Iran is just short of becoming a nuclear power, and nearly every nation on earth is worried. Israel worries most of all. Nuclear weapons will afford Iran the means to deliver on its threat to "wipe Israel off the map," as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad so cheerfully puts it.
Children throughout the Middle East already study maps with a hole in them where Israel used to be. Some are tempted to dismiss Ahmadinejad as a blowhard and a clown, but he's a credible and loud voice to the millions of angry Muslims surrounding the only democracy in the Middle East.
Israel is the "Little Satan," secure from the rage of its enemies so long as the "Big Satan" guarantees it, and the guarantee is safe so long as Jews remain strong in Israel's behalf. But there's an angry buzz in the media and in certain academic covens that Jewish support for Israel is declining -- and may be on the way to collapse.
The strength and depth of the buzz is traced in an essay by Peter Beinart in the New York Review of Books, headlined, "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment." Beinart attends an Orthodox synagogue, though he is not an Orthodox Jew himself, and he draws his conclusions from surveys of opinions of young American Jews, many of them on the campuses of our most prestigious colleges.
The surveys demonstrate that young secular leftist Jews, who can't remember a Middle East without a strong Israeli state, have separated themselves from the sympathetic attitudes of their parents and grandparents. They're two generations removed from the Holocaust and from knowing American Jews who fled to America to escape the Nazis or who left close relatives behind. They feel no exhilaration in the accounts of how President Truman ordered the recognition of Israel 11 minutes after it declared itself a nation in 1948. They never felt the fear for the future of the Jewish nation when Arab armies went to war against the new nation the very next day.
These young secular Jews grew up reading the "Diary of Anne Frank" -- but as literature, not history. But it occurs to few of them to say "there but for the grace of God go I." Ann Frank, tragic though her story is, was long ago and far away.
Two years ago, the student Senate at Brandeis University, the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored university in America, refused even to observe the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state. My mother-in-law, for whom Israel and Brandeis were among her favorite charities, is spinning beneath the sod: How could this happen?
Beinart focuses on the views of privileged Jews in America who are far from their origins. Few have heard relatives speak English with Yiddish accents. These young Jews, who grew up in comfortable suburbs, surrounded by luxury and ease, hold scant empathy for the Israeli settlers saving to add a room or two to their houses to accommodate expanding families.
The new generation is eager to blame Israel first, much as young liberals are eager to blame the United States for the tension and violence in the Middle East. They can't criticize the Palestinians for refusing the generous terms to settle their argument with Israel, offered a decade ago by President Clinton at Camp David, nor do they credit the Israelis for withdrawing from Gaza settlements at considerable sacrifice. When Hamas sent its thanks via deadly rockets, there was no outrage.
Jeffrey Goldberg describes in Atlantic magazine the absence of proportionality in popular blogger attacks on Israel: "The (leftist) rejectionist front facing down Israel has seen every Israeli pullback as a victory not for the principle of compromise, but a victory in their campaign to eradicate Israel."
Reality in the Middle East never remains static, and every generation must forge its response from both experience and history. Aaron David Miller, who was actively engaged in the "peace process" in both Bush administrations and the Clinton administration, now thinks the process should be on hold because big decisions require strong leaders, and there is no Anwar Sadat or Menachim Begin to seize opportunity today. U.S. power is real, but defying and mocking the United States takes no particular courage today. Barack Obama, ever ready with an apology to troublemakers, has already won his Peace Prize.
But hope is not dead. This week, lots of Americans -- young and old, Orthodox, Christian and secular, black, white and other -- celebrated with the Israelis the 62nd birthday of an independent Israel with parades and marching bands. As far as we know, Satan made no appearance, but a helluva good time was had by all.