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The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Electionby Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz
Synopses & Reviews
Americans and Israelis have often thought that their nations were chosen, in perpetuity, to do God's work. This belief in divine election is a potent, living force, one that has guided and shaped both peoples and nations throughout their history and continues to do so to this day. Through great adversity and despite serious challenges, Americans and Jews, leaders and followers, have repeatedly faced the world fortified by a sense that their nation has a providential destiny. As Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz argue in this original and provocative book, what unites the two allies in a “special friendship” is less common strategic interests than this deep-seated and lasting theological belief that they were chosen by God. The United States and Israel each has understood itself as a nation placed on earth to deliver a singular message of enlightenment to a benighted world. Each has stumbled through history wrestling with this strange concept of chosenness, trying both to grasp the meaning of divine election and to bear the burden it placed them under. It was this idea that provided an indispensable justification when the Americans made a revolution against Britain, went to war with and expelled the Indians, expanded westward, built an overseas empire, and most recently waged war in Iraq. The equivalent idea gave rise to the Jewish people in the first place, sustained them in exodus and exile, and later animated the Zionist movement, inspiring the Israelis to vanquish their enemies and conquer the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Everywhere you look in American and Israeli history, the idea of chosenness is there.
The Chosen Peoples delivers a bold new take on both nations' histories. It shows how deeply the idea of chosenness has affected not only their enthusiasts but also their antagonists. It digs deeply beneath the superficialities of headlines, the details of negotiations, the excuses and justifications that keep cropping up for both nations' successes and failures. It shows how deeply ingrained is the idea of a chosen people in both nations histories, and yet how complicated that idea really is. And it offers interpretations of chosenness that both nations dearly need in confronting their present-day quandaries. Weaving together history, theology, and politics, The Chosen Peoples vividly retells the dramatic story of two nations bound together by a wild and sacred idea, takes unorthodox perspectives on some of our times most searing conflicts, and offers an unexpected conclusion: only by taking the idea of chosenness seriously, wrestling with its meaning, and assuming its responsibilities can both nations thrive.
"Two drastically different interpretations of 'chosenness' inform this ambitious religio-political meditation on American and Israeli history. The first, which sociologist Gitlin (The Sixties) and journalist Leibovitz (Aliya) deplore, is an arrogant assumption of God-given superiority and entitlement — especially to a 'Promised Land' inhabited by others — that breeds jingoism, imperialism, and bitter wars with Canaanites, Palestinians, or Native Americans. The second, which they locate in a humbler tradition stretching from the Torah to the writings of Abraham Lincoln, treats chosenness as an obligation — 'closer to a curse than a blessing' — to strive towards ideals of humanity and social justice. The theme of chosenness yields an insightful reading of the Israeli national project, which is explicitly linked to ancient religious imperatives, but it says less about the American experience. Yes, as the authors demonstrate, Americans from the Pilgrim Fathers to George W. Bush have claimed divine sanction, but are such sentiments deeply motivating or just rhetorical window-dressing for opportunistic land-grabs and military adventures? Gitlin and Leibowitz load too great an explanatory burden onto a forced comparison between the two nations. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
“This is one of the finest books I have ever read about the ideas which drive modern nations. Eloquent and erudite, Gitlin and Leibovitz reveal the promise and the pitfalls of a mass temptation neither Americans nor Israelis have been able to resist. The Chosen Peoples is a necessary work for our perilous era.” Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan
“Americans’ deep sense of connection to Old Testament prophecy and providence dates back to the Puritans. In their provocative new book, Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz explore that connection anew for modern times — and offer food for thought and rich argument about the historical as well as political experiences of both Israel and the United States.” Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy
“A perceptive comparison between Israel and the United States as Chosen Peoples of God. The authors synthesize history, Bible study, and current events with their own deeply moral analysis. They explore the analogy between the Israeli settlers on Palestinian lands and the white American settlers on Native American lands in ways profoundly enlightening.” Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
“The Chosen Peoples invites readers to take with great seriousness and respect the idea that both Israel and the United States bear the burden of imagining themselves as chosen by God. In an extraordinarily sensitive exploration of the concept of being chosen, Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz bring a fresh perspective to the history of Israel and America and to the complex linkages between them.” Joyce Appleby, professor emerita of history, UCLA, author of The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism
“Few alliances on the world stage are as complex and important as the Israeli-United States special relationship. Yet how best to understand it? In a book that is as refreshing as it is provocative, and timely too, The Chosen Peoples explores the fascinating consequences of both nations seeing themselves as chosen by God. Bravo to Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz for their important contribution.” Jay Winik, author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval
“The Chosen Peoples is a probing account of two powerful myths that have brought us to the brink of disaster, but that may still provide a fresh way forward. The authors’ case for more humane ideas of national destiny is lucid, compelling, and deeply necessary. No one who cares about the future of America — or Israel — can afford to ignore this timely and important book.” Jackson Lears, Rutgers University, author of Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920
"A nuanced, carefully considered comparison of the deep-seated beliefs that pervade both groups." Kirkus Reviews
The authors discuss the origins, consequences, and attendant burdens of a belief central to the identities of Americans and Israelis — that they are God's favored people.
The origins, consequences, and attendant burdens of a belief central to the identities of Americans and Israelis--that they are God's favored people.
About the Author
Todd Gitlin is the author of ten books, most recently Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Image and Sound Overwhelms Our Lives. He is Professor of Journalism and Sociology at Columbia University.
Liel Leibovitz, the author of Aliya and a freelance journalist, received his MS in journalism and PhD in communications from Columbia University. He lives in New York.
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History and Social Science » Middle East » General History