On Media / Pop Culcha

Jewish World Review August 14, 2002/ 6 Elul, 5762

Robert Leiter

Will we ever learn?

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | We learn nothing from history.

Each morning, the newspaper seems to reinforce this old cliche in troubling ways. Take The New York Times of Aug. 13. Several articles suggest that Jews are the worst offenders in this trend.

Two of these pieces appeared in the Metro section, directly across from one another. One was a brief news item about the homecoming of 30-year-old Adam Shapiro, described as "the medical-aid worker from Brooklyn who was trapped in Yasir [sic] Arafat's compound when Israeli soldiers besieged it in April." He spent nearly a week in an Israeli prison after a protest march, and had faced deportation and other charges before deciding to leave on his own.

He said he had peacefully tried to escort Palestinians from their village, Hawara, to the town of Nablus, "as part of a protest against road closings," Shapiro said, and was then "physically assaulted by armed gunmen from Israel's paramilitary border police in the heart of the West Bank."

Dr. Rinnan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, insisted that none of this was so. "The fact that this is still under investigation implies that there was more than just an innocent walk going on." Gissin said that humanitarian workers often use their activities as a "cover to help terrorists."

Shapiro, who said he abhors terrorism, also made it clear that being trapped in Arafat's compound, where it was said he was delivering medical supplies, and then having breakfast with the Palestinian leader, was an experience that changed his life.

He was greeted with joy at John F. Kennedy International Airport by his father, Stuart, a math teacher from Brooklyn. It was said of Stuart and his wife, Doreen, that they "occasionally attend synagogue," but that "their son is an atheist." Stuart Shapiro also "bridles at the suggestion that his son is in any way disloyal to America."

No one asked whether he was disloyal to Israel, as that was obviously beside the point.

The other article was a profile of a 23-year-old man named Jonathan Rosen, of Cherry Hill, N.J., who since high school has been a sincere crusader for social justice. He is currently taking a year's leave from law school to work with the New York Unemployment Project, which he created. The group is demanding "an extension of unemployment benefits until the economy recovers."

Rosen is the "son of a federal magistrate judge and a special education teacher," who have "bedrock principles: always brush your teeth, always take a shower and never, ever cross a picket line."

All of this, whether in Shapiro or Rosen's case, sounds so utterly familiar that it's depressing. I have children just about the ages of both these young men, which means that their parents, like myself, came of age in the '60s. I heard all of the same political mantras when I was growing up --- fight for the underdog, don't cross picket lines.

But perhaps the most important lesson of all, which was probably instilled nonverbally but came through loud and clear nonetheless, was back any cause with a vengeance --- except the Jewish one.

I had hoped that such simplistic, knee-jerk liberalism had yielded to reality, especially because of what Jews and Israel have had to face since the Six-Day War of 1967 --- the crucible for many Jews of the New Left as the terrorist bombings may be for young Jews today. The hatred of Israel and the Jews is greater now than at any point in the last 30 years, but it seems to matter little.

I have always been naive, too hopeful. But tell me it isn't so. Tell me that Jews have learned something from history --- that these young men are the exception, and not the rule.

JWR contributor Robert Leiter is Literary Editor for the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. Comment by clicking here.


© 2002 Robert Leiter