as far as the 1960s, with The Monkees and Paul Revere and the Raiders, that is to say, groups that many adults can dismiss as trite or vacuous, but which pop-music fans of any age recognize as solid craftsmanship whose simple pleasures are nonetheless real, satisfying ones.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed One Direction's debut album "Up All Night." You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org. And you can find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.